The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Buddha marries IT to paddy

It all happened in less than four years. When his boss, Jyoti Basu, passed Bengal’s baton on to him in October 2000, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was a communist who was also a culture buff and an occasional playwright. From then on it’s been the story of his great reincarnation — as the wannabe CEO of Bengal Inc.

Once upon a time he would gush at things like former Czech President Vaclav Havel visiting Calcutta. The reason: the communist leader was also a poet. Today, he is as excited about IT and Azim Premji and all that they can mean for Bengal Inc.

But, no, he doesn’t like to be compared with the CEO of Andhra Pradesh Inc. As he unfolds his growth plan for Bengal at an election rally in north Calcutta’s Raja Dinendra Street, he says why.

“I went to Nalgonda, barely a 100 km away from Hyderabad, during this election campaign. While I saw Hyderabad shining, it was almost like a famine in Nalgonda.”

Contrast this with Buddhababu’s Bengal. He tells his audience he was in Burdwan district the day before. “The fields were all lush green with a good aman crop of paddy, rare in this height of summer. The farmers are getting a better price for potato than in the last season. And the panchayats are working fine.”

No, he hasn’t grown wiser after the exit polls predicted a poor show for Naidu. “I’ve always said we want IT, but that can never be enough. Our development model is different, in which the common people are as important as the investors in high-tech projects.”

Equally important is Left politics which can keep both the Congress and the BJP away from Bengal. But the Left campaign has undergone such a change.

Until very recently, the Marxists would try to make election rallies look like their state committee meetings, fuming at class enemies and explaining to semi-literate people in some remote village how American imperialism was as bad for Vietnam as for their next kharif crop.

Now, even Left politics has to play the development tune. How can Bengal develop, Bhattacharjee asks his audience, if the state’s peace is destroyed (by the Trinamul Congress) and its communal harmony is damaged (by the BJP)'

Even the attacks on the BJP or Mamata Banerjee aren’t quite what one hears at Basu’s meetings. Bhattacharjee has little use, unlike Basu, for attacking the Trinamul leader personally.

It’s election time and he has no choice but to criticise the BJP’s — and the NDA’s — policies. But it’s no secret in Calcutta and New Delhi that relations between the central and the Bengal governments have rarely been as smooth as now.

What Bhattacharjee cannot say in public is that he has a problem at home. If the Sangh parivar is often Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s problem, the CPM parivar, too, still makes things difficult for Bhattacharjee often enough. The worst of these problems is the Citu, his party’s labour wing, which often disturbs the peace that he needs for his development agenda.

The Citu apart, not all his party colleagues or the CPM’s partners in the Left Front are convinced that the development slogan is both good economics and good politics.

Keeping Bhattacharjee company at the day’s meeting is the Forward Bloc leader, Jayanta Roy. During a conversation before the meeting starts, Roy says, almost in an undertone: “All this talk of more development and less politics is going a bit too far. We know the Azim Premjis of this world aren’t going to change Bengal. Sometimes we’ve to hold him (Bhattacharjee) in check.”

Much in Bengal’s past seems to hold the chief minister back in his march to the future. But there is no mistaking the signs that Bengal’s new leader represents its newfound urge for change.

His speech over, he wastes no time to climb down the dais and drive off. He is obviously a man in a hurry, as if to make up for Bengal’s lost time.

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