Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fifth meeting with state Chief Ministers on coronavirus took an unexpected turn as Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accused the Centre of playing politics over the issue and discriminating between states.
The Centre was working according to a “script”, she said. “This is not the time to play politics. Nobody ever asks our opinion… Don’t bulldoze the federal structure,” sources quoted her as saying at the meeting, called to discuss a phased exit from the lockdown, the migrants’ issue and the economic situation.
Calling the nationwide lockdown a “poorly planned” exercise, she suggested that states be allowed to decide on which sectors to open and which to keep shut keeping in mind the situation on the ground.
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) government in West Bengal and the BJP-led Union government have locked horns since the beginning of the pandemic, with the Centre accusing the state government over its COVID-19 response and enforcement of the nationwide lockdown to check the spread of the disease.
Mamata Banerjee had shot off a furious letter to PM Modi, alleging that she had not been formally informed about their visit. She questioned why her state was chosen for the central teams’ assessment, defending the anti-coronavirus measures taken by her administration. Her party leaders accused the Centre of “fighting some states” when they were busy fighting the virus.
A Centre-Bengal face off over the state’s management of the corona crisis even since two IMCTs of Inter Ministerial Central Teams arrived in the state on April 20 and stayed for two whole weeks, probing reports of lockdown violation and “fudging” of coronavirus cases.
The teams arrived three hours before the home minister phoned the Chief Minister to tell her that they were being sent.
The team, which visited the hotspot districts, repeatedly alleged that they got no logistical support from the state and that they had to make their own way, not with state police but with BSF jawans. In their final assessment, the team said the state was lacking in adequate testing, tracking and surveillance systems.
Last week, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan identified Bengal among the three states seen as potential hotspots for the disease and the Centre included it among the 10 states, where teams of health experts will be sent to help state governments contain the rapid spread of the infection.