The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Basu beckons, Mamata goes

Calcutta, June 4: One of the greatest political rivalries of modern times had its handshake — or handholding — moment this evening.

Jyoti Basu and Mamata Banerjee came together in an unparalleled meeting to discuss Nandigram and Singur, raising the question whether this heralds an attempt to build a political consensus on industrialisation and land acquisition.

The meeting at Basu’s home came through after the former chief minister phoned Mamata and asked whether they could meet. The Trinamul leader, having received the first call of her lifetime from Basu, readily agreed to reach Indira Bhavan at Salt Lake.

At the nearly one-hour meeting, Basu agreed to refer to the government Mamata’s concerns on Nandigram as well as Singur.

So far, the peace initiative had formally confined itself to the objective of bringing back CPM supporters driven out of their homes in Nandigram. By agreeing to request the government to look into the grievances of some land losers in Singur, Basu seemed to be offering Mamata room for manoeuvre.

Peace in Nandigram will essentially benefit the CPM with few tangible dividends for Mamata on the ground. An offer to discuss Singur — albeit with a veiled warning that the Tatas have the option of going elsewhere — will help Mamata claim that she did not return empty-handed from the table.

According to some Left Front leaders, today’s meeting is “potentially a turning point in Bengal politics’’ and can also be seen as the “failure’’ of the CPM leadership in getting Mamata to strike a positive note, which she did in Basu’s presence.

The meeting also suggests that the CPM’s efforts on its own and through Forward Bloc secretary Ashok Ghosh didn’t yield results, forcing Basu to take personal charge of the peace initiative.

The Mamata-Basu thaw — aided by the fact that he is no longer in power and by occasional goodwill gestures from both sides — was evident immediately after the Nandigram firing deaths. The CPM veteran had criticised the police action, drawing applause from Mamata.

But never before had Mamata called on Basu with a political purpose. The only other time she had been to Indira Bhavan was in 2004 — when Basu’s wife died.

Emerging from the meeting today, Basu, with Mamata by his side, said: “After talking to her, I found that she wants a peaceful solution. Her attitude was very positive. Like us, she also wants peace in Nandigram. She also wants the return of land taken away from unwilling farmers. We will have to talk to the government. We both want industrialisation and there’s no difference on this score. We will again discuss all issues.”

If the impact of the meeting goes beyond Singur and Nandigram, there could be more interactions that would eventually improve the state’s political and economic atmosphere.

“In future, we need to discuss several issues, including Nandigram and Singur. I had asked Mamata whether she would come again and she replied in the affirmative. I will turn 94 on July 8 and hope all contentious matters would be resolved,” Basu added.

Mamata told Basu that a few hundred acres had been forcibly taken in Singur and that the land should be returned. He agreed to refer the matter to the government but insisted that talks will have to be held with the Tatas, too.

“If some of the land is returned, the Tatas will have to reorganise. I don’t know whether they will leave then,” Basu said, though Mamata informed him that alternative land was available in Singur.

On Nandigram, Mamata told Basu that the March 14 deaths should be described as “genocide’’ and that CPM activists were still hurling bombs from Khejuri.

“Mamata complained that bombings from the Khejuri side were still on. Our men are involved, meaning the local party. But it must stop. Similarly, ruling party workers are staying in camps. There should be peace in both Nandigram and Khejuri,” Basu said.

Asked about today’s meeting, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, with whom Basu had spoken before meeting Mamata, said: “No comments.”

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