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WEST BENGAL

As his reforms get red carpet, Buddha says no alternative to more pvt capital

Friday 12 May 2006, by NAGCHOUDHURY*Subrata

KOLKATA, May 11 : Hours after the Left Front romped home to its seventh straight win securing a staggering 235-seat majority in a House of 294, a beaming Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee told reporters: “We underestimated the mind of the people. The huge victory margin was beyond our expectations.”

Tomorrow, when the CPM state secretariat meets, Chief Minister Bhattacharjee is expected to be given a free hand to form Team Buddha that will run the Left Front government for the next five years.

Party insiders indicated that, like the Left Front victory, changes in the Cabinet too would be “sweeping”. New faces are expected to head education, industry, transport and information technology.

The new government’s priorities, as Bhattacharjee told reporters at the CPM’s Alimuddin Street headquarters, would be agriculture, industrial investments and improving living conditions of the poor. The victory showed that the Left’s rural stronghold was intact while it had gained in urban areas.

But the highlight of Bhattacharjee’s victory is the legitimacy it gives to successive victories of the Left Front since 1977. CPM patriarch Jyoti Basu had claimed political stability for the state, winning five successive terms since 1977, but the Left’s success had always been under a cloud with the Opposition alleging that elections were rigged.

This victory rids the Left of the rigging charge, since it was held under close scrutiny of the Election Commission.

Voting shares in the latest elections show that not much has changed despite the huge increase in the Left’s tally of seats. While the Left won 235 seats this time against 199 in 2001, voting shares indicate that the Opposition parties lost over 60 seats because the votes were split. The Left got 47 per cent of the votes, while the Trinamool got 25.60 per cent, the Congress 16.97 per cent and the BJP 2.29 per cent. So the Trinamool, Congress and BJP got 44.79 per cent between them.

From the time he became Chief Minister in 2001, Bhattacharjee made it clear that all elections in the state would have to be transparent, free and fair. So when his party colleagues were going to town with their criticism of the Election Commission, Bhattacharjee played it cool, refusing to utter a word against the EC. In fact, his administration quietly but firmly facilitated the work of the EC in the run-up to the elections. After the victory too, he refused to say a word about the party’s row with the EC.

The other highlight of the victory is the boost it gives to the Chief Minister’s agenda for reforms. He was categorical today in saying that he would continue to pursue reforms and encourage industrial development.

I believe in the historical inevitability of socialism. But we need development. And in the present context we need to invite private capital because there is no alternative,” said Bhattacharjee. But he was equally firm in opposing hire-and-fire labour policies or any move to sell well-performing government undertakings. Even as he addressed the media, his private secretary handed him a note. Bhattacharjee, after reading it, said: “It’s a message from Ratan Tata. But I cannot tell you what it is about.” Was Tata happy? “Of course, he is not only happy but he has proposed something,” replied the CM.

Political circles also predict a bigger role for Bhattacharjee on the national political stage. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was quick to congratulate Bhattacharjee today. The CM too has made it known that he backs Singh’s liberalisation policies, be it FDI or airport modernisation. Even Jyoti Basu, in his initial reaction today, said now that the Left had returned with a thumping majority for the seventh term, Bhattacharjee would have to play a more pro-active role at the national level.

The CM set out his priorities: consolidate success in agriculture; accelerate growth in industrial investment; and, improve living conditions of the poor, a significant section still living below the poverty line.

Asked if Left victories in West Bengal and Kerala gave it greater strength to take on the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre, Bhattacharjee said: “We won’t go for any confrontation. It is an experiment we are running. But if there are areas of disagreement, we will certainly fight it out.

Clearly, the Left victory in Bengal is as much a mandate for Bhattacharjee’s personal image and charisma as it is for his governance and policies. It’s evident in the fact that Bhattacharjee registered a record of sorts himself, winning his Jadavpur Assembly seat by over 58,000 votes. It’s a victory margin that no chief minister in Bengal ever recorded.

The Left victory has further weakened Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee and there’s virtually no Opposition in the state. In fact, the Left made inroads in Kolkata as well, wresting four seats from the Trinamool.

See online : The Indian Express

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