West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, besieged by challenges, stepped into his tenth year in office on November 6. This is, arguably, the most difficult time in his tenure.
“There is no looking back, the only way is the one forward,” has been his refrain over the years. Mr. Bhattacharjee stays on track, apparently cool and stoic, while all around him, the sound and fury of political enemies and detractors grows fiercer by the day.
For one who adopted “do-it-now” as a credo, Mr. Bhattacharjee has come a long way: from the poster-boy of reform in the Left to a Chief Minister wizened in the face of adversity. The setbacks range from forced relocation of the Tata Motors’ small car project from Singur to a severe electoral defeat for the CPI(M) and the Left Front in the 15th Lok Sabha election.
The problems include simmering political unrest in the Darjeeling hills arising from the demand for a separate State comprising the region, and violent Maoist activity in parts of the southwest with its epicentre at Lalgarh.
Chief Minister Bhattacharjee’s programme of greater industrialisation in the State to create more jobs has met with some setbacks at the hands of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress teaming up with the Congress, ‘left’ extremists, and various bit players. But the industrialisation programme remains on his list of priorities as does a determination to counter the Maoist threat — not only through security operations against the ultras but by ensuring development in the affected region.
What is notable is this man’s resolve to end lawlessness. This, the leadership of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) believes, is part of the programme of the principal Opposition party in the State, the Trinamool Congress — on occasions in league with the Maoists — to create anarchy and terror across West Bengal. Never one to shy away from admitting lapses on the part of his government, Mr. Bhattacharjee speaks of “lessons learnt” during his term in office.
There was one lesson to be learnt from the high-handedness of some policemen during raids to track down those responsible for an abortive attempt on his life (by Maoists) when he was returning from Salboni in Paschim Medinipur district on November 2, 2008.
The tribal resistance group that emerged quickly morphed into a local front for the extremists in Lalgarh. Another lesson was learnt from the developments in Nandigram where the Chief Minister called off a proposed chemical hub project early in 2007.
The hostilities were purportedly against the proposed acquisition of villagers’ land, a baseless charge brought by a concerted opposition that the CPI(M)-led government failed to counter effectively. In actuality, what was involved was a political turf war between the Trinamool Congress and the CPI(M). As for the Nano project being moved out of Singur, it was “a battle lost, not the war.”
In times as grim as these, what makes Mr. Bhattacharjee tick, one wonders. Asked about the relevance of holding film festivals (the Kolkata Film Festival on which he has always been keen will be from November 10 to 17) at a time when the State is being buffeted by inter-party clashes, the person behind the persona had this to say: “Even a hungry man sings.”