West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s recent pronouncements are causing the Government of India acute embarrassment in the conduct of foreign relations with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and China. Delhi-based diplomatic sources point out that the major reason for Ms Banerjee’s latest outbursts against the BJP-ruled Government is the near breakdown of her own government – whether in administration, governance or in maintaining communal harmony.
Recent developments involving the Union Government and West Bengal tell their own story. Worse, they reveal a surprising lack of minimal coordination required in intergovernmental communication and federal coordination.
A senior Central Intelligence branch officer, attending a 90-minute long high level meeting in Kolkata attended by Ms Banerjee herself, specifically replied to certain charges laid against the central agencies. More importantly, he made it clear that “there was no Bangladeshi hand” in the recent outbreak of prolonged communal violence in Baduria, Basirhat and other areas of North 24 Parganas. No Bangladeshi had crossed the border illegally to create a communal mayhem in India, he said, specifically in the context of Baduria.
This was a direct contradiction of a pointed charge made by Ms Banerjee against what she described as “efforts made by Bangladeshi fundamentalists in collusion with local miscreants” to spark communal fires in West Bengal – a reference to the Baduria violence, which cost one life and caused much loss of property. The Bangladeshis had been allowed entry over “a free border,” aided and abetted by India’s own BSF, she had alleged. Most had escaped, but Bengal police were looking for some who had stayed back. They would be arrested soon.
Mr Manoj Singh, representing the central IB, not only shot down this version, but added that in recent times, there had been hardly any significant infiltration from Bangladesh.
The Centre’s reply to another allegation levelled by Ms Banerjee was equally embarrassing for the Bengal chief minister. According to the latter, Chinese was being taught in 400 schools in the Pasupatinath area, “close to the borders of Darjeeling.” Talking to newsmen, she asked angrily, “What is our IB, RAW, the NIA and other agencies are doing? Even we know all this, what are they doing?”
She went on to ask what would happen if China took over Sikkim? “West Bengal would be sandwiched and the chicken’s neck corridor would be threatened, the present Indian Government has antagonised Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and China by its actions,” she said.
The centre’s reply to the state Government was as elaborate as it was convincing. It was pointed out that Pasupatinath in Nepal was at least 35 miles away from Darjeeling, quite a long distance by hilly terrain standards and certainly nowhere near its border! And the population and economic profile of Pasupatinath simply could not sustain as many as “400 schools teaching Nepalese children Chinese!”
Border Security Force sources also dismissed the state Government’s charge of having “aided and abetted Bangladeshi communalists who had crossed over the border illegally.” No such incident had occurred, they said. According to their reports, local cattle smugglers were behind the armed attack on certain communities, a reaction to their anger against the official ban on the illegal sale of cows.
Even as analysts wondered about Ms Banerjee’s reasons for pulling up India for what she felt was a failure of its foreign relations in its own South Asian neighbourhood, they pointed out that her facts were not correct. India’s relations with Bangladesh were very cordial and ditto for Bhutan, contrary to what the state chief minister said. “If there are small tensions, like the Teesta river water sharing issue, ironically Ms Banerjee is the problem, and certainly not Delhi,” says one analyst.
The question arises, why is Ms Banerjee making what are obviously unfounded allegations against the BJP-ruled Centre. The Union Home Ministry and the BSF apart, even the Ministry of External Affairs has had to step in to set the records straight in response to some of her comments.
During the usual sessions of the Parliamentary Sub-committees, assigned official spokesmen of different departments confidentially brief MPs belonging to various parties and clarify the Government’s position on critical issues. Recently, a TMC MP referred to certain views expressed by Ms Banerjee on India’s foreign affairs. The official, instead of responding at length, ruled out any explanation but added, “Such comments certainly do not make things easy for us, or India.” For good measure, he urged upon the TMC MP to keep his leader (Ms Banerjee) informed.
Observers do not think that Ms Banerjee who raises sensitive issues involving diplomacy and foreign relations the public domain deliberately to embarrass the ruling party at the centre, will change her behaviour or observe the unwritten conventions of governance.
As Central BJP leader Kailash Vijaybargia says: “The TMC Government knows its days are numbered, thanks to the massive corruption of scores of its MPs, MLAs and ministers, who have swindled people of crores of rupees through chit fund schemes. Its record in maintaining law and order is miserable, its open support of Islamic Jihadi elements for vote bank considerations are also common knowledge. The only thing it can try to prolong its survival is to create confusion and deflect public attention from its misdeeds by attacking the centre. But such cheap tactics will not protect it from the wrath of the common people.”