| Friends, but no friends: Manmohan Singh, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
New Delhi, June 5: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called off his visit to Calcutta, which was tentatively scheduled for June 12, but is honouring the second part of his programme in the Northeast.
Singh will fly from here straight to Itanagar, the Arunachal Pradesh capital, open a bridge and spend time with chief minister Gegong Apang and his colleagues.
Although no official reason was given for dropping the Calcutta leg, sources close to the Prime Minister said the decision was meant to send a “tough” signal to the CPM leadership, which has not toned down its voice of opposition to government policies even after the Assembly polls in Bengal and Kerala, where the Congress was its rival.
Singh wants to convey the message that his cordial personal relations with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee should not be “taken for granted” and seen as being immune to consequences of the Left’s hostile “rhetoric and practice of realpolitik”.
In other words, he is telling the CPM that he would not tolerate the “Prakash Karat line” on larger policy issues, the sources said.
Official sources in Calcutta, however, said they had not even been informed of the date of his visit and, therefore, there was no question of cancellation.
The Prime Minister is unhappy with the way the Left had been going ballistic on issues such as the petroleum price increase, modernisation of airports and public sector divestment. He sees the same degree of “aggression and cussedness” as before the elections, when there was an understandable motive for doing so.
Today, for instance, hours before the cabinet decided to raise petrol and diesel prices, the CPM sent a protest note to Singh. It said the rise was not “justified” because the government had benefited from surging international prices of crude oil by way of increased revenue from taxes and should “share some of the windfall” with the oil marketing companies.
“While the subsidy from the government has been shifted to oil marketing companies, the revenue earned by the government has gone up from Rs 96,000 crore to Rs 126,000 crore,” the note said.
The CPM urged the government to “correct this policy distortion in the interest of the common people” and share the burden of subsidy with the oil companies.
Singh was to have laid the foundation stone for a prestigious institute of science that he could not on an earlier occasion as he had to rush back to Delhi because of a string of marketplace blasts.
There would have been a meeting, too, with the chief minister, who is keen on ensuring continued central support for his industrialisation initiative. Although the licence raj stands abolished, there is a lot of room still for the centre to play in a state’s development.
Although Singh has not leveraged this power so far, it was only inevitable that he would so at one point or the other as the CPM leadership keeps using its strength in the Lok Sabha to push through its line with the government.
It is possible the Prime Minister is turning up pressure as a ploy to get Bhattacharjee to speak to the leadership in Delhi, particularly general secretary Karat, to moderate the talk.