The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A very thin and blurred line separates insincerity and dissembling. It is impossible to decide which of these two faults a politician is guilty of when he repeatedly fails to match his words with his deeds. The chief minister of West Bengal, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, has repeatedly expressed his disapproval and dismay at the prevailing state of affairs in West Bengal. To the chambers of commerce and to industrialists he has been forthright in his condemnation of the absence of work culture, of rallies and strikes that disrupt work and normal routine. He has said that these obstacles to investment in the state are features of the past. Things are now changing. He repeated all this again to the industrialists at the Confederation of Indian Industry meet in Calcutta on Friday. But the reality utterly belies Mr Bhattacharjee’s optimism and even makes one doubt his sincerity. In reality, nothing has changed. Rallies hold up traffic in Calcutta. Bandhs bring the state to a standstill with a monotonous regularity. Neither Rome — or to take an example nearer home — nor the Calcutta metro was built in a day but how long should industrialists wait before they feel certain that they can put their money where Mr Bhattacharjee’s mouth is'

It would be simplistic, of course, to make Mr Bhattacharjee alone responsible for what is really a collective and a societal failure. The people of West Bengal, inhabitants of a self-made cloud cuckoo land, continue to believe that they are superior to the rest of India and they do not need to work. They love rallies and bandhs. They enjoy adda when they are supposed to work. They are masters in the art of conjuring up bureaucratic red tape. Political parties, irrespective of their ideological colour, feed on these features and even nurture them. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), as the largest and the most powerful force, must take the lion’s share of the responsibility. But its opponents are no better. Political parties only reflect a deeper social malaise. It is nobody’s argument that society should be bereft of protest. But expressions of protest and dissent must be found other than those that inconvenience people and lead to loss of man-hours.

Mr Bhattacharjee, if he so wants, can make society his alibi. But because he is keen to be the architect of a new and vibrant West Bengal, he can always set a personal example. He can stop addressing rallies held on working days. He can ask his cabinet colleagues to do the same even if he cannot persuade the apparatchiki in Alimuddin Street to stop calling strikes and organizing rallies that disrupt. To resurrect work culture, Mr Bhattacharjee can begin by reducing the number of holidays. Such an effort on his part will confirm his sincerity and also enable him to open negotiations with other political parties for devising newer forms of protest. In the absence of such an initiative, Mr Bhattacharjee, despite his best intentions, will continue only to say the same things till the investors go home, and make people suspicious that he has crossed the line between insincerity and dissembling. The increase in tedium will only be matched then by the loss of goodwill.

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