Calcutta, June 23: Bengal is witnessing the political equivalent of Pepsi celebrating Coke’s foundation day as World Cola Day.
The state CPM today announced it would observe the birthday of late Bengal chief minister and Congress icon Bidhan Chandra Roy, July 1, as Peace Day.
“During Bidhanbabu’s time, the state made rapid strides on the economic and industrial fronts. That’s why we decided to observe Peace Day on his birthday,” state CPM secretary Biman Bose explained.
The party’s first-ever move to dedicate a day to a political opponent — one who had banned the undivided CPI and whose government the communists had fought on the streets — will not surprise too many people.
The CPM, whose government faces its biggest crisis over Nandigram and Singur, is desperate to buy some measure of Opposition co-operation for its drive for industry. And neither Mamata Banerjee nor the Congress can lightly dismiss an appeal made in the name of Roy, who is not only a poster boy of Bengal’s post-Independence industrialisation but a legend in their parties.
CPM patriarch Jyoti Basu, believed to be the brain behind the move, had made that appeal a few days ago. He said his party had co-operated with Roy when he was building industries and townships, so the Opposition should now return the favour.
Old-timers may see some irony in Basu’s comments, for the communists and Roy had fought bitter battles all the way — often over the chief minister’s pet industrial schemes.
Basu and his comrades had opposed the Damodar Valley Project by arguing that the water, after power generation, would be unfit for cultivation. “Bidhanbabu managed to convince them,” a CPI leader said.
Basu objected also to Salt Lake – where he now lives – saying that destroying the wetlands would be an environmental risk.
Roy’s tenure (1948-62) had seen Basu -- then a Young Turk – at his rabble-rousing, street-fighting best. When the government raised tram fares by one paisa in 1953, CPI-led protesters burnt some 15 trams. Six years later, as thousands demonstrated opposite Raj Bhavan against food scarcity, police firing claimed several lives.
Yet, acknowledgement of Roy’s achievements have been coming from the CPM in recent months, with the birthday honour putting a stamp on it.
The move may mean eating crow, but the party known for turning yesterday’s foes into today’s icons appears to have worked out its strategy well. Roy’s years are widely acknowledged as a time when hope was in the air. By invoking his name, the CPM can hope to tap the public goodwill for him.
The communists didn’t fight every one of Roy’s projects, though. They had no problems with Chittaranjan Locomotive, Hindustan Cables (in Burdwan’s Rupnarayan) and Durgapur Steel Plant because they came up on barren land and sal forests, a CPM leader said.
The war between Roy and the communists – unlike Pepsi and Coke – was on ideological differences. Within months of assuming office, Roy had banned the CPI because of its then secretary B.T. Ranadive’s doctrine of armed revolution. The ban was lifted the following year after the party changed its line.
Today, however, there doesn’t appear much difference between the way Roy did business for Bengal and the way the CPM wants to do it now.