The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Angry Buddha ticks off govt and party

Calcutta, June 17: Home from his showcase-Bengal trip to Italy, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee pulled up party leaders and senior Cabinet colleagues in the past 48 hours for their poor responses to the child deaths that rocked Murshidabad.

In an unpublicised meeting yesterday at the CPM headquarters, Bhattacharjee told the party bosses that he found his government’s and the CPM’s response to a serious issue like child deaths “very inadequate”.

“I am surprised that neither our government nor our party thought it fit to respond in a wholesome, substantial manner to the unfortunate deaths,” Bhattacharjee is believed to have told the CPM leaders as he moved to put the issue in political as well as moral perspectives.

“True, we are not doctors and the situation called for deployment of doctors and making available quality health care. But don’t you think that as people’s representatives we should have been by the side of our people to share their grief and anxiety, and not be perceived as standing away from them'” he asked.

Among those present at the meeting were state CPM secretary Anil Biswas, Left Front chairman Biman Bose and labour minister Mohammed Amin, who was acting chief minister in Bhattacharjee’s absence.

When Bhattacharjee took on his party, the popular outrage his government faced for showing insensitivity while handling infant deaths at the B.C. Roy Memorial Children’s Hospital last July was on his mind.

The government’s initially low response, compounded by health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra’s remarks, had exposed Bhattacharjee to criticisms from all sides in that case.

Sources said Bhattacharjee’s big fight with the party leaders began as soon as he landed in Delhi on Saturday en route to the city. He called the state party leaders from the capital and expressed “anguish and anger” over the party managers’ failure to keep him posted on the child deaths when he was in Italy.

On reaching Calcutta, Bhattacharjee called Biswas. In course of the talks, the chief minister asked the CPM secretary to set up a meeting with all the important officials on Monday.

At the meeting, Bhattacharjee expressed his displeasure at the fact that none of the two health ministers — Mishra and his deputy Pratyush Mukherjee — could make time to go to Murshidabad. He also wondered at the party’s failure to activate them.

“How can we forget the lessons of B.C. Roy hospital deaths so soon'” Bhattacharjee asked.

One of the reasons for Bhattacharjee’ outburst, observers said, was the fact that the Congress, which has emerged as a major force in the district post-panchayat election, has been quicker to detect the import of the issue on the political compass.

Amin told his party he had “thought” of despatching Mishra to the affected villages but could not “trace him”.

Mishra is believed to have informed the party that he was awaiting an instruction. “I am not an expert, my visit will not improve the situation,” he had said earlier. Even as the issue of child deaths was threatening to spin out of hand, Mishra was busy in Tripura with party work.

“Let me go there (to Murshidabad) to connect with the people, to tell them that my government cares,” said Bhattacharjee.

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