The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Consensus among the converted has a ring of irrelevance about it. The real achievement lies in persuading those who are hostile and not likeminded. Thus there was something odd about an all-party meeting in which the most strident opposition party was absent. The all-party meeting called by the chief minister of West Bengal, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, was not attended by the Trinamool Congress and its supremo, Ms Mamata Banerjee. But Ms Banerjee has compensated for her absence by implicitly agreeing with the proposals put forward by Mr Bhattacharjee regarding restrictions on rallies. In the past, Ms Banerjee has had no compunctions about disrupting life through rallies and bandhs. In fact, these are the two modes of protest known to her. Even a few days back, the same could be said about the left. It will be remembered that the left went into battle gear, in action and in speech, when Mr Amitava Lala gave his order restricting rallies. But now it seems to have turned over a new leaf. So has Ms Banerjee. The credit for this should go to Mr Bhattacharjee, who took the trouble to work out a draft proposal, and to convince his comrades, his allies in the Left Front and the opposition of the need to put a leash on rallies and demonstrations that disrupt traffic and life in Calcutta.

Mr Bhattacharjee’s initiative is an integral part of his project to attract investment to West Bengal. He has implicitly recognized that rallies give the state a bad name and send out wrong messages to potential investors. Mr Bhattacharjee’s proposals build on Mr La- la’s verdict. The most important of the suggested restrictions is the prohibition of big rallies on weekdays. Spaces have also been earmarked for rallies. The parties belonging to the Left Front have agreed to abide by these restrictions. Time will prove the strength of the consensus and also of the resolve of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which began the rally culture and was most vocal in its criticism of Mr Lala’s verdict. Mr Bhattacharjee appears to have tamed this fury at least for the time being. Ms Banerjee has tacitly agreed to the proposals but has added the caveat that certain emergencies might force her to transgress the consensus.

The real test of the proposals and of Mr Bhattacharjee’s determination will come when Ms Banerjee decides to take to the streets in the name of protest. Ms Banerjee’s definition of an emergency and the government’s definition of the same term may not always synchronize. Will Mr Bhattacharjee, if such a situation does arise, allow the police to break up her rally' The acceptance of the chief minister’s proposals is a sure sign that political parties have at last caught on to the fact that the people of Calcutta are tired of rallies. Mr Bhattacharjee’s intentions are clear and laudable. It remains to be seen how far he will go to make his intentions West Bengal’s reality. For the nonce, however, there will be an audible sigh of relief that sense has dawned on the comrades and their rivals.

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