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“Congress has surrendered to TMC”

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In arithmetic, two and two makes four, but in politics, if an alliance is unprincipled, the sum adds up to zero

West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is not unduly worried about the threat posed to the Left parties by the electoral understanding between the State’s two main Opposition parties — the Trinamool Congress and the Congress. Each election throws up its own set of challenges, he says. At the national level, Mr. Bhattacharjee — who is also a member of the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) — believes that the concept of a third alternative is gaining ground. He tells MARCUS DAM that this is a new era of coalition politics.

The future of the Third Front will depend considerably on how the Left parties fare in West Bengal. How formidable is the challenge?

When an election comes, whether Parliamentary or Assembly, it is a challenge. Each time the Opposition tries to combine to defeat us. Therefore it is not a new challenge and we are ready to accept any challenge, no matter how difficult, no matter how formidable.

But first, let us turn to the national scenario. Our [the Left parties’] position is gradually improving and we are engaged seriously to form a third alternative. The idea is gaining ground if you look at the developments across the country.

Both the Congress and the BJP are getting isolated even from their own allies. Their ships are sinking. The UPA is badly divided; partners are leaving the NDA.

Ours is a credible alternative programme. Many parties have changed their position and joined us. Some are still thinking and could desert both the Congress and the BJP after the polls. Indian politics is entering a new era of coalition politics; coalition politics in the strict sense of the term. So far both the UPA and the NDA have been under the shadow of a single dominant party — the largest in their respective combines.

And West Bengal?

I think that the Congress’ decision to ally with the Trinamool Congress has not gone down well not just within the ranks of the Congress party but also with the people at large. Why has the Congress gone in for this sort of alliance? It is practically a surrender and I tell you the Congress stands to lose from this adjustment.

They think it is simply arithmetic — that if the Congress and the Trinamool can combine they can defeat us. But politics is not simple arithmetic. In arithmetic two and two makes four but in politics if an alliance is unprincipled and has no programmatic basis, people will not accept it. The sum of the equation then becomes zero.

Congress workers in most of the districts are not happy. Therefore the situation is changing and changing for the better.

This is a Lok Sabha election. But the Congress and the Trinamool Congress seem to be projecting the coming polls as a prelude to the Assembly 2011 elections.

Trinamool Congress is a State-based party thinking always in terms of State elections. It does not seem to be bothered about what is gong to happen in the country as a whole. Who is going to run this country: that is the big issue in this election. But being a regional party, they cannot see beyond the State perspective. I do not criticise them. My point is that we are now engaged in the party to form a new government at the Centre. But, having said this, the electorate in our State should also keep in mind what is going on in the State. What the ruling coalition is doing and what the Opposition is doing by opposing all development projects — not just Singur or Nayachar.

Two major issues will come to the fore in this election as far as West Bengal is concerned. Why is the Opposition opposing development being pursued by the government. The other: some separatists, some left-wing extremists are trying to coordinate their activities with the Trinamool. Why is this party supporting such groupings? The people will have to ask this of them.

The debate on the acquisition of farmland for industry has raised several questions and may have contributed to the erosion of Left support in certain rural belts of the State. How is the government addressing this?

After the panchayat elections [in May 2008], when our party discussed the results, we could identify some issues that led to our defeat in certain pockets — in South 24 Parganas, Purbo Medinipur, North 24 Parganas and Nadia districts. Our analysis was that the biggest problem had been our failure to arrive at a total understanding with our Left Front partners.

But we could also identify areas where there was serious mistrust among a section of farmers that was told we are bent on acquiring their land.

This apprehension was understandable. The incident in Nandigram had particularly given rise to fears and such anxieties did create some problems in the rural elections. Our general support base — small farmers — deserted us at places. Those among them who belonged to the Muslim community reacted strongly, for they believe that land deeds are the only valid proof of their citizenship in India. The campaign by the Opposition was ‘if you give away your land you will have to prove that you are not a Bangladeshi – how can you do so?’

We have now come out with a policy for land acquisition as well as a proposal of one for rehabilitation and adequate compensation. We have also set up a land bank. Therefore, the Opposition’s propaganda that peasants will be robbed of their land will not work, not anymore. Our party workers have been told that when they go to the people, they should not just talk, but listen. It is important to listen.

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