April 1: Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has taken his peace drive to Delhi, squeezing in meetings with the national leader of the Jamait Ulema-i-Hind and the Prime Minister in the middle of a CPM brain-storming session.
The chief minister met the Jamait general secretary, Maulana Mehmood Madani, at Banga Bhavan in New Delhi this afternoon. Party colleague Sitaram Yechury was also with Bhattacharjee, who is in Delhi for the CPM politburo and central committee meetings that will end tomorrow.
The Jamait had been at the forefront of the unrest in Nandigram, which has a considerable minority population, before the issue spun out of control and blood flowed.
This is the first time the chief minister is meeting a Jamait leader after the Nandigram flare-up. Earlier, Bengal transport minister Subhas Chakraborty had tried to arrange a meeting between the Jamait state leadership and Bhattacharjee but it did not materialise.
Neither Madani, a Rajya Sabha MP, nor the chief minister was available for comment.
Siddiqullah Chowdhury, the Bengal secretary of the Jamait, said in Calcutta that he was aware of the meeting in Delhi. In the absence of any formal statement from Delhi, Chowdhury stuck to his public stand that his organisation “would not stop the agitation against forcible land acquisition for industry in Bengal”.
In his first public meeting since the Nandigram firing, the chief minister had reached out to the Opposition, requesting it to help restore peace.
The string of meetings in Delhi, which got off the ground yesterday with talks with Sonia Gandhi, is being seen as part of the attempt by the chief minister to control damage and limit the fallout of Nandigram on the industrialisation campaign.
The chief minister, reportedly taken aback by the wave of personal attacks on him by a section of commentators and academics that he counted among his friends, had set up the meeting with the Congress president on his own.
Bhattacharjee apparently told Sonia that the police action had to be taken as an administrative imperative to enforce the rule of law and there was no “personal” initiative behind it. Sources said “an attentive” Sonia heard him out and discussed ways of adding a more human touch to the policy for special economic zones — rumours of land acquisition for which triggered the Nandigram flare-up.
The meeting was also aimed at sending a signal to the state Congress unit, a section of which was turning restive after the Nandigram firing.
SEZs and amendments to the policy were broached when Bhattacharjee met the Prime Minister for a 30-minute one-to-one today.
Unconfirmed reports said the possibility of setting up in Bengal an institution modelled on the Aligarh Muslim University was also discussed. The Rajinder Sachar committee, which looked at minority issues and painted a grim picture of minorities in Bengal, had recommended such a university in the state.
Other sources said the meetings also reflect Bhattacharjee’s eagerness to clear the air before the Congress leadership, which shares a good rapport with him.
Before meeting the Prime Minister, the chief minister had wrapped up another assignment closer to his heart: inauguration of a Bengali culture centre next to the party office in the capital.