Calcutta, Feb. 10: Jurassic Park has a new address — 31 Alimuddin Street — if you go by the signals emerging from within.
The “address” reflects the perception generated by former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s statement a week ago on Netai, the chain reaction in the CPM and the eventual fallout on the Brigade spectacle yesterday.
Bhattacharjee had taken what is being seen as a fresh shy at reforming the party by declaring in public that the CPM cadres’ involvement in the 2011 Netai killings was a “grave mistake”. Nine persons were killed when armed men fired at villagers from the house of Rathin Dandapat, a CPM local committee member, months before the 2011 Assembly elections.
At a public meeting in West Midnapore on February 2, Bhattacharjee had said: “Our boys made a mistake in Netai. It was a grave mistake. This should not have been done. I admit the mistake.”
The admission is in line with some of his past statements where he acknowledged the party’s role in inclusion of the word gherao (blockade) — the most potent tool of the Left since the decade of the 60s — in the Oxford Dictionary and advocated private investments in greenfield airport projects.
Unlike his comrades in AK Gopalan Bhavan in Delhi, Bhattacharjee played down the threat of US imperialism — another fear from the past, etched into the mind of comrades by Lenin — as he tried to sell Bengal’s investment potential to US companies during his days as chief minister.
In a recent interview to Anandabazar Patrika, the Bengali newspaper, Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen had also raised questions about the Left’s obsession with US imperialism.
The fact that little has changed in the CPM was clear during yesterday’s Brigade rally where Bhattacharjee’s below-par performance was linked to the backlash within the party against his Netai admission.
Some speakers — including Left Front chairman Biman Bose — smelt imperialist agenda in Mamata Banerjee’s meetings with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and the US ambassador in India, Nancy Powell.
During his days in the hot seat in Bengal, Bhattacharjee did not care about the party’s anti-US stand as he had met US treasury secretary Henry Paulson in 2007 and told him that he wanted to engage more with the country.
In his heyday, Bhattacharjee had tried to prevail upon the party’s labour arm — Citu — to shun the path of strikes as part of his agenda to reform the party to facilitate Bengal’s transition from a laggard to an industrially advanced state.
“There was a time immediately after the 2006 elections when he hardly listened to anyone in the party and tried to bring about some changes,” said a CPM state committee member.
Although his attempts did not always produce the desired results as the party vetoed him at times, Bhattacharjee retained his reformer’s streak, which tumbled out in the open with his admission about the party’s role in the Netai incident.
This apology, however, did not go down well in the CPM ranks and prised open a Pandora’s box. Leaders from the CPM and the other Left Front partners launched an attack on Bhattacharjee, accusing him of demoralising cadres ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. So virulent was the attack, especially at a state committee meeting of the party last Saturday, that Front chairman Bose had to admit that Bhattacharjee had made a mistake by referring to the Netai incident.
The impact of the attack was felt the day after as Bhattacharjee — still the most credible face of the party — looked down and out at the Brigade rally, where people had come to listen to him. The former chief minister completed his speech in around 16 minutes with comrades complaining that they went back unsatisfied with his address.
“Yes, Buddhada was not his usual self at the Brigade rally…. The state committee meeting might have been playing on his mind,” said a CPM state committee member.
Had he not been under attack, Bhattacharjee could have been in a better position to articulate his views, probably even explaining the reason behind his apology on the Netai incident.
“There is nothing wrong in apologising as it sends a message that the person concerned is trying to correct himself…. A party that is keen on staging a comeback should not attack a leader for apologising. The leader should be encouraged,” said a political scientist who did not wish to be named.
The regimented party, however, has not been kind to Bhattacharjee, who had earlier faced attacks from Citu leaders for denouncing the politics of bandhs. On several occasions, when the former chief minister breached the party line, comrades had tried to draw parallels with his predecessor Jyoti Basu, who hardly took on the party.
“Jyotibabu always used the internal forums to air his views…. Every year on August 5 (party founder Muzaffar Ahmed’s birthday), he would remind the comrades to keep bad elements away. But he spoke little outside the party forum,” said a CPM leader.
The most significant outburst by Basu against the party was his observation in an interview that not allowing him to become Prime Minister in 1996 was a “historic blunder”. Though he faced criticism, Basu never apologised for his comments.
Bhattacharjee — on the other hand — took on the party on several occasions, but had to relent in the face of criticism.
He is yet to recant his Netai comments though there has been pressure on him. Only time will tell whether Bhattacharjee can go the whole hog to reform the party.