| Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee with AB Vajpayee at the Prime Minister’s residence in New Delhi on Monday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Aug. 26: Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today pleaded with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to rise above petty politics on the issue of bifurcation of Eastern Railway and set up an expert committee to study the rationale for creating new zones. But the chief minister did not receive a positive response from either the Prime Minister or deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani.
The refusal of the duo to make a commitment also rules out the chances of Mamata Banerjee’s return to the Cabinet.
Bhattacharjee had separate meetings with Vajpayee and Advani. He told them that he was not asking for scrapping the new zones. “Let the new zones start functioning, but at the same time set up an expert committee to go into the issue,” he said.
The committee could consist of former rail board chairmen, economists and other experts.
Sources said both the Prime Minister and his deputy gave the impression that the matter had gone too far and the government could not now backtrack on the Cabinet decision.
Pointing out that the government could review the Cabinet decision, Bhattacharjee told Vajpayee that it was a political issue.
Vajpayee responded, saying: “I am a political personality.” The chief minister added: “Fine, but you are the Prime Minister of the country. Rise above petty politics. Take the opinion of the Planning Commission, CAG, Rakesh Mohan committee and other experts. Nobody suggested bifurcation.”
After his 35-minute meeting with Vajpayee and 40-minute talks with Advani, Bhattacharjee did not say whether he received an assurance of a review of the bifurcation from either.
“He (Prime Minister) gave me a patient hearing,” the chief minister told reporters.
Bhattacharjee said he “questioned the basis of not only the concept of bifurcation, but also the creation of new zones”.
The chief minister told the two that he opposed the stand taken by the Trinamul Congress and the railway ministry. “It is not a Bengal versus Bihar issue. It has to be seen in a national perspective,” he said.
Bhattacharjee told the leaders that in this age of information technology there is no need to create new zones and the railways can be run from the headquarters.
“The basic issue for the railways is to ensure safety and security of passengers. We want new trains, but they are spending crores on creation of new zones. The Prime Minister should intervene.”
Bhattacharjee took up the threat from the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation with Vajpayee and Advani.
He pointed out that the militant group was running training camps in Bhutan. Advani assured him that he would ask foreign minister Jaswant Singh to take up the matter with Bhutan. The home ministry will take a decision on sending more paramilitary forces to north Bengal after the Kashmir elections, he added.
“This cannot continue. The government of India should tell Bhutan in clear terms that it must stop ULFA and KLO from killing people and dismantle their camps in Bhutan,” Bhattacharjee had told Advani.
The chief minister also called on President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and invited him to visit the state in November. Describing his 20-minute meeting as a “courtesy call”, the chief minister said he had asked Kalam to visit some educational institutions and the President had agreed.