Calcutta, Feb. 5: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today suggested that he was trying to reform his own party and challenge the Mamata Banerjee government, yoking the very future of Bengal to his two-pronged thrust.
“Set aside the CPM, set aside Trinamul. You ask where the state will stand after five years. Where will the children of this state go?” Bhattacharjee asked during an interview to ABP Ananda, his first since losing power nearly two years ago.
The former chief minister fielded a flurry of questions —ranging from whether despair drove him to silence after the poll jolt to what his recent reading preferences are — but the theme that dominated the two-hour interaction was the failure of the new government on industrialisation.
The Trinamul government’s failure in bringing big-ticket industry has been a recurring theme in most public meetings of CPM leaders in recent months. But Bhattacharjee has sought to take the issue to a different plane, casting himself as a concerned — if not alarmed — guardian of the next generation who wants to prevent the state from sliding into danger.
Bhattacharjee took the theme beyond political confines, beyond the immediate concerns of “growth and development” and asked a question that should worry every parent and every child in Bengal.
“So many universities, so many colleges, so many polytechnic institutions, so many ITIs, so many engineering colleges. All these kids, when they pass out, where will they go?” he asked. “These kids who have studied well, know computers, know English, they will have to run to Bangalore again.”
The context in which he was speaking holds enormous significance for Bengal. Bhattacharjee spoke of the importance of agriculture and conceded that the state would be “ruined” if agriculture is weakened.
But he added: “At the same time, we had understood very well that with only rice production, only success in agriculture, the state won’t progress. For instance, at this moment in the Indian context, look at the educational system.”
Bhattacharjee then referred to the host of educational institutions and wondered what would happen to those passing from these establishments.
If he sought to strike a balance to address a section of the CPM’s core constituency, he was also unequivocal on industry and the scale that the state needs. “Without big industry, it just won’t do. When big industries are set up, with them come the medium and small-scale set-ups. Big industry means manufacturing,” said Bhattacharjee, who defended his initiative to bring Tata Motors’ small-car plant to Bengal.
The first challenge before Bhattacharjee is to convince his own party that this is the “big idea” that will set it apart from Trinamul. In government and out of it, Bhattacharjee never received the whole-hearted support of the CPM in implementing his industrialisation drive.
Bhattacharjee, who has a tendency to withdraw into a shell when the going gets tough, too, did not aggressively push the agenda within the party or provide it an ideological or emotional underpinning.
His stress today — tying the future of Bengal to industrialisation — appears to suggest he is making a renewed and far more thought-out effort.
To a question if his party listens to him, he said there was a feeling that private investors have to arrange their own land and the government will not do anything. “I don’t think that is possible. A responsible government cannot ask an industrialist… say Singur… if we need a big manufacturing industry, we will need, we should need… we need more of them. If someone needs 1,000 bighas, 2,000 bighas, will I tell him ‘you go and find your own land?’ How can I do that. It will mean that industry will go out of my hands,” Bhattacharjee said.
He also appeared willing to take calculated risks. While repeating that his government should have been more careful about industrialisation initiatives “in one or two cases”, Bhattacharjee said that if “we have been defeated because of that, hoychhi (we have).”
“We have learnt a lesson. We have to be careful regarding land acquisition. There should be no opposition among people…. Say, we lose, another party wins, all right. But industrialisation cannot be scrapped because of that,” he added.
Bhattacharjee indirectly conceded that some of the debilitating problems were a legacy of his party’s long rule. He said the presence of politicians in college governing boards was not desirable and said that he had tried to remove such appointees in the last six months of his tenure.
What he did not mention was that the CPM had perfected the art of packing educational institutions with its nominees. What the CPM did with finesse, its successor is doing without any fig leaf.
Bhattacharjee did not fight shy of conceding: “Amra bhul kichhu korechhi (we had made some mistakes.) But the mistakes that are being committed now… disaster.”
He added: “Moving out of the colleges… not interfering with the universities. I have tried, not that I haven’t.”
Bhattacharjee said that “unnecessary interference in the lives of people” was the other factor that cost the CPM dear. “We have decided that such interference would have to stop.”
Complementing his stress on industry, Bhattacharjee sought to take on the traditionalists in his party on bandhs. Within a few hours after he made public his reservations on a two-day shutdown, the Bengal Citu was forced to halve the duration.
The former chief minister skirted questions on whether he would contest elections in the future, but made it clear that he would reach out. “Now the most important thing is making people aware of what’s going on. We have to reach out to every single man, who is trying to raise his head against oppression.”
According to him, the state government was failing to attract industry because it had no clear idea about its priorities and a faulty land policy.
Although Mamata rode to power playing the forceful land acquisition card, the former chief minister pressed for government role in plots for private projects. “I think the government’s role ought to be more important… But if the government does not take responsibility on its own, the alternative to the industrialists is the land mafia or doing nothing at all.”