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Buddha emerges from shell of defeat
‘Decent’ interval over, message beyond party

Calcutta, Feb. 5: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee did not just face the camera last night but was emerging from a shell of “shobhon” (decency) he had built around himself since his mighty fall in the summer of 2011.

The former chief minister’s two-hour interview with ABP Ananda marked a turning point in the sense that this was his first attempt since losing power to reach out to an audience larger and multi-dimensional than the ones he has been addressing of late from various party platforms.

Bhattacharjee, one of the most visible faces in Bengal in the first decade of the new millennium, had virtually pulled himself away from the public eye after the Assembly polls that not only sank a 34-year-old behemoth but also cost him his own seat in the Assembly.

Not surprisingly, this was the first question that the interviewer asked the 69-year-old communist, who had earlier too shown a tendency to withdraw into his own world when he resigned from Jyoti Basu’s cabinet.

Asked if the election jolt caused him “hotasha (despair)”, Bhattacharjee said “no” and laughed — an uncommon sight in itself as he had appeared increasingly bitter after the tide had started to turn and the fallout of Nandigram and Singur had begun to take its toll.

Hotasha amar howa shombhob noy (it is impossible for me to despair). The change that the elections brought, I thought it was best I stayed away a little, for a while. Shetai shobhon (that’s decency). My appearances, attending meetings, I had reduced a little bit. But I never neglected the party’s meetings, internal meetings. But going to address the people, for that I gave myself a little time. I think that time is past,” he said.

“As and when the time went past, I increased the frequency of attending public meetings… I will step up the frequency further in the future,” Bhattacharjee added.

The former chief minister looked confident and assured during his first personal interface with the media after 20 months of hibernation, answering with a smile even those questions that were meant to hurt.

Bhattacharjee was prepared to take any question and had a finger on all issues, be it industry, agriculture, culture or law and order.

He seemed to give a signal to his party and the public about his re-emergence and return to the political centre stage, appearing ready to lead the CPM from the front in the panchayat polls.

Bhattacharjee scoffed at threats from the rival camp, seeming to tell Mamata Banerjee that he won’t be cowed down by the Trinamul government’s threats of having him “examined’’ by the CBI on the Nandigram police firing and the subsequent deaths.

“Who will interrogate whom? Listen, these things mean nothing to me, nothing at all. Because whatever I had to say, whatever I have done, all are documented, all are in files at Writers’ Buildings. There’s no secret in any of this,” he said.

Taking the attack to the Opposition, the CPM leader said: “We were receiving inputs that Maoists and Trinamul were together stockpiling arms. But this nexus, behind the scenes, between Maoists and Trinamul, these things ought to be investigated first.’’

He dismissed as “rubbish” allegations by minister Madan Mitra that he had ordered the July 21, 1993, police firing that killed 13 people. “Rubbish. How does it matter to the people of the state whether he (Mitra) stays or not. I don’t respond to such things,” Bhattacharjee said.

“Does anybody issue such orders to the police? There’s no point listening to such stories.”

“Buddhada has come out of his shell. His body language during today’s interview was very positive. We hope this will encourage our leaders and cadres before the rural polls,” a CPM state secretariat member said.

Bhattacharjee’s curved finger was on the table, ever so slightly thumping it to assert that Bengal would not have a bandh on February 21 even if the rest of India had one.

The smile did not fade even when uncomfortable questions were raised, such as Abdur Rezzak Mollah’s disparaging remarks on him after the Assembly election debacle.

Asked about his “improved” relations with Mollah — Bhattacharjee visited the veteran in hospital after the latter was assaulted by Trinamul activists — the former chief minister said: “I don’t do personalised politics. I am not a fragile glass cup that I will break at a gentle knock. My responsibility is far more.”

Asked if he would contest the 2016 Assembly polls, Bhattacharjee said: “The time hasn’t come to think about that.”