The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Basu scripts stinging riposte

Calcutta, July 17: A nudge from Jyoti Basu put chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on course for his maiden confrontation with the BJP-led government, CPM sources said.

After the party leadership scripted for him a strategy of responding to the Prime Minister’s address yesterday, indirectly criticising the ruling Left for what he called Bengal’s economic decline, Bhattacharjee unleashed a high-voltage strikeback.

Soon after the Prime Minister’s comments, Basu — never one to shirk a fight after having fought with the Centre for nearly a quarter century — suggested the leadership frame a “suitable reply”.

A preliminary response was put together overnight by the leadership and issued in the name of CPM parliamentary party leader Somnath Chatterjee in this morning’s edition of party paper Ganashakti. An expanded reply was structured today by Bhattacharjee in consultation with Basu, CPM state secretary Anil Biswas and a few other leaders.

Apparently, Basu, while offering his “view”, pointed out to the leadership that maintaining silence would mean handing a weapon to anti-Left forces, the party sources added.

A sizeable section of the party argued that a leaf perhaps needed to be taken out from the way Basu rough-handled a team of bureaucrats L.K. Advani, then only home minister, had sent to Calcutta a few years ago to ascertain the law and order situation. Advani did it in response to a demand raised by Mamata Banerjee — then a darling of the BJP — for central intervention in Bengal.

Basu had skipped Wednesday’s Bengal Chamber of Commerce ceremony as he had guessed that Atal Bihari Vajpayee would use the platform to hurl critical comments in his and Bhattacharjee’s direction. In the event, the remarks related to the period of his rule because he was around for most of the last 26 years. If anything, the Prime Minister patted Bhattacharjee mildly on the back by smelling a change of wind.

“Buddhadeb-babu could not have said no to the invitation to participate in an event where the Prime Minister would also be present,” an official said.

Basu appears to have turned down the invite saying that if Vajpayee said anything adverse, he would have no other option but to use the space to talk back. “Such a situation would leave a bad taste in many mouths,” Basu is believed to have commented in close circles.

Basu, however, went and supped — rather lunched — with Vajpayee later.

In his response, Bhattacharjee said Vajpayee would have acquired the correct perspective had he listened to Bengalis living in the state as well.

“He (Vajpayee) said he formed his impressions of contemporary Bengal by drawing upon the experiences of the Bengalis who had gone out of the state.”

The voice Vajpayee today heard from Bengal is a voice he has heard before.

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