Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Basu effect riles Buddha


Statesman News Service
KOLKATA, June 5: Photographs of Mr Jyoti Basu and Miss Mamata Banerjee holding hands might have convinced many that the CPI-M is in control of the peace initiative, thanks to its most veteran leader. But, for the chief minister ~ not to mention Alimuddin Street mandarins ~ an awkward chapter is unfolding.
After maintaining for months that a majority of the Singur farmers voluntarily sold their land for the Tata small car factory and only a handful of people, mostly outsiders, were carrying out the agitation, the chief minister was forced to take a U-turn today ~ the government is ready to discuss with Miss Banerjee her demand that plots which were allegedly acquired without consent in Singur be returned, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said today at Writers’ Buildings. “First we need to know her specific demands. After that I will ask the commerce and industry minister to talk to the Opposition leader. We need to know what the problems are... what’s the solution. I don’t know whether the controversy is over 200 acres or 300 acres, but the demand should be specific,” Mr Bhattacharjee said.
Twenty four hours after the meeting between Mr Basu and Miss Banerjee that marked a watershed in state politics, the Trinamul Congress was visibly upbeat while top CPI-M leaders including the chief minister, party state secretary Mr Biman Bose, industries minister Mr Nirupam Sen and land reforms minister Mr Abdur Rezzak dashed to Mr Basu’s residence in the evening for a detailed discussion in the light of what had transpired at yesterday’s meeting. Housing minister Mr Gautam Deb, a close aide of Mr Basu, who was at Indira Bhawan yesterday, was also present. The meeting went on for about an hour and it was learnt that the chief minister and Mr Bose tried to convince the veteran leader that the government could not meet all Miss Banerjee’s demands as it has already made a commitment to the Tatas.
A senior Trinamul leader said today that his party believed Mr Basu’s “sagacious” handling of the range of issues raised by Miss Banerjee would help both the cause of peace and the movement the Opposition had launched against “unbridled and forcible” acquisition of farm land in the name of industrialisation. The LF junior partners ~ Forward Bloc, RSP and CPI ~ also hailed the development as something they had been advocating for long. “Mr Basu is not only our leader, he commands respect from the Opposition as well, which is what the Trinamul chief most graciously said yesterday. We’ve been asking for Mr Basu’s intervention and Mr Ashoke Ghosh, FB state general secretary, had even ensured Mr Basu’s presence, even for a brief while given his ill-health, at the all-party meeting on 24 May that ended with Miss Banerjee walking out,” a Bloc leader said. The CPI-M’s allies, in fact, seemed to enjoy the sight of the chief minister under pressure, indicating ~ whilst not saying so in so many words ~ that he was only get his comeuppance for his unilateral decisions and individualistic style of functioning.
The question that remains: What made Mr Basu take the “historic step” that at one stroke rendered the Buddha-Biman-Benoy (Konar) axis, forming the Alimuddin triumvirate, irrelevant, and accorded Miss Banerjee the stature of the main Opposition leader who needs to be taken seriously rather than just be treated with barely disguised contempt? According to the Trinamul and LF insiders, the CPI-M state leadership panicked when the mantle of taking the peace initiative forward fell on Mr Bose after Mr Ghosh washed his hands of the affair. And Mr Basu was seen as someone who could save the situation from turning ugly rather then relish violent confrontation if the state plunged into chaos, given that Miss Banerjee had clearly indicated her intention to ratchet up the agitation on 3 June in Singur.
Indeed, last night a section of party leaders tried to project Mr Basu’s meeting with Miss Banerjee as the follow-up to a collective party decision. But sources close to Mr Basu today confirmed that Mr Basu decided on his own to call up Miss Banerjee. He kept to form, though, and intimated two colleagues beforehand ~ the chief minister and the state secretary. The CPI-M’s search for plausibility can be easily explained ~ all one needs to do is go through the statements Mr Basu made at the Press conference yesterday in the presence of Miss Banerjee:
*Mr Basu seemed to indicate he was aware that his party supporters were attacking Nandigram villagers from adjacent Khejuri ~ something the CPI-M have refuted over the past months. Mr Basu also said he would ask the government (read home/police minister Mr Bhattacharjee) to take steps to ensure these attacks are stopped.
*Although the CPI-M had made it clear that only Nandigram would be on the agenda of the all-party peace talks, Mr Basu allowed Miss Banerjee to raise the Singur issue ~ a shock for the chief minister. Mr Basu told the Press that according to Miss Banerjee not more 600 acres are required for the car factory, even though the government officially maintains that all 1000-odd acres at Singur are required for the main plant and ancillary industries.
But even if the chief minister and a section of the CPI-M are not over the moon, Mr Basu’s effort at breaking the ice did result in Miss Banerjee taking one step forward ~ she paved the way for the all-party talks at the local level in Nandigram to be held successfully for the first time since January. The meeting, convened by the DM Mr Anup Agarwal, was held to resolve the issue of repairing roads which were dug up by the Bhumi Uchched Protirodh Committee around Nandigram. It was attended by all political parties and BUPC members. Earlier, BUPC boycotted the all-party meetings at the local level. Mr Agarwal said restoration of roads would start from tomorrow.