Kolkata: The ‘Oxford Union Debating Society’, citing unforeseen ‘circumstances’, sought Wednesday to postpone a scheduled virtual address by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at the last moment. The move by Oxford drew flak from the Trinamool Congress (TMC). The party said it sniffed ‘political pressure from the highest level’ in the matter. Mamata Banerjee was set to become the first Indian woman chief minister to address the ‘The Oxford Union Debate’ around 2.30 pm. However, the organisers around 1.50pm requested that the programme be rescheduled. It said ‘nothing prevails over circumstances sometimes’.
The West Bengal Home Department reacted sharply on Twitter. “Today afternoon, the organisers have suddenly sought postponement and rescheduling of the programme at the last moment! The request has been made telephonically from the organisers’ end, citing some unforeseen problems, a brief while ago. The programme with Oxford Union today (Wednesday) stands cancelled,” the department said.
The TMC leadership is infuriated over the development. It claimed that ‘political pressure’ might have forced the organisers to take such a call.
“This is unprecedented. A programme planned months ahead was cancelled a few minutes before the event was scheduled to start. This is not the first time that such a thing has happened. Earlier too, her programmes at international fora and foreign visits have been cancelled at the 11th hour,” a senior TMC parliamentarian said. “All sorts of pressure were applied from the highest level to stop Mamata Banerjee’s address. We condemn such politics,” the parliamentarian added.
In 2018, Banerjee’s programme at Chicago to mark Swami Vivekananda’s birth anniversary, scheduled visit to China were cancelled. Then her address at St Stephen’s college in New Delhi was also called off.
The Oxford Union Debating Society offered its ‘sincere apologies’. “Our audience sent a great many questions, and we were all working hard to pull a number of elements together. However, nothing prevails over circumstances sometimes; it seems,” the society said in a mail to the West Bengal government.
“I sincerely hope that the Hon’ble Chief Minister will understand and might honour us with her esteemed presence at the earliest possible convenience to you. With your permission, I will pass your details onto my successor, to whom I hand over this Friday,” the mail further said.
According to state secretariat sources, Banerjee, as the first Indian woman CM at the debate, was expected to talk about the welfare schemes launched by her government. Among them were ‘Kanyashree’, ‘Rupasree’, ‘Krishak Bandhu’ and ‘Duare Bangla’. She had received the invitation in July, the sources said.