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Basu voices Salim unease

Calcutta, Aug. 28: Jyoti Basu today articulated the confusion within the CPM and its allies on the investment proposal by the Salim Group, saying he was “embarrassed” by the spate of questions to which he has no answer.

“I am aware of the fact that Buddhadeb (Bhattacharjee) discussed possible participation of the Salim Group in different projects in Bengal during his tour of Singapore and Indonesia. But how can I enlighten them (Front and CPM leaders) because I myself do not have any knowledge of the details of the agreements reached or the Salim Group.

“Front leaders and others are calling me up for details'. I am feeling rather embarrassed,” Basu told a meeting to mark the foundation-stone laying ceremony of a housing complex in the joint sector.

The CPM veteran, who had earlier justified acquisition of farmland for the sake of industrialisation, today stressed on a condition he had laid down then.

The Salim Group’s investment in South 24-Parganas should be channelled into specific projects only after ensuring that peasants’ interests are fully protected, Basu said.

“The peasants have been the mainstay of our politics and our government for the past 28 years,” the former chief minister added.

According to the “memorandum of action” signed in the presence of chief minister Bhattacharjee in Jakarta last week, the Salim Group will pay for the acquisition of land and the resettlement of the displaced people. Those who lose land from which they make a living will be given “alternative means of livelihood” in the project.

The chief minister is unlikely to have green-lighted the deal ' expected to involve one of the biggest foreign investments in India ' without taking the party leadership into confidence. Politburo members Sitaram Yechury and Anil Biswas said tonight that the chief minister had not said anything during his trip abroad that goes against the party line.

However, the scale of the project and the projected size of the land acquisition ' more than 5,000 acres ' have caused disquiet among Left Front partners and some CPM leaders.

By raising the issue in public, Basu seemed to be suggesting that the confusion should be addressed and the air cleared. “There is a need to explain to the people on the acquisition of land for the project. We will have to explore alternative means without which it would not be possible to develop the Salim project,” he said.

After returning from Indonesia, Bhattacharjee had been unable to either meet or call Basu till late tonight.

Bhattacharjee is expected to offer clarifications at a series of meetings of the politburo and the CPM central committee, beginning on September 1. “We will get to know what he has in his mind then,” Basu said.

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