Banerjee meets Modi
There is nothing unusual about the chief minister of a state meeting the prime minister. But if Narendra Modi’s meeting with Mamata Banerjee assumed some significance, it was because the latter had chosen to avoid such an encounter ever since the former became prime minister. Obviously, political compulsions in Bengal made her put up a defiant front. Even Nitish Kumar, who had been one of Modi’s bitterest critics, has offered to work with the Centre on his return as Bihar’s chief minister. Strengthening Centre-state relations has been a priority for Modi’s government. However, Banerjee stuck to her guns. She was the only chief minister to stay away from the first meeting of the newly-formed Niti Aayog. So what prompted Banerjee, known for her unpredictability, to change course? One answer to this is official—she met the prime minister to press her old demand for a moratorium on the repayment of Bengal’s loans. There was hardly any chance of Modi accepting the demand, as the Centre had repeatedly made clear its position on the issue. And a statement issued from the prime minister’s office after the meeting vindicated New Delhi’s claim that the new formula for the devolution of financial resources would substantially raise the fund flow to Bengal. However, this was no surprise to Banerjee. She knew Modi would offer her no moratorium on Bengal’s loans. So what exactly did she hope to get from her meeting with the prime minister? The answer is unclear but the political backdrop to the meeting throws up interesting theories. Banerjee faces unprecedented political difficulties, thanks to the exposure of her party’s alleged involvement with the Saradha scandal. Several of her party’s leaders are in jail or are out on bail after their arrests. The long arm of the CBI has also reached her party itself, with the agency asking for details of the sources of its funds over the past few years. Capping it all came the revolt of Mukul Roy, until now her closest lieutenant and the national general secretary of the party. To make matters even worse for Banerjee, Roy too met Modi a few days before her meeting with the prime minister. If not the state’s economy, Bengal’s current politics may have had much to do with the two meetings.
Apropos of your edit “Swachh Bharat”, it is difficult to see how political parties would agree to ratify the Law Commission’s recommendation that they must disclose the sources of even the ‘small donations’, albeit subject to some conditions. The ruling party, with its massive strength in the Lower House is going to give it a kick, given how it has the highest amount of funds from undisclosed sources. There is every likelihood that the parties—opposition and ruling, central and state—will all get together to reject the proposal. As a result, the holders of illegal wealth are going to keep looking at political contribution as a channel for black money. The only solution is to look at state funding of elections. That way, the parties would still have to provide accounting and transparency will reign supreme.
Sumona Pal, Kolkata
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