In May 2019, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata had said that she did not consider Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the country’s leader and thus did not sit for a meeting with him over Cyclone Fani.
“I do not want to be seen with him on the same platform. I will speak to the next prime minister. We can take care of cyclone damage by ourselves. We do not need the Centre's help ahead of polls," Mamata had been quoted as saying by ANI.
A year on, Bengal has just gone through one of the worst cyclones in recent history, and on Friday, Prime Minister Modi travelled to West Bengal and conducted an aerial survey as well as holding a meeting with Mamata and the state’s governor, Jagdeep Dhankhar.
The Chief Minister had recently asked the Centre to aid the relief measures. “I would request Prime Minister Narendra Modi to come and visit the affected areas," Banerjee had said on Thursday, adding that she had never witnessed such a severe cyclone in her entire life. A day later, the two leaders undertook an aerial survey and held meetings to discuss the way forward.
So, what changed?
For one thing, the effects of Fani were not felt in West Bengal to the same extent as the neighbouring state of Odisha. While reports suggest that 72 people had died in Odisha due to the cyclone, no loss of life was reported in West Bengal. The state did receive heavy rainfall, but the cyclone’s impact was muted. Thus, the state had the resources to cope with the damage caused by the storm. In the case of Amphan, the state has already recorded around 80 deaths, and as the Chief Minister said there had “never been this kind of a disaster”.
“60% of the people in the State have been affected by the cyclone,” Mamata had said.
Secondly, there had been political undertones to the situation in 2019. Cyclone Fani came at a time when the national elections were around the corner. The Trinamool Congress had alleged that Modi had contacted the then governor, Keshari Nath Tripathi instead of the Chief Minister. According to a report by The Hindu that quoted a government official, the PM’s staff had tried to contact Mamata but had failed. Calling the situation unfortunate, the TMC had accused the Prime Minister of acting as a party leader rather than in a manner befitting his office. Modi had spoken to Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik – something that the TMC was quick to point out – and later visited Bhubaneswar. He had sought a similar meeting in West Bengal, but the state government refused the review meeting, stating that officials were busy with elections.
Perhaps the biggest reason is the COVID-19 outbreak. India has been reeling under the virus outbreak, and as of Friday afternoon, the total number of recorded cases has crossed 1,18,400. As per data given by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 66,330 cases remain active. There have been 3,583 fatalities. West Bengal has so far recorded around 3197 positive cases of which 1193 people have been ‘cured’ and discharged, while 259 people have died. With all resources being utilised to curb the spread of the virus, it is perhaps understandable why Central help was necessary at this time.
As Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Thursday, “I have told the Union Home Minister that I have never seen this kind of disaster. We require help. For COVID-19 also we did not get any money. I have to bring back migrant workers and make arrangements for quarantine. We have to spend a lot of money.”
Whatever the reason be, the two leaders seem to be working in tandem to counter the effects of the cyclone. On Friday, Prime Minister Modi announced a Rs 1,000 crore relief package for the state, saying the nation stood with Bengal in this hour of crisis. He also said that Rs 2 lakh would be given to the next of kin of the deceased persons while those who suffered serious injuries will get Rs 50,000 each.