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Only one rather strident statement but a giant step backward for West Bengal. The statement in question is the one made by Mr Biman Bose, chairman of the Left Front and member of the politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Speaking after a meeting of the Left Front, Mr Bose declared that the front would defy the order given by Mr Amitava Lala forbidding rallies on weekdays between 8 am and 8 pm. Unable to control his emotions, Mr Bose went one step further and said that Mr Lala was not welcome in West Bengal. Mr Bose probably does not realize, because of his antediluvian ideology, the harm that he and the Left Front have done to West Bengal by this one announcement. Or maybe they do, and this is their way of keeping capital out of West Bengal and thus torpedoing the project of the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, of initiating an industrial renaissance in West Bengal. The Left Front, the political organization that runs the government in the state, has just proclaimed, without a hint of shame, that it has no respect for the rule of law. The Left Front is a law unto itself and will defy any judgment of the court that runs counter to its own interests and ideology. The signals emanating from such an attitude are dangerous because they challenge one of the fundamental pillars of democracy, the rule of law. Following from this, the Left Front can even say at a later date that it has no respect for the verdict of the people when such a verdict goes against it. That this is not a remote possibility is evident from the fact that, according to a poll carried out by The Telegraph, 88 per cent of the people of Calcutta supported Mr Lala’s ruling.

Once West Bengal is poised to become a lawless state and a state run on the whims of the Left Front and the CPI(M), potential investors will think twice before putting their money in ventures in the state. Investment is predicated upon confidence and faith, and these will be hard to come by in a state where the word of political parties has taken the place of law. Property, profit, management — everything will become open to usurpation by comrades when and if they want to usurp them. West Bengal will retreat to the Sixties when capital fled and no investment was forthcoming. It has taken more than thirty years for the tide to turn and this is largely due to the confidence-building exercise undertaken by Mr Bhattacharjee since he became chief minister.

Mr Bhattacharjee’s silence in the aftermath of the Left Front’s announcement of defiance is ominous. The state government’s decision to appeal against Mr Lala’s order suggests that Mr Bhattacharjee and his government are not in accord with the order’s spirit and the letter. Mr Bhattacharjee has not yet supported Mr Bose’s call for defiance but his obvious disapproval of Mr Lala’s ruling shows that the old mindset still lurks. Calcutta cannot be the city of rallies and the industrial capital of the east at the same time. If Mr Bose has his way, it is all over bar the shouting. Mr Bhattacharjee can close shop and prepare West Bengal to become a gulag.

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