Thursday, November 15, 2007

Remorse? CM sticking to it, sticking to it, sticking to it

Calcutta, Nov. 14: Make no mistake: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is “sticking” to his Nandigram numismatics, thrice over.

Make no mistake again: his “primary responsibility” is to function as chief minister, but he is not above his party.

The chief minister today let loose fusillade after fusillade to justify his comment that opposition supporters in Nandigram had been “paid back in their own coin”, saying: “I stick to whatever I had said yesterday. I stick to it. I stick to it.”

Under fire for making a distinction between CPM supporters and others in Nandigram, Bhattacharjee said he would have to hear out his party. But he did not give a clear answer whether the CPM, and not the government, was supreme to him. “I have to listen to everybody. Similarly, I have to listen to what my party says,’’ he said.

Asked whether he would dispel the notion that his comments had made him look like the chief minister of the CPM rather than of Bengal, Bhattacharjee said: “Why should I do so? I know my responsibilities. Moreover, as I have said, I am not above the party. I am the head of the administration for both sides. In fact, in that capacity, I had tried to hold discussions with the parties for two months. But no result could be achieved.”

Bhattacharjee said he could not disown his political identity, although his main job was to function as chief minister. Asked whether he was chief minister or a CPM leader first, he said: “I am both chief minister and a CPM leader. I cannot and should not disown my political character and identity. But, by abiding by the Constitution, I have been sworn in and took my oath. So, my primary responsibility is to function as chief minister. After that, I am a CPM leader.’’

Referring to the coin controversy, the chief minister said: “I have talked to many people. They do not think that there is any controversy. By saying ‘our people’, I meant everybody — meaning CPM boys and workers. Eta ki bolte pari je aami party-r urdhe (can I say that I am above the party?)

“Two-three days ago, the coin had been thrown back to those who were carrying arms and weapons. But now, things are improving. I want all the homeless to return, regardless of political affiliation.’’

The chief minister also derided a newspaper for “provocative reports”, saying he was not acting against it because “chhuncho mere haath gondho korte chaina (I don’t want to sully my hands by killing a mole)”.

The incendiary remarks over successive days could be traced in part to an impulsive streak in the chief minister. But they also carry the hallmark of the CPM’s time-tested maxim that offence is the best defence.

Confronted by a crisis, CPM leaders rarely make public statements not meant primarily for the cadres. Bhattacharjee’s remorseless reassertion is being seen as an attempt to convince the ranks that all’s well and that the unshakeable party would stand by loyalists.

Asked whether “coins” would be similarly thrown back elsewhere when the CPM was on the back foot, he said: “Nandigram is an abnormal and exceptional case. I don’t think such a situation would arise in other places.”

However, slogans of a Nandigram rerun were on the lips of CPM supporters who went on a rampage in retaliation to an attack on a party leader in Krishnagar today.

Bhattacharjee did act like a chief minister by saying no outsider would be allowed to stay in Nandigram but linked the assertion to a party decision. He also warned against organising violent marches.

The chief minister allocated Rs 50 lakh from the chief minister’s relief fund for about 900 families whose houses have been destroyed or damaged. Bhattacharjee said a Nandigram visit was not being planned immediately.

Bhattacharjee, who had yesterday said in reply to a question that “Brand Buddha” was intact, announced the “good news” of a collaboration that would gift Bengal its first biotech park. Representatives of Berkeley University of California and IIT Kharagpur, which will tie up for the project on 100 acres, met the chief minister today.