The tussle between West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and India Prime Minister Narendra Modi refuses to simply die down. Recently, an annoyed Banerjee made Modi wait for thirty minutes violating protocols and even left midway of the discussions. Other chief ministers present in the meeting criticised Banerjee for being politically arrogant even after elections and that too in such a crucial time. The recent West Bengal assembly election witnessed the bitter rivalry between the TMC and BJP with even its workers clashing seldom with each other. The violence marred polls in West Bengal resulted in the thumping victory of TMC and Mamata Banerjee returned to the chief minister’s office again. One must have thought that once the elections are over both Banerjee and Modi would return to their respective responsibilities and works. But it seems that the hatred has persisted and is now becoming a barrier between the state and the Union government.
Chief minister Banerjee has always openly criticised Modi and the BJP party for its communal and autocratic nature. Many times, the chief minister has been reported to boycott and abruptly leave Union-sponsored events which according to her is a platform aimed to demean her. The war of words between Banerjee and Modi continues as ‘didi’ seems to be really irked. Right after assuming office, Banerjee started shooting off letters to the Union government demanding a slew relief for states in terms of Covid-19. She even questioned the Union taxes being levied on vaccines and life-saving medicines and maintained that omitting the same would make the drugs cheaper for the common man. She has also been complaining of the ruling NDA government maintaining a bias between the states ruled by BJP and the others. “We feel insulted and humiliated. A dictatorship is going on. The Prime Minister is feeling so insecure that he did not even listen to the chief ministers. What is this fear about?” Mamata Banerjee asked.
Over time it has been understood that the Prime Minister is not comfortable with non-BJP chief ministers excluding its allies. Recently, he even openly objected to Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal showing a live Covid review meeting between him and the chief minister. Chiding him, Modi said “Let me say this is strictly against our tradition, our protocol.” A kind of cold war between the chief minister and Prime Minister has always been witnessed in India’s history. During the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime, AIADMK chief minister Jayalalithaa broke the protocol by deliberately going out of state during the Prime Minister’s visit. During the first wave of the Covid19, Modi very successfully led cooperative federalism and termed it ‘Team India’. This coming together of the Union and states successfully thwarted the virus threat during the first wave.
However, in 2021 the election to five states took over the steering wheel and
perhaps the connection between the non-BJP ruled states and the Prime Minister seems to be restricted. Nevertheless, a competitive federalism is only effective till the moment it’s productive for both the Union or the state. Once it becomes unproductive it will do more damage than good and the chief ministers and the Prime Minister must realise that lives are at stake here. Thus, personal animosity or ego must not come before good governance and life-saving.