A PERSONAL PROBLEM NO MORE 

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By BY ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
  • Published 5.07.01
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As someone who once claimed that there was nothing he could not accomplish except bringing a dead man back to life, Subhas Chakraborty must be privately dismissing all the fuss about some criminals being flushed out of the Salt Lake stadium, where his word is usually law. This is not the first time his name has been dragged into a controversy that has embarrassed his party and its government. This is not the first case to come to light of a nexus between criminals and politicians. Before the last assembly elections, the Trinamool Congress had demanded the arrest of Sushanta Ghosh, whom the party accused of harbouring criminals and storing weapons for use in the killing fields of Keshpur. So, what's new, Chakraborty would argue, much in the manner in which he sought to stonewall the arrest of one of his close aides for harbouring the criminals. There are several new - and politically significant - elements in this latest Subhas Chakraborty starrer. He has long tossed little challenges before the party leadership with his near-rebellious words and actions. This time around, some kind of nemesis seems to have caught up with this overreacher. Not just his rivals in the bitterly divided North 24 Parganas unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), but a majority of the top leaders, who were long baying for his blood, now want to use the stadium shame to permanently nail the maverick minister down. More importantly, the stadium arrests have confronted the CPI(M) as well as the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, with issues that go beyond the party's internal strifes. Chakraborty's detractors may chuckle over his discomfiture and do all they can to put the heat on him. It has been suggested that some of them had known about the police raid before it actually happened or even did their bit to prompt it. But did not these party worthies anticipate the embarrassment the busting of the criminals' shelter would cause, not merely to Chakraborty, but to the entire party and the government? Did they not realize that the exposure would rip the mask off the Marxists' morality plays? No matter what the district mandarins thought or did, the issue involves public perceptions and interests much more than partisan skullduggery. It is no longer the same old story of the struggle for power between Chakraborty and Amitava Nandy or Amitava Bose in the party's district unit. It is now a matter of grave public concern. Only at a superficial level is it a law and order issue, which the probe by the Crime Investigation Department will address. Even if the inquiry confirms suspicions of Chakraborty or his men sheltering criminals - that too, on government premises - it will be yet another evidence of politicians' involvement in a criminal conspiracy. Strangely, the minister has raised utterly irrelevant questions on why the police entered the stadium complex without informing him, as if the law of the land stopped outside its gate. His other reactions too have been fairly predictable of politicians in similar situations. He first disowned the arrested and then, when one of his trusted lieute-nants in the party's Salt Lake local committee was picked up, tried to glorify "anti-social" elements as crusaders for justice. It is not merely facetious but dangerous, especially coming from a senior minister . Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee cannot afford to countenance such caricatures if he has to retrieve the image of his new government that lies shattered at the stadium. It is not enough for him to ask the minister for an explanation. The incident has come as the biggest blow so far to his new government - and to his new image as Mr Do It. The way the new chief minister handles it will go a long way in telling us what is to be expected of him in future. He must rise above partisan politics and give the public what it deserves - an assurance from the chief minister that even a cabinet colleague cannot get away with a criminal conspiracy. If this means rattling Chakraborty acolytes in the party, who include some more ministers, Bhattacharjee can shirk his responsibility only at his own - and the government's - peril. Bhattacharjee's first reactions seem to have been guided by a strategy to take the steam out of the opposition charge against Chakraborty and its demand for his ouster from the government. There have been several instances of the CPI(M) leadership demanding resignation of Union ministers in similar situations. The party will only expose its double standards if Chakraborty is allowed to stay on in the cabinet. If that were to happen, the credibility of Bhattacharjee's regime would be greatly eroded, even if the Trinamool Congress diverts its attention to some other issue. Bhattacharjee won the last assembly elections promising a new course for the old Left Front. Implicit in the promise was a departure from the Jyoti Basu era in many areas. L'affaire Subhas has come as a test on that score too. In his rantings against the party leadership, Chakraborty often swore by Basu. Ever since the party debate in June, 1996 on allowing Basu to head the United Front and become prime minister, he remained an unflinching loyalist of the Bengal patriarch. Basu himself is known to have mediated at Chak- raborty's behest over endless bickerings at the North 24 Parganas party unit. Can Bhattacharjee, also a Basu protegé, be his own man and take action against Chakraborty? Can his government stand up against his party? The state CPI(M) secretary, Anil Biswas, has said that the party would stand by the government in its attempts to get to the bottom of the stadium scandal. Biswas himself has often been the target of many of Chakraborty's attacks on the leadership. It is possible that the apparatchiki would seize the opportunity with both hands and push the minister to the brink. Biswas can go even farther - he may try to spite Basu, with whom he had no love lost - by cutting Chakraborty to size. All that would, of course, further expose the rot within the CPI(M) that the stadium affair symbolizes. In the ultimate analysis, it is the party, rather than Chakraborty, that stands exposed in its ugly form and face at Salt Lake. It is no coincidence that the arrested Chakra-borty aide, who allegedly used to run the stadium's other shows on his behalf, was also a land-dealer. Deals and other skills, particularly those of the criminal kind, seem to oil the party machine into fighting fitness, even as power struggles are passed off as dialectical fights. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee may still play party games rather than act as chief minister in dealing with the stadium shock. But both he and his party could well be overtaken by events that the Salt Lake episode may have unleashed.