The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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‘Moderate’ Marxist walks IT tightrope

New Delhi, Oct. 22: Twenty years to the day Mikhail Gorbachev sowed the seeds of hardline socialism’s decline, Prakash Karat gazed into the mirror to find a “moderate” looking back.

At an interaction with the business media today, the CPM general secretary was asked how he “looked at himself” ' is he a “hardliner” as most people believe'

“I am a moderate,” Karat replied.

He supplied immediate proof, by appearing to oppose “disruption of operations” in the IT sector “as a form of protest” and handing a veiled snub to Citu president M.K. Pandhe, who has been hawkish about the industry.

Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has called for a party ban on strikes in IT, arguing that it cannot be treated like any other sector. The general secretary would not give a direct opinion on this, but said the issue would be decided at next week’s politburo meeting.

He, however, supported unions in IT but hastened to clarify that Bhattacharjee wasn’t opposed to them either.

Karat’s new flexibility, though, may not have anything to do with the Russian Perestroika, whose 20th anniversary was celebrated in Washington just hours earlier at a function attended by Gorbachev and Bill Clinton. Karat made it clear that “no country” ' not Russia, not China ' is the CPM’s “role model”.

Instead, he focused on the new Indian reality, which has prompted the Bengal government to accord public utility status to BPO operations.

“Public utility services can also have trade unions. We will explain to the workers it is good for them to have unions,” Karat said. But he added: “They (unions in public utilities) cannot disrupt operations as a form of protest.”

Although the general secretary, on the whole, walked a tightrope between Bhattacharjee’s IT policies and Pandhe’s criticism of them, he issued an oblique caution to the Citu leader, who is campaigning for unions in IT.

“Outsiders cannot impose unions on them,” Karat said.

Through the interaction, Karat sent out signals of support for Bhattacharjee. He didn’t wait for journalists to ask him about the deals with the Salim group. He brought up the subject himself.

“There is a lot of misconception about the land being given to Salim. The government is not giving away any agricultural land,” Karat said.

“Land reform has already taken place in the state. There has to be industrial growth after agricultural expansion.”

Karat denied any conflict between the party brass and Bhattacharjee on economic policies. He refused to read too much either into the chief minister’s meeting with a team from Wal-Mart, which wants to invest in Bengal’s retail trade, or Sitaram Yechury’s talks with Reliance chief Mukesh Ambani.

“Anybody can meet us,” the general secretary said. His party remains opposed to FDI in retail and will raise the issue at the UPA-Left coordination committee meeting next week. Asked why his party is opposing FDI in retail while its “role model” China supports it, he replied: “No country is our role model.”

The CPM general secretary left the door ajar for the divestment process to resume, saying the Left was not against the government selling its equity in non-navratna and loss- making public sector undertakings “for raising additi-onal resources for the social sector”.

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