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SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY

The West Bengal chief minister’s outburst at the CII meet was a pointless expression of emotion that will not serve the interests of the state

The two terms, common sense and communists, share many letters of the alphabet. But common sense is not always the strongest virtue of most communists. Take the example of the chief minister of West Bengal, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. At a meeting of the Confederation of Indian Industry held in Calcutta to reposition the East, Mr Bhattacharjee said his usual spiel about West Bengal being a good investment destination. He then surprised everybody, especially the consul-general of the United States of America and the British deputy high commissioner who were present, by launching into a passionate condemnation of the intervention in Iraq by Britain and the US. Whatever may be Mr Bhattacharjee’s personal view on the matter — and he is welcome to them — his strong words were gratuitous given the occasion. Mr Bhattacharjee was trying to project his state as a profitable location for capital. His or his party’s views on the Iraq war were not of any great relevance within the agenda of the meeting. No investor will put his money in West Bengal because the chief minister and the ruling party are virulently anti-US or because Calcutta is brought to a halt by anti-war rallies. On the contrary, such features will only compound an investor’s fears about a state where the red flag still flutters. Mr Bhattacharjee may have thus scored an own goal.

Those who know the political culture of West Bengal will express no surprise at the exhibition Mr Bhattacharjee made of himself. The political culture of Bengalis is steeped in emotion and sentiment. These in the world of international politics are liabilities because they run against the grain of reasoned calculations based on self-interest. Mr Bhattacharjee’s show of righteous anger will make not the slightest difference to US policy either in Iraq or anywhere else in the world. Similarly, what has happened to Mr Saddam Hussein does not affect Mr Bhattacharjee in any way. Deliberate silence on Mr Bhattacharjee’s part would have served West Bengal better. It would not have created an atmosphere of unnecessary hostility between the US and West Bengal. The dangers of such a vitiated atmosphere at a time when West Bengal is looking for investment need no underlining.

Mr Bhattacharjee is not only a member of a party. He is also the chief minister of a state. It is important to maintain the distinction between these two personas. He was invited to speak at the CII meeting not because he is a party ideologue but because he is the chief minister. Unfortunately, he spoke as a party person rather than as a responsible individual holding the most important job in the state. As the chief minister, it is Mr Bhattacharjee’s responsibility to further the interests of the state above every thing else. It is not his responsibility, as the chief minister, to project his or his party’s ideology. Mr Bhattacharjee has failed in his responsibility because he has allowed his emotion to carry him. To emote is to sacrifice reason. Emotions are crucial for rabble-rousing as reason is in the world of statesmanship. Mr Bhattacharjee can make his choice if he has not made it already.

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