The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bandh with seeds of conflict for future

Calcutta, Oct. 8: Tomorrow’s bandh is riddled with contradictions on both sides — for Mamata Banerjee, who has called it, and the Congress, which is supporting her, and the ruling Left that will use its might to foil it.

The Congress high command said today it is backing the bandh to “support the cause of poor farmers whose land has been forcibly acquired by the CPM-led government for the Tata Motors project”.

“We are doing it so that it brings us closer to the people,” Margaret Alva, Congress general secretary in charge of Bengal, said.

It is not clear how the party reconciles its opposition to the most high-profile project to come to Bengal in many decades while its governments in other states hand thousands of acres of farmland to industry.

Despite the high command’s support, however, it appeared that one part of the Congress is more enthusiastic than the other about the bandh. Subrata Mukherjee, the former mayor who was with Mamata earlier but fell out to return to the Congress, is an enthusiast.

He held a joint news conference with Trinamul leader Ajit Panja, walking to Trinamul Bhavan.

The state Congress leadership was fuming. “It is in bad taste to visit Trinamul Bhavan,” Pradip Bhattacharya, state Congress working president, said.

Bhattacharya, with defence minister Pranab Mukherjee, belongs to the camp that is cautious in dealing with Trinamul. With this faction’s blessing, however, supporters marched in south Calcutta in support of the bandh.

For the Left, the conflict lies in its effort, which includes making sure the infotech industry stays open, to prevent tomorrow’s bandh with the planned strike in December. On that day, Citu, the CPM labour union, has threatened to shut down even IT, risking a confrontation with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government.

CPM state secretary Biman Bose said there’s time to sort this out.

For Mamata — and the Congress, to the extent it goes along with her — the conflict within will be how far to pursue this line of opposition to land acquisition for industry that will be seen by urban voters as resisting development.

The Singur episode is nearly over, bar the bandh. The next round will be land acquisition for special economic zones (SEZs).

“We are opposed to acquisition of agricultural land for industry, be it SEZ or anything else,” Trinamul Congress MP Mukul Roy said.

Since Trinamul declined to attend the recent all-party meet called by the chief minister to discuss industrialisation, Bengal may have to learn to live with permanent conflict.

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