When the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing, ordinary mortals call it hypocrisy but communists call it dialectics at the heart of which obscure art lies contradiction. Thus Mr Somnath Chatterjee, the self-appointed spokesman of the left’s pride, has written in a 12 page letter attacking the prime minister for his speech at the 150-year celebrations of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce, but at the end of the letter he said that the intention was not to controvert Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s observations. If indeed the purpose was not to contradict what the prime minister had said, what was the need for the inordinately long missive' Mr Vajpayee in his speech raised a very simple question: why has West Bengal declined and why is the decline most marked after 1981 when the impact of the Left Front’s policies began to be felt' This query is not unique to Mr Vajpayee. It has been asked by many others including some very influential Bengalis. It is an issue that has been written about by economists and other commentators who have detailed and expert knowledge about conditions in West Bengal. In fact, some very important leftist leaders — the former chief minister, Mr Jyoti Basu, and his quondam cupbearer, Mr Chatterjee — have also indirectly admitted that such a decline had taken place. The fact that Mr Basu in 1996 inaugurated a new economic policy of wooing capitalists as a result of which Mr Chatterjee ran from pillar to post to sign memoranda of understanding with companies is an admission that a decline had set in.
It would thus appear that Mr Chatterjee and his comrades have been offended not by the substantive issue but by the fact that Mr Vajpayee, an ideological rival, made the rather unpalatable observations. Mr Vajpayee only articulated a very commonly-held perception. To get rid of this perception a little more than words and letters will be required on the part of the entire left establishment. Mr Chatterjee has done nothing more than signing Mous which are no longer worth the paper they were written on; he has also ranted against liberalization in the Lok Sabha. Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has uttered good intentions to mollify capitalists. But all this has done nothing to alter the industrial landscape of West Bengal. Roads remain in their terrible state; work culture is non-existent; rallies disrupt public life and bandhs are called with an alarming regularity. These features cannot bolster investor confidence. Neither can a letter to the prime minister dispel the gloom that surrounds the history of West Bengal under left rule.