Regardless of the merits of either party to the dispute in the union-state tug-of-war over former West Bengal Chief Secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay, the imbroglio is coming across as an attack by a sore Goliath being fended off by a rejuvenated local David. The optics is working so much against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the gains, if any, from this tussle will be so negligible that the battle is not worth fighting. The media, which always loves a good story, is enjoying Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s argument that Bandyopadhyay was recently given an extension as much as it is relishing clarifications by ‘sources’ in the union government every day. In the consternation, nobody cares whether the prime minister had to wait for the state head in the 28 May meeting for a review on the aftermath of Cyclone Yaas or the chief minister waited for him and then left to honour other appointments. The BJP, meanwhile, may cry hoarse about Mamata Banerjee appointing Bandyopadhyay’s wife as the vice chancellor of Calcutta University in return for the chief secretary’s ‘stellar’ service rendered to her. The citizens of the country, especially those in West Bengal, are looking at the affair as an avoidable drag. Where the section of the state’s population that has given the BJP 77 seats in the latest assembly election could have well done with some reprieve from the marauding workers of the Trinamool Congress led by its Muslim henchmen, the Ministry of Home Affairs turned a deaf ear to the cries of persecuted Hindus. Now, what the people will get out of the squabble over secretarial protocol even if the union finally manages to serve the ‘defiant’ IAS officer his just deserts is a question the Modi dispensation is not answering.
Those portraying the Modi-Banerjee duel as the union’s assault on federalism are, however, propagandists speaking an academic lingo of hardly any public interest. The issue is that neither side is taking the lesson that a bureaucrat, whether of the union or a state government, serves none but his own career. That neither side appreciates that the deterioration in the union-state relations over an appointment — or ‘disappointment’ if one may — will bear no fruit for either is frustrating to note. Is the prime minister, known in his close circles as one who is in awe of the men in anachronistic safari suits, getting sucked into a beadledom between the IAS officers of different cadres?
As such, the insistence of the premier to get things done using the British-era, laggard bureaucracy has done little justice to the prime minister’s image of a reformer. Only if Modi had taken steps to alter the means of governance such as the Indian Administrative Service and the BJP-ruled states had led by an example of reforming the police with as much zeal as the regime got rid of Article 370, made talaq-e-biddat illegal and punishable, changed the citizenship law of 1955, turned around the farm sector — never mind the Khalistani-sponsored demonstrations along the borders of Delhi — etc, ordinary citizens would have by now experienced a positive overhaul in their wretched living. And no effort to reform the judiciary further to the NJAC while Arun Jaitley was living ever came forth. Where in this misery of the inertial Indian life fits the miserable wrangling over a certain Alapan Bandyopadhyay?