The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Buddha spreads wisdom of reforms

New Delhi, May 29: Declaring communists are neither fools nor against reforms, Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has added a Marxist voice to P. Chidambaram’s efforts to remove misgivings on the impact of the Left on the Centre’s economic policy.

“Communists are not fools. They are not against reforms. What we want is what the Prime Minister has said about reforms with a human face,” he said after a “courtesy call” on Manmohan Singh today in Delhi.

Bhattacharjee added that Bengal had invited and received a high dose of foreign direct investment, addressing another area of uncertainty in some quarters.

The content of his statement is neither new nor does it go against the stated policy of the Left, but the timing and the assertive manner in which he made the statement are significant. The tone was also in sharp contrast to that of some Left leaders whose combustible statements have singed the stock markets and fanned a perception that the fate of economic reforms under the new government is bleak.

Bhattacharjee’s reassurance on reforms and the implicit acknowledgement that it would be foolish to oppose them came a day after Chidambaram scrambled to stem a stock market slide. Market apprehensions run so deep that even Chidambaram, the finance minister whom investors toast the most, could not talk up stock prices yesterday despite holding up the pro-reform credentials of the new government.

Chidambaram continued the pep talk today, saying “the Left parties will not be a hindrance in going ahead with economic reforms”. ( )

After a 40-minute meeting with Singh, who had expressed high regard for Bengal’s rural development model, Bhattacharjee said his state had received the “maximum” foreign direct investment from Japan. He cited the examples of Mitsubishi and Marubeni. IBM, which has software facilities in the state, was going ahead with an expansion project, he added.

Bhattacharjee sought to distance himself from the “package politics” that has become a familiar feature with the advent of coalition governments.

Without mentioning Mamata Banerjee, who had pitched for a Bengal package when the NDA was in power, he said: “I have not come with a charter of demands for Bengal. I am not a chief minister who will ask for packages. If we have any specific problem, we will raise it with the concerned Union ministries and not burden the Prime Minister.” Bengal’s wish list includes revival of tea gardens and plans to prevent erosion by the Ganga.

Asked about coal minister Sibu Soren’s efforts to get Coal India’s headquarters shifted from Calcutta to Ranchi, Bhattacharjee said: “We do not want to antagonise any partner. We will talk to him and I am confident we will resolve the matter.”

Bhattacharjee said he discussed the “success stories” of Bengal with the Prime Minister. “I can’t say our state has a model policy which the Centre should follow…. But we placed our suggestions on agriculture and land reforms, besides the progress we made in information technology and communications.”

He played down reports that had quoted him as saying the Centre should function within the boundaries set by the Left.

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