Following her brief meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday evening, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said she had requested him to revoke the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Ms. Banerjee met Mr. Modi at the Raj Bhavan close to the city’s central Esplanade area.
Mr. Modi will dedicate to the nation four refurbished heritage buildings of the city — the Old Currency Building, the Belvedere House, the Metcalfe House and the Victoria Memorial Hall.
“I have requested the Prime Minister to re-think about CAA and NRC. I would like to see those withdrawn,” Ms. Banerjee told journalists after the meeting. There was a nationwide movement going on against the CAA, the NRC and the NPR (National Population Register) and “any discrimination among people is not wanted.”
Till the time of going to press, Mr. Modi has not commented about his meeting with the Chief Minister.
Soon after her meeting with Mr. Modi, Ms. Banerjee was on the dais set up by the students’ wing of the Trinamool Congress (TMCP), opposite the Raj Bhavan, for an anti-CAA protest. Addressing the protesters, Ms. Banerjee said she would continue to oppose the “discriminatory” law.
“We do not accept the notification on CAA which has come yesterday. We do not accept NRC, NPR also,” the Chief Minister said.
Ms. Banerjee’s meeting with the Prime Minister and followed immediately by her address to the anti-CAA protest raised eyebrows among activists and civil society members.
“This is unthinkable that the Chief Minister decided to meet him (Mr. Modi) at Raj Bhavan, given that she has opposed CAA all along. Then within minutes of the meeting she came out to give slogan against CAA, NRC,” said Moushumi Bhowmik, an eminent musician and activist.
The thousands of activists who had gathered at the Esplanade crossing echoed the unease. “It is very unfortunate,” said Aditi Majumdar, a writer. Communist Party of India’s (CPI-M) Politburo member Md. Salim accused Ms Banerjee of “maintaining a double standard” by orchestrating “a drama.”
Earlier in the day, TMC’s general secretary, Subrata Bakshi told The Hindu that there is “nothing wrong in meeting the Prime Minister.”
“Why is it a problem? Can’t the Chief Minister meet the Prime Minister?” asked Mr Bakshi.
The protesters, who were not affiliated to any political party, however, were not happy with the explanation. At the Esplanade, slogans against both Mr. Modi and Ms. Banerjee were raised. “Didi-Modi, shame! shame!” was one of the repeated slogans along with “Narendra Modi, go back.”
The protesters armed mainly with black flags and balloons were prevented from gathering at the Red Road, which Mr. Modi took from the Race Course helipad, to reach the Raj Bhawan. The Raj Bhawan itself was cordoned off from completely and Section 144 was imposed in the area.
However, while the western side of Red Road was cut off, which houses Raj Bhawan, Section 144 was not imposed on the eastern part and the protesters carried on with their sloganeering.
Realising that the students and independent activists were upset, Ms Banerjee explained that she made a “courtesy call” to the Prime Minister.
“I visited the President too, so I met the Prime Minister while Firhad Hakim is the Minister-in-waiting on behalf of the State. I requested the Prime Minister to look into our [GST] quota of about ₹38,000 crore. He said he will look into it,” Ms. Banerjee.
The protesters meanwhile said they would stay put at the Esplanade which is not too far from the venue of Mr. Modi’s Sunday’s programme at the Netaji Indoor Stadium.
(With inputs from Shiv Sahay Singh)