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Since 1st March, 1999
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The least the people in a civilized society expect is to be able to live in peace and without fear. And the least they want from the government is for it to create conditions that would enable them to do so. The people of Nandigram had been denied such conditions for almost a year. They should therefore find it reassuring that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, during his first visit to the area since trouble erupted there, harped on the importance of peace and reconciliation. Even more important, he seems to have learnt his lessons about the futility of a partisan approach to peacemaking at Nandigram. That he expressed his condolences to all victims of the violence there, irrespective of their political affiliations, and called upon all parties to join the peace efforts suggest that he is trying to act more as Bengal’s chief minister than a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). It is pointless, though, to ponder at this stage if this change of attitude could have helped Nandigram better had it come earlier. The generous development package for the battle-scarred area that he announced should help the people rebuild their lives. But Bengal’s bureaucracy is not particularly known for its efficiency. It is crucial that Mr Bhattacharjee puts in place a mechanism that will constantly monitor the progress of the development work.

How Nandigram returns to peace and normalcy will have an enormous significance for Bengal. The long spell of violence there has done incalculable damage to the image of the state as well as that of the chief minister himself. Before Nandigram blackened it, Mr Bhattacharjee’s had been one of the most striking records in terms of economic reforms. The political stability of Bengal had contributed a great deal to the remaking of the state’s image. Unfortunately, the events at Nandigram raised serious doubts about Mr Bhattacharjee’s administrative skills, his party’s commitment to democratic norms and, above all, about the nature of Bengal’s politics. The chief minister has to undo the damage and regain the people’s — and the investors’— confidence in his ability and will to run the state in an efficient, non-partisan manner. After all, the one thing that cannot be reversed is the new phase of Bengal’s industrializa-tion. But peace and stability are the first prerequisites for the state’s economic regeneration. Mr Bhattacharjee cannot afford to fail this new test.

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