Calcutta, Feb. 16: After the politburo, Alimuddin Street.
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee may have had only partial successes in getting the CPM politburo to fall in line, but he has now had his way with the state party leadership. Or, more correctly, with Anil Biswas.
Education was where Biswas, the state party secretary, and his men hurt the chief minister most over the past five years. He has now hit back and sent the entire five-member team of his education ministers packing from the coming polls.
The Left Front’s list of nominees for the Assembly elections has several remarkable features. But it is the changes of CPM candidates that dominate the list. Never before has the CPM gone for such a large change in its own list ' 108 of its 209 candidates would be new. Fifty-two of its sitting candidates have been dropped, including seven ministers.
But it is the sack to the entire education team that takes the cake. Marching orders have been given to Satyasadhan Chakraborty, higher education minister, Kanti Biswas of school education, and three ministers of state, Nemai Mal, Iva Dey and Nandarani Dal, who were holding charge of libraries, school education and mass education.
Call it a purge or a clean sweep, but make no mistake about the real target ' Alimuddin Street, the state party headquarters. Frequently in private conversations and sometimes in interviews, such as the one he gave to The Telegraph last November, Bhattacharjee made no secret of the one big problem of his government ' education.
His impatience with the state of education and the ministers presiding over it was perhaps second only to his anger with the Citu bosses who kept checkmating him on his reforms roller-coaster drive.
If one needed further proof of this, it came again the other day on the question of granting autonomy to Presidency College. Here was the higher education minister saying it cannot be done until the government college teachers’ association okays it, thereby forcing the chief minister to promise once again that he would “personally” intervene to get autonomy for the college.
But the Presidency College issue is only a symptom.
Bhattacharjee has been unhappy with the state of education on two counts. First, its deteriorating quality. Second, and more important, the oppressive control exercised by different teachers’ associations, all affiliated to his party, which operate pretty much in the manner of militant trade unions.
But then, these teachers’ unions drew their strength from the all-powerful Alimuddin Street. In the party bosses’ cold logic, school and college teachers are important, not so much for the quality of education they impart as for the political and social clout they enjoy in villages and small towns.
Their social influence extends from the rural/suburban middle classes to the farmers and the landless. And, these are the CPM’s primary vote banks. Education ministers, therefore, are important leaders in the party’s scheme of things.
There are other areas such as health and power that have also been Bhattacharjee’s problem. But there is a very specific reason why he has been so impatient with his education team.
IT or other knowledge-based enterprises and even modern industries, which his government is banking on to revive Bengal’s economy, will need an increasingly large pool of people with special educational and technical skills. For all his talk of private engineering colleges that have sprung up in recent years, the chief minister knows how inadequate the state’s infrastructure for quality education is.
For the record, Biswas put the changes down to the need for a right mix of organisational and government responsibilities. Significantly, he did not have much of an explanation why the entire education team has been dropped.
It is not unknown, though, that Kanti Biswas is getting some elevation in the party ' he was a member of the state control commission and will now be elevated to the central control commission. Officially, Satyasadhan Chakraborty has offered not to fight another election on health grounds.
Bhattacharjee should have no problem with that. He should be happy he has prevailed over Biswas to keep these men of education out of his next team. Before he wins the elections, the chief minister thought he needed to win the battle over education at Alimuddin Street.