Calcutta, Oct. 19: As Mamata Banerjee today introduces the concept of an afternoon shutdown in Calcutta’s rich bandh lexicon, more than traffic will be at stake, not the least of which is her own political career.
On the eve of an important day for Bengal, her opposite number, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, played the role of a reasonable chief minister to perfection to heighten the contrast with what some consider disruptive politics.
“If they (Trinamul) have any question, or any proposal to discuss, they could have come to us with it. They are welcome even now. But to prevent the Salim team from stepping into the city does not go with the culture of this state or city,” he said.
Mamata’s protest is against the Indonesian Salim Group’s chief, Benny Santoso, who arrives tomorrow.
The irony could not have been sharper ' a Left leader trying to smooth the way for foreign investment and his opponent, with no Marxist pretensions, resisting it on the alleged ground that farmers would lose cultivable land.
“What impression will it give to people elsewhere in the country and abroad' What will industrialists think of us' Will it be good for the state'” Bhattacharjee asked.
The answer is blowing in the wind ' the people, at whom he threw the questions, would have to be blind not to see it once he has spoken.
The Salim group plans thousands of crores of investment, starting with a motorcycle factory at Uluberia, the project Santoso is expected to finalise in talks with the chief minister on his one-day visit, apart from taking forward the other proposals for an industrial zone and a highway.
Prasoon Mukherjee, who is facilitating the Salim investments and will accompany Santoso tomorrow, told STAR Ananda: “As long as the elected government is willing, we are talking. But it is true the protests give a bad feeling.”
Mamata has made an elaborate plan to bring the city to a standstill between noon and 3 pm, a mini-bandh whose effect could linger.
Bhattacharjee offered to settle all this over a cup of tea, playing the good cop to CPM state secretary Anil Biswas’s bad cop who has threatened to put his party’s supporters out on the streets, too.
But that is possibly what Mamata wants, too ' a bloody confrontation. The police will take pains to avoid that. “No firing, absolutely no firing,” police commissioner Prasun Mukherjee told his force.
“I am saying even now that there is scope for talks,” the chief minister said.
Mamata is talking all right. “It’s a classic case of the doctor talking about a sure cure after the patient is dead,” she said. “If he is so full of democratic niceties, why did he not extend this invitation four months ago' We are going ahead with our programme which is an expression of popular feeling,” she said.
Is it' That is the question Bhattacharjee is asking and that is the question which will be on test from tomorrow until the Assembly election next year when it will be known what impact the event has on Mamata’s political future.