West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee buried her differences with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and received him wholeheartedly during latter's first visit to the state. While Modi's visit went like clockwork, the surprise was the half-hour unscheduled meeting between Mamata and Modi before the PM's programme at Nazrul Mancha. Clearly, the ice was broken. The smiles flowed easily when Mamata shared the dais with Modi for the first time and later broke bread with him at Raj Bhavan. The chief minister later accompanied the PM to Asansol.
Mamata sat next to Modi at Nazrul Mancha. The two were seen conversing freely and broke into a smile together at one point of time. So when the CM complained about the absence of banks in many panchayat areas of Bengal, the PM said: “I do agree with her view. This problem has persisted for 60 years. She has said this in front of me because she knows that I can deliver the goods.”
The audience at Nazrul Mancha witnessed two politicians, in complete command of their realms, talking of cooperation and development and putting an end to confrontation. The CM, who had once mocked Tripura CM Manik Sarkar for meeting Modi, said: “The state and the Centre should work shoulder to shoulder for the country's development.”
With 12 Trinamool MPs in the Rajya Sabha, Mamata helped the Modi government in passing the coal bill, mines and minerals bill. Mamata's party has also given support, in principle, to the GST, which is due to be placed in the Rajya Sabha. In return, Mamata wants special assistance for cash-strapped Bengal - be it debt waiver, waiver of crop insurance or a special Backward Region Grant Fund. In a seven-page memorandum to the PM, Mamata listed the centrally assisted schemes where there has been substantial cut in central support.
Team India bigger than politics: Modi
Prime Minister Modi made a forceful case for `Team India' to achieve greater cooperation between the Centre and the states in Asansol after Mamata made a similar pitch in her address calling for development to continue along with politics. “Political interests cannot be bigger than national interest,” said Modi. “Henceforth, for the economic development of the country, the state and Centre will act together and show the world the strength of Team India,” he said, adding, let bygones of 2014 election campaign be bygones.
Modi's outreach assumes considerable significance in light of Trinamool's belligerent opposition to some of the central government's proposed Bills, including land acquisition and GST bills. To reinforce his case, he said the Rs 3,000 billion from coal auction will go to states for development. “I have tried to bring cooperative and competitive federalism in the Centre-state relationship because I have served for long as CM and know the problems of states,” Modi said. Modi in his 25-minute speech at the Polo Ground in Asansol, about 200km from Kolkata said, “In my Team India, there are 30 pillars or 30 states. In Niti Aayog, the PM and CMs are members of the same Team India.”
Before Modi spoke, Mamata had said, “If we can work together, the country will move ahead. When we divide, the country is doomed. We don't want division among people. Politics will be there and development will also be there. The federal and central structures will be there, and we will work together within the ambit of the Constitution.”
The PM said the commercial production of 2.9 million tones per annum integrated greenfield IISCO steel plant at Burnpur is a good example of Team India at work. He praised Mamata for her efforts in making this possible, and also acknowledged her role in resolving India-Bangladesh border disputes.
Modi visits Dakshineswar temple, Belur Math
Modi spent the Sunday morning in spiritual pursuit, praying and meditating at the Dakshineswar temple, the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission's headquarters Belur Math.
During his hour-long stay at the Math, located in neighbouring Howrah district, Modi meditated for about 20 minutes at ascetic-philosopher Swami Vivekananda's bedroom, which was specially opened at his request.
Modi also paid homage at the temples dedicated to 19th century mystic Ramakrishna Pramahamsa, Swami Brahmananda, Ramkrishna's consort Sarada Devi and Swami Viveknanada.
Accompanied by West Bengal Governor K N Tripathi, the prime minister spent time with the monks at the main building, where he was welcomed with a bouquet by Ramakrishna Mission vice president Swami Prabhananda.
Earlier in the morning, Modi became India's first prime minister to visit the Dakshineswar temple on the eastern bank of river Hooghly. Dedicated to 'Bhavatarini', an aspect of goddess Kali, the temple was built in 1855 by Rani Rashmoni, a philanthropist and devotee of the goddess.
“He visited the sanctum sanctorum and touched the feet of the idol... Modi also performed aarti," said Kushal Chowdhury, secretary of the temple's board of trustees. Modi went to the room where Sri Ramakrishna, who served as the temple's priest for decades, used to stay.
On Saturday, Modi called on the ailing Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission president Swami Atmasthananda at the Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratisthan hospital and sought the monk's blessings. Swami Atmasthananda has been in the hospital since February 21.
Their relationship goes back to Modi's youth when he wanted to join the order. Atmasthananda, then deputed to the mission's Rajkot centre, told him that his calling lay elsewhere. In 2013, Modi, then the chief minister of Gujarat, visited Belur Math and sought blessings from Athmasthananda.