The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Onus yes, guilt no

Calcutta, March 17: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today owned responsibility for the Nandigram deaths saying he didn’t want scapegoats, but he and his party stopped short of condemning the police firing.

The crisis in the Left Front government, however, blew over after the chief minister accepted the allies’ other key demands at the day’s front meeting. He agreed to a phased pullback of the police from Nandigram and promised not to acquire land in the area for industry.

The RSP, CPI and the Forward Bloc, which had threatened to quit the government over Wednesday’s “carnage”, dropped their belligerence after the CPM also assured them that major political decisions would now be taken only after consulting the front and the cabinet core committee.

Bhattacharjee’s admission of responsibility had already taken care of the fourth of the allies’ five demands. The only demand the chief minister and the CPM refused was condemnation of the firing. Instead, they regretted it as “unfortunate”.

“The chief minister owned responsibility for the police firing and the deaths. We are happy that all our demands have been met,’’ Bloc veteran Asoke Ghosh said after the two-and-a-half-hour meeting.

“Buddhababu did not admit that his decision to send the police was wrong but said that his assessment of the ground reality was mistaken,” an RSP leader said.

“He said that intelligence reports had given him a wrong impression about the (possible scale of) local resistance. He thought the villagers would give in when they saw such a large number of policemen.”

A CPI leader quoted Bhattacharjee as saying: “The deaths in police firing hurt me, too. But I don’t want to find scapegoats in others. I own up responsibility for the deaths. I am ready to say this in public.”

But CPM patriarch Jyoti Basu and other party leaders asked him to wait till the CBI handed in its probe report. “We were told that a public admission of responsibility by the chief minister would hinder the purpose of the CBI inquiry and provide ammunition to the Opposition,’’ the CPI leader said.

In real terms, the CPM hasn’t given away much. The police withdrawal will be in phases, not at one go, and it appears no time limit has been set.

Bhattacharjee had already dropped loud hints that land would not be acquired if the people of Nandigram did not want it. Acquisition there, in any case, was inconceivable after the firing uproar.

The commitment today, therefore, was almost a foregone conclusion though it has cleared the air.

Basu, who had last night said his “last wish” was to see the front stay united, helped pacify the allies by strongly disapproving of the firing.

CPM state secretary and front chairman Biman Bose announced the peace formula in the presence of Bhattacharjee and the leaders of the allies.

“The incident in Nandigram was most unfortunate. The remaining police in Nandigram will be withdrawn in phases. The government must be cautious so that there is no recurrence of such incidents. The front will take political and social steps to bring back normality,” Bose said.

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