The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The West Bengal chief minister’s efforts to revive the state will go to waste with his New Delhi comrades objecting to the verdict against strikes

The real enemies of Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s project to bring capital into West Bengal are his comrades in New Delhi. The news that leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in New Delhi have opposed the Supreme Court’s verdict that the right to strike is not a fundamental one will not please those investors thinking of putting their money into business ventures in West Bengal. The state is run by the CPI(M) under the cover of something called the Left Front. Potential investors reading about the strong speeches made by the likes of Mr Somnath Chatterjee will wonder if their money will be safe in a CPI(M)-ruled state. Their fears will be compounded by the responses of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions in West Bengal. It could be argued that such reactions from a communist party are only to be expected. Communists, since the time they emerged out of the pages of The Communist Manifesto, have always upheld their right to strike and have always used that right as a legitimate weapon of protest. Despite this history, the Indian comrades, by opposing the Supreme Court’s verdict at this particular juncture, are doing something that is utterly self-defeating. West Bengal is the only secure base for the CPI(M). In most other parts of India, save Kerala, it is a non-existent political force. The party’s influence and its wealth comes largely from West Bengal. It can be said without too much exaggeration that if West Bengal dies, the CPI(M) dies too.

It stands to reason therefore that the CPI(M), to preserve its own interests, should rejuvenate West Bengal. Mr Bhattacharjee, the chief minister, realizes this as do some of his ministerial colleagues and party comrades in Alimuddin Street. Hence, the efforts to give West Bengal’s image a boost and to create conditions favourable for investment in the state. Mr Bhattacharjee has largely been successful in this venture and there is a noticeable change in perceptions about West Bengal. It is no longer seen as a state where industrialists are at the mercy of trade unionists and party cadre. Confidence-building is by no means complete and neither is the transformation in work culture. But all this will suffer a setback by the protests of the CPI(M) leaders in New Delhi and by CITU. Investors will not make the fine distinction between Mr Bhattacharjee’s efforts and the rhetoric of the New Delhi comrades. In the latter’s protests, potential investors will read the signs of the return of strikes and the red bogey in West Bengal and thus be shy of the state.

The plight of Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in this context is actually a reflection of a crisis facing the CPI(M). The latter refuses to recognize that the ism it upholds is dead and has a presence only in the history of political theory. Yet in West Bengal, the CPI(M)’s stronghold, the government, with the tacit support of the party, pursues a policy of wooing capitalists and investments. The ideology and the practice are at odds with each other. The shadow of this paradox falls on Mr Bhattacharjee who has so recently changed his spots. The CPI(M) will have to decide which is more important to it: a moribund ideology or a rejuvenated West Bengal which it can showcase as an achievement.

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