Calcutta, Jan. 12: Minister Subrata Mukherjee today said he had reacted to governor M.K. Narayanan's statement only after he was "asked" to do so.
"I said what I did about the governor's comments on the Bhangar incidents only after I was asked to do so," Mukherjee told The Telegraph from Sagar Island.
Asked if he had acted on the advice of chief minister Mamata Banerjee, Mukherjee confined himself to saying: "I did not say anything on my own about the governor's comments."
A day after the governor had described the recent events in Bhangar as "a kind of goondaism", panchayat minister Mukherjee had said Narayanan was acting as a "partyman". He had also said the governor was being shown "the yellow card" and he would be put "under watch".
The response had evoked widespread surprise, not because of the content, but because of the source. Mukherjee, the only person in the Mamata Banerjee government with previous experience in a state ministry, is not known for making intemperate statements.
Yesterday, appearing keen to contain the confrontation with the governor, Mamata had replaced Mukherjee as the de facto spokesperson for the government.
Asked about the replacement, Mukherjee said today: "First of all, I must tell you that I was never appointed a government spokesperson. I always give my reactions to an issue relating to the government whenever I am asked to do so. So, the question of my removal as the government spokesperson does not arise."
In reply to a question on his absence from today's government programme to mark Swami Vivekananda's birth anniversary, where both Mamata and Narayanan were present, Mukherjee said: "I did not attend the programme because of my preoccupations in Sagar Island. But I will emphasise that I have done nothing wrong."
Mukherjee, who is also minister for public health engineering, is supervising the arrangements for the Ganga Sagar mela, where the holy dip is slated to take place on Monday. His absence at the birth anniversary event at Salt Lake stadium stood out because of the presence of almost the entire Trinamul leadership.
A section of Trinamul leaders said that the chief minister was upset as Mukherjee had "overstepped his brief" by using words such as "yellow card" and "watch".
"As far as I know the party and the way it functions, there can be little doubt that Subratada was asked to convey the government's displeasure on the governor's statement. But the language that he used about a constitutional head of state was too harsh," said a Trinamul MLA from south Calcutta.
At the Salt Lake stadium this afternoon, both Narayanan and Mamata displayed warmth and bonhomie befitting their stature during the opening ceremony to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda.
Mamata and Narayanan stepped onto the dais together around 1.15pm. Mamata showed the way while the governor went up to a portrait of Swami Vivekananda to offer tribute. After he had lit the ceremonial lamp, the governor smiled and handed the candle to Mamata to follow suit.
"Being the host, she offered her seat and another one to Swami Girishananda and Swami Atmapriyananda from Ramakrishna Mission who attended the programme. She herself sat at the back but spoke to the governor whenever the opportunity came. She also saw him off after the event," a Trinamul minister said.
Mamata rushed to join the governor at the end of the programme before the national anthem was played.
"Who would say that so much controversy had happened in the past few days?" a Trinamul MLA wondered, perhaps forgetting for a moment that both Mamata and Narayanan are too seasoned public figures to allow matters of state to interfere with social courtesies and decorum.