The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Somnath wades into Atal battle
- Letter to PM on Bengal chamber speech

Calcutta, July 26: Left parties are not known for their expectations from political rivals. Yet, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government did nurse hopes of true “Vajpayee standards” when the Prime Minister rose to speak at the 150-year celebrations of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce on July 16.

But Atal Bihari Vajpayee chose not to oblige as he criticised the Left Front for the “deteriorating situation” in the state.

The attack spawned a war of words, with the chief minister unleashing a stinging response at his predecessor Jyoti Basu’s prodding. Yesterday, it was Somnath Chatterjee’s turn.

“It was expected that you would speak about the Government of India’s policies and programmes relating to the industrial development of the eastern and North Eastern states…. However, in your wisdom, you felt the occasion provided an opportunity to you to level criticism of a duly elected state government,” the CPM MP wrote to the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not confirm if it had received the letter. “We receive thousands of letters everyday,” said a spokesman. “The letter seems to be a political one as it has been released to the press simultaneously. We have no comments to offer.”

In the strongly-worded 12-page letter, Chatterjee has tried to present the “true state of affairs” in Bengal. Citing statistics from a host of sources — from the Planning Commission and studies by the consultant McKinsey to research agencies and findings of various chambers of commerce — he has attempted to project a resurgent Bengal that boasts a vibrant rural economy and growing manufacturing and services sectors.

The chairman of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation also referred to the success of retail chains like Pantaloons and Raymonds in the city.

During his speech, the Prime Minister had asked why business had left Bengal. The letter does not address the issue, but it talks about how people from other states have “prospered here” and contributed to Bengal’s industrial and economic development.

“I may inform you that the Bengali-speaking people are in minority in the greater Calcutta area, and the people with roots in other states are not only earning their livelihood, but are living with honour and dignity,” Chatterjee wrote.

Chatterjee gave a detailed account of new investment inflows and posed a teaser for Vajpayee, asking why the Prime Minister has applied “different standards for different states”. He added: “One would like to know how many of your favourite states have been able to draw such investments in the manufacturing sector.”

Though Chatterjee urged Vajpayee not to “misunderstand” him and made it clear that the letter did not intend to “controvert” his observations, he did not miss the opportunity to attack the BJP-led government at the Centre.

“We do not subscribe to the dangerous policies and programmes of your party and government, which have pauperised the country, and have destroyed the very base of our national economy and bartered away its economic freedom,” he said.

Chatterjee countered Vajpayee’s remarks on work culture with examples like ITC and Mitsubishi Chemicals, which, he said, never faced any labour trouble. He also talked about how Haldia Petrochemicals has outperformed other petroleum companies despite the “step-motherly” treatment by the Industrial Development Bank of India and other financial institutions.

But it was not just attack. The letter mellowed towards the end as Chatterjee projected a better future for the state “with the help and cooperation of the central government”.

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