The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Basu steps into rural ring

Calcutta, April 27: Standing against the backcloth of growing political clashes in the run-up to the May 11 panchayat elections, Jyoti Basu today asked his own party, the CPM, to devote more time and energy to improving relations with partners in the Left Front.

And, in what sounded like admonition of the front Big Brother for its failure to instil a sense of confidence and comfort in the partners, Basu, who was widely recognised as the glue that kept the front intact and in power for 25 years, said he was disturbed at the reports of attacks on the partners’ candidates.

“There is a reason to feel disturbed, if the reports are true,” Basu said in course of an interview with The Telegraph, alluding to the charge levelled on Friday by Biswanath Chowdhury, a minister and RSP leader, that a group of CPM workers had stormed his election meeting at a village in Hili in South Dinajpur.

A little over two-and-half years into retirement, the 88-year-old former chief minister was today making preparations to hit the road in the height of a cruel summer to lend a “cutting edge” to the front’s campaign for the election that has already been marred by violence.

“Anil (Biswas, state party secretary) and other leaders tell me that nothing has happened. I hope their reports are right, but if what Biswanath claims is true, we have no reason to protect the culprits, even if they belong to our party. I have requested Anil and others to look into the RSP’s charge and put in corrective measures.”

“There is no point denying that we seem to have no control on our grassroots workers,” the patriarch admitted.

In terms of realpolitik, Basu’s candid observation may be exploited by a fragmented Opposition, which has been trying to turn the election into a national issue by accusing the CPM of terrorising its candidates.

Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, the main Opposition, and its ally, the BJP, have been trying to get Delhi to intervene on the issue.

Observers said Basu’s words are likely to boost the sagging spirit of the front partners, especially the RSP, which has been apparently feeling hopelessly puny in front of the CPM’s “operation shock-and-awe” in rural Bengal.

Conversely, his own party leaders will most probably find Basu’s observation politically inconvenient but choose to keep quiet with the hope that the silence will blunt its edge.

Basu, however, said he was as committed to the front as before and would step into the picture to help repair the relations between the CPM and the partners. “We cannot go on hurting their (RSP) feelings. We must ensure that smaller partners are well looked after,” he said.

The veteran admitted that the relations got strained with the RSP in the run-up to the polls over distribution of seats. “Even Biman (Bose, front chairman) reported to me time and again that differences of opinion were too often cropping up with them these days. But all this has to be settled across the table as the RSP is a part and parcel of the front. We cannot afford to miss them, come what may.”

Basu will address a public meeting at Islampur in South Dinajpur on Friday. This will be followed by a public rally at Madhyamgram in North 24-Parganas on May 4. Two days later, he will speak in East Midnapore.

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