There can actually be no comparison between the Bengal and Odisha chief ministers. And Friday once again showed why.
Naveen Patnaik, the five time chief minister of Odisha who has been in the post for more than 21 years now, is urbane, soft-spoken, gentlemanly and a very able administrator who has worked quietly for the socio-economic development of the state.
Mamata Banerjee is quite the opposite--loud, coarse, combative, mercurial and whimsical whose governance skills, say senior bureaucrats who have worked closely with her say.
Banerjee only highlighted her contrast with Patnaik with her unfortunate conduct on Friday. Patnaik presented a picture of maturity and far-sightedness during his interaction with Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was in Odisha to review the damages wrecked by Cyclone Yaas.
After receiving Modi at the airport (as per protocol), Patnaik attended a review meeting on post-cyclone relief and rehabilitation that was chaired by Modi. Union Ministers Dharmendra Pradhan and Pratap Sarangi also attended the meeting. The Prime Minister also undertook an aerial survey of the cyclone-affected areas in the two states.
And what’s more, the Odisha chief minister announced after his meeting with Modi (read his tweet) that he had “not sought any immediate financial assistance to burden the central government” at a time when the country was at the peak of the Covid 19 pandemic.
Patnaik said Odisha will meet the expenses for relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction from its own resources. The Odisha chief minister, displaying far-sightedness, sought central assistance for long-term measures to make Odisha disaster resilient (read this tweet).
He told Modi that Odisha needs disaster-resilient power infrastructure and buoyant coastal protection which can resist storm surges. The Prime Minister reportedly assured Patnaik and the Union Government would provide all assistance to help Odisha make itself disaster-resilient in the long run.
Compare this to Mamata Banerjee’s interaction with Modi. After the aerial survey of the cyclone-affected areas of Odisha and Bengal, Modi landed at the Kalaikunda Air Force base.
Banerjee deputed her low profile irrigation minister, Somen Mahapatra, to receive Modi in a perfunctory adherence to protocol. And then she refused to attend the review meeting with Modi.
According to some reports, she was angry over the invitation extended to Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari (who had defeated Mamata Banerjee in Nandigram) and Union Minister of State for woman and child development Debashree Chaudhuri (who is also the Lok Sabha MP from Bengal’s Raiganj).
Some bureaucrats also said that Mamata Banerjee could not bring herself to attend a meeting that would be chaired by someone else, especially a man she strongly dislikes.
“She makes everything very personal and for her, opposition to Modi and the BJP is not just political but also deeply personal,” explained a former bureaucrat. As such, the idea of sitting in a meeting that someone else, and not she, would be presiding over was a sort of anathema to her.
Banerjee, it is learnt, was also apprehensive that the review meeting would be politicised by the BJP. Naveen Patnaik, on the other hand, had no issue with BJP Ministers Dharmendra Pradhan and Pratap Sarangi (both hail from Odisha) attending the review meeting with Modi.
Pradhan and Sarangi had been critical of Patnaik during election campaigns in the state in the past, but Naveen Patnaik did not (rightly) take that personally. No mature politician ever does.
Mamata Banerjee met Modi for a brief ten minutes before the review meeting and handed over a demand note for Rs 20,000 crore to rebuild Digha (Bengal’s foremost seaside resort town) and the Sunderbans which had suffered a lot of damage due to Cyclone Yaas.
The damage in Digha has mostly been suffered by private hotels and resorts there, and there is no reason why central assistance or taxpayers’ money ought to be used to help their owners rebuild their commercial properties.
That aside, no representative from the state government attended the review meeting chaired by Modi. Apart from Adhikari and Debashree Chaudhuri, Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar attended that meeting.
Mamata Banerjee’s decision to skip the meeting with Modi attracted immediate flak from Governor Dhankar who tweeted: “It would have served the interests of the state and its people” if Mamata Banerjee had attended the meeting with the PM.
“Confrontational stance ill serves (sic) interests of State or democracy. Non participation by CM and officials not in sync with constitutionalism or rule of law,” added Dhankar.
Mamata Banerjee’s conduct on Friday has once again brought to the fore her politicisation of all matters and her unnecessary confrontationist and combative stance which adversely affects Bengal’s interests.
Meanwhile Patnaik looked beyond immediate relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction in the cyclone-affected areas; he has set his sights on making Odisha resilient to natural disasters like cyclones.
Odisha had, long ago, set an example for the rest of the country in putting in place robust measures to mitigate the effects of the frequent floods, droughts and cyclones that visit Odisha (read this).
Odisha is now planning ahead to make itself immune from the devastating effects of disasters like cyclones.
Bengal, unfortunately, cannot see beyond the immediate need for relief.
Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.
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