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CHOOSING THE FUTURE

Silence seems to be Mr Bhattacharjee’s only defence against his rather difficult position as chief minister of West Bengal as well as loyal party comrade

Will he,won’t he' This is the question on most people’s minds following Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s tantalizing silence about Mr Amitava Lala’s ruling on rallies. The chief minister of West Bengal has not uttered a word on the subject despite the fact that the Left Front, and especially its chairman, Mr Biman Bose, have expressed their fierce disapproval of Mr Lala’s strictures. Mr Bhattacharjee is in the least enviable position since he is caught in a cleft. Is he a loyal comrade or a good chief minister' Which is more important, ideology or governance' These are questions that Mr Bhattacharjee will have to resolve to his, and — because he is member of a communist party — his party’s satisfaction. The resolution will by no means be easy since for the last two decades and more the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has worked overtime to blur the distinction between the government and the party. Moreover, Mr Bhattacharjee’s own appeal as a chief minister with a difference has been based on his promise to build a new and vibrant West Bengal which is capital-friendly and where work culture flourishes. The hidden text of this promise is the separation of the party from the government and to vacate governance of ideology. Thus, the way Mr Bhattacharjee resolves the questions facing will have profound consequences for his home state.

If Mr Bhattacharjee decides to go with governance and thus attempts to redeem his pledge to the people of the state, he will have to devise ways to reconcile his views with those of the CPI(M) and the Left Front. If, on the other hand, he chooses to wave his ideological flag, he will break his promise to the people of the state. The dispute over Mr Lala’s judgement is actually about the future of West Bengal. The state cannot be a safe bet for investors if rallies that disrupt are allowed to flourish. Between the Left Front’s proposed defiance of the court order and its consequences for the future of West Bengal stands the somewhat lonely and tragic figure of Mr Bhattacharjee. The latter is being torn between two loyalties: to his party and to his own promises to the people who have welcomed him as chief minister. It surprises no one that Mr Bhattacharjee has remained silent for so long on the issue. He is perhaps expecting that the storm will blow over and his comrades will see sense and not take the path of defiance. It is significant that he kept himself away from the convention held in Mahajati Sadan on Wednesday. His absence from the convention is an obvious wedge between the government and the Left Front.

Silence can be golden but it can also be the result of indecision or vacillation. Those who see in Mr Bhattacharjee the last hope of West Bengal will read his silence as the product of discretion rather than of indecision. The exercise of discretion cannot be timeless. The longer Mr Bhattacharjee takes to resolve his dilemmas and to articulate his resolution, the faster he will lose his accumulated goodwill of potential investors. He has to choose. He cannot allow the state of West Bengal to wither away.

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