The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Caught between cadre and cash

Calcutta, April 2: Into its second week, the US invasion of Iraq appears to be cramping the Left’s style in Bengal.

From chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s CPM to RSP to Forward Bloc to the other constituents of the Left Front, the prime concern today was how to handle the impact of the invasion on popular mood and structure the right response to it.

The invasion issue has become controversial with the CPM’s Bengal and Kerala state committees expressing divergent views, creating confusion among the rank and file. Bhattacharjee’s decision not to attend an official function of the British deputy high commission yesterday fuelled speculation in political circles about the party’s final stand on the boycott issue.

Coalition leaders admitted that the Left Establishment, especially the CPM, its lodestar, is increasingly finding itself on the horns of a political as well as moral dilemma as the Iraq war shows signs of impacting the various layers of its vast votebank.

The dilemma is not difficult to comprehend. On one hand, the CPM, which prides itself in being a champion of the underdog, feels that a strong pro-Iraq posturing is needed to keep supporters — especially among the minority community — happy.

On the other hand, it is under a range of compulsions to ensure that the government and the various party units do not cross the fault-line when protesting against the invasion and end up damaging Bengal’s interests.

The problems are more for the Bhattacharjee government, which cannot distance itself from the US, UK missions and related establishments to please its cadres. If it does, Bengal’s present initiatives to ensure industrialisation or faster development with assistance from British and American agencies will suffer in the backwash of a formal boycott of the two missions. Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) funds several projects in the state .

Therefore, the government intends to play safe on the issue till the politburo takes a decision in its next meeting slated for April 15 and 16.

Most senior Cabinet ministers are not in favour of adopting a line of direct confrontation with the US and British agencies providing funds for several state projects.

Foreign funds worth over $50 million have been pumped into projects undertaken by the urban development, health services, primary education, rural development, information technology and industrial reconstruction departments. Besides, several US concerns have invested about Rs 500 crore either directly or in joint venture projects .

Urban development and municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya said: “We intend to meet the challenge politically. We will organise our protest movement against the attack on Iraq at different forums, but have no intention to link it with a boycott of US and British goods and foreign aid.” The chief minister has already conveyed the ministers’ feelings to Alimuddin Street mandarins.

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