At PM Modi, Mamata Banerjee's Cyclone Survey, A Marked Social Distancing

As PM Modi arrived in Bengal to assess the cyclone damage, the strain showed.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi today announced Rs 1,000 crore assistance for West Bengal after an aerial tour of the state where 80 people have died and infrastructure has been badly damaged by Cyclone Amphan.

“We will support Bengal in this hour of tragedy, with relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction. We all want West Bengal to move ahead. The centre will always stand with West Bengal in these testing times,” said the Prime Minister, terming the financial help to Bengal as “advance interim assistance”.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who was seated at a distance from him as part of virus precautions, later told the media that the Prime Minister didn’t clarify whether it would be an “advance or a package”.

“He said he’ll decide later on but he said it may be advance also. I said whatever you will give you decide, we’ll give you details,” Ms Banerjee told the media.

“In this hour of crisis, we feel that we must work together. There are so many areas where they can help us, state government also exists in this country and central government also exists. If there is a crisis, everybody must work together,” said the Chief Minister, who has been resentful of what she calls the centre’s bullying and interference in her state and who has accused PM Modi of depriving Bengal of funds.

Ms Banerjee’s interactions with the ruling BJP have been progressively acrimonious as Bengal heads to elections next year.

As PM Modi arrived in Bengal to assess the cyclone damage, the strain showed. Social distancing was the order of the day, from the airport to the survey helicopter to the press conference later.

In photos that drew comment on social media, Ms Banerjee was seen walking far ahead of PM Modi after welcoming him.

In the chopper, Bengal Governor Jagdish Dhankar sat opposite the PM while Ms Banerjee was not in the same frame.

At the briefing, PM Modi said a central team would survey the damage.

“At this hour, we are also facing the coronavirus crisis. The mantra to fight coronavirus and the mantra to fight the cyclone are completely opposite. In corona, people must stay where they are and observe social distancing. In cyclone, people have to move to safety,” the Prime Minister, who used a scarf as a mask during his visit, remarked.

“Despite these contradictions, West Bengal is fighting well.”

The cyclone swept through coastal Bengal on Wednesday, leaving a trail of destruction with thousands of homes damaged and trees and electric poles uprooted. State capital Kolkata suffered huge damage as the roaring winds tore off roofs, walls and trees, leaving roads blocked.

Ms Banerjee had asked the Prime Minister to visit the state which, according to her, had suffered damage worth Rs 1 lakh crore.

This is PM Modi’s first travel outside Delhi in 83 days as he remained in Delhi because of the nationwide lockdown to fight coronavirus.

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