| Bhattacharjee at the meet. (Kishor Roy Chowdhury)
Calcutta, Sept. 14: Oh, the anguish of running coalitions — Manmohan Singh yesterday, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today.
“We should not and cannot stop big retailers. It is my opinion but, unfortunately, I am running a coalition government. And that is my problem,” the chief minister said.
That is the Prime Minister’s problem, too, and the problem is Bhattacharjee’s own party, the CPM, which has threatened to pull down Singh’s government over the nuclear deal.
Bhattacharjee faces no such threat because of the CPM’s strength but even single-party majority is not enough for him to ensure Reliance Retail can do business in Bengal.
Not only has ally Forward Bloc opposed Reliance’s entry, but its supporters also attacked a store the company had planned to open. The CPI added its voice to the retail protest today.
Speaking at a Ficci-organised meeting, the chief minister, however, said he was trying to sort out the problem in his own way, which he did not explain.
In the face of violent protests, Reliance has suspended its plans in Bengal.
Asked for his views on retail, Bhattacharjee narrated his party’s stand. The CPM opposes foreign investment in retail but not the entry of Indian companies. It wants a regulator for big retail.
The party prefers that large retail outlets open outside city limits so they don’t take away the business of corner shops. It also wants such outlets not to sell foodgrain.
A number of large retail outlets like Spencer’s, C3 and Pantaloons have, however, already come up within the city without facing any protest.
Allies have opposed Reliance at two levels — purchasing farm products and opening stores.
The violence in Nandigram and the protests at Singur have sown doubts about land acquisition in the minds of industrialists. Bhattacharjee cited the examples of steel companies which, he said, were getting cooperation from the local people in setting up plants in Birbhum and Bankura.
“We are trying to take lessons from both good and bad experiences. The government is preparing a policy for land acquisition and rehabilitation,” he said. It has to be a “just” policy, but he added: “I doubt whether there could be only one model.”
He might have been alluding to unrecorded sharecroppers and agricultural workers who became a problem at Singur as no provision had been made for them in the compensation package.