He didn’t attend any of the sessions during Citu’s four-day state conference because, officially, he never was, unlike his predecessor Jyoti Basu, part of the CPM’s trade union wing and rose from its youth organisation. But Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee emerged triumphant, in absentia, from the Citu show.
The biggest sign of that triumph is the exit of Chittabrata Mazumdar, longtime general secretary of the state Citu, from the all-important post. If style really is the man, Mazumdar captured the style of the old,unreformed Citu, whose watchwords were agitation, confrontation and anti-modernisation.
Such a man was clearly out of sync with the style that has come to be associated with Bhattacharjee, whose new mantra is all about industry, investment, non-confrontation and modernisation. Of all the obstacles he has on the way, the Citu’s left luggage proved particularly burdensome.
Getting Citu on track was, therefore, not just a matter of policy for the chief minister; it was crucial to the image makeover for Bengal that he is anxious about. “We trust you and your reform agenda,” potential investors kept asking him, “but how about Citu’s anti-reform, obstructionist tactics and is it part of your party'” Disciplining Citu became a matter of his own credibility as much as of Bengal’s hope of better times.
Bhattacharjee quietly but determinedly worked his way to try and mould the Citu in his image. He carried with him not only state CPM secretary Anil Biswas and former chief minister Jyoti Basu but also all other members of the party’s state secretariat. Mazumdar, who refused to fall in line, had to fall to a vice-president’s unimportance. The chief minister had an unflagging lieutenant in industries minister Nirupam Sen in his curb-Citu campaign.
That he was having his way was indicated in the district conferences leading up to the Citu’s state conference. An unmistakable sign of this was the removal of Haradhan Roy, the veteran leader of the coalbelt, at the Burdwan district conference. The end of Roy’s regime became crucial for initiating long-delayed reforms in the coal industry. Although it is a matter of the Union government, New Delhi wanted help from Bhattacharjee, who needed to break the Citu’s resistance.
But then it isn’t a question of coal, tea or any other industry in particular. Bhattacharjee succeeded in persuading his party that he cannot afford to allow the Citu spoil the chance of a turnaround for Bengal that investors have begun to seriously hope for. It was Mamata Banerjee’s cry to defeat him in the last elections, but Bhattacharjee seems to have convinced his party that it’s really “now or never” for a new Bengal. The Citu or any other factor that plays the spoiler must be put in its place.
Politics, though, demands that the Citu continues to make some old noises. The nationwide strike call for government employees in February and a strike threat in jute mills in Bengal suggest that some old ways will remain.
Even the criticisms of Bhattacharjee’s own government sounded more rhetorical than real. But the fine print in what Jyoti Basu, new state Citu president Shyamal Chakraborty or its new general secretary, Kali Ghosh, said clearly reflected a new voice of reason — the voice Bhattacharjee was anxious to hear at the Citu conference.