Bengal CM’s ire spills over to ‘mystery’ ops

KOLKATA, December 3
Mamata Banerjee left Nabanna at 6.20pm on Friday, after spending 30 hours and 14 minutes in the CMO, easily the longest time a Bengal chief minister has spent at the government headquarters since 1977. An hour earlier, around 5pm, the last of the Army trucks accused of “surveillance” by the Bengal government left its toll booth posting at Ghoshpukur in Jalpaiguri, about 600km away. The two withdrawals on Friday marked the end of only the first act of a drama that started unfolding 10 days ago, on November 23, with an innocuous letter from the defence ministry to the officer-in-charge of the Hastings police station. The exchange of angry words in New Delhi and Kolkata and two trending hashtags #MamataCoupCharge #MamataAgainstNation indicate no one has seen the end of the “routine affair” undertaken by the Indian Army every year. The CM’s marathon and unprecedented digging-in at the state secretariat, Trinamool leaders agreed, revealed how Delhi-Kolkata politics was moving into the realm of the unknown. No Bengal CM has said what Banerjee said on Thursday and Friday, when she accused the Centre of “using the Army against our (Bengal) government”, which prompted Union minister Ananth Kumar to request Trinamool Lok Sabha leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay “to leave the Indian Army out of politics”. The truth, as often in politics, might lie somewhere in between and in the interpretation of whether “intimation” is the same as “permission”. The letters from the Army, issued to various state government agencies starting from November 23, indicate that it had “intimated” the state government about its intent to conduct the annual exercise of monitoring the movement of heavy vehicles on National Highways. But the state government said the Army did not obtain “permission” to conduct the exercise and rushed into it; law and order was very much a state government domain, seniors in the government said.On Thursday, the CM had said that the Army was deployed without informing her government and had announced that she would stay put at Nabanna till “the Army withdrew from the state”. State parliamentary affairs minister Partha Chatterjee on Friday modified the charge somewhat when he said: “The Army hadn’t taken prior permission from the state government, which they should have because law and order comes under the state’s domain.” There is no official document available with the Army to show that the state gave its consent. On the contrary, chief secretary Basudeb Banerjee wrote to the Union cabinet secretary on December 1, taking exception to the “vehicle impressment exercise” conducted by the Army at Vidyasagar Setu toll plaza less than a kilometre from Nabanna. “This is highly objectionable,” Banerjee wrote.

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