Is Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee'smuch hyped ?industrialisation? policy on the brink of denouement? Resistance to his regime'sgrovelling before Tata Motors? small car project is boiling over. This week the Congress has joined the National Democratic Alliance partners, Trinamool Congress and BJP, in resisting the move to gift an aggregate of 1,100 acres to the promoters in Singur which is in the heart of the State'srice bowl. Even sections within the CPI(M) and a solid half of the CPI are increasingly vocal in their grumbling over the ?compromise? of the Communists? raison d?etre in politics. Now, a fresh?and potentially much more damaging?dispute is threatening top break-out over Buddhadeb'splan to gift thousands of acres scattered over the State to the Mukesh Ambani group to set up a mega-sized agriculture retailing project.
The Marxists formulated their new industrial policy in 1995 after decades of ambiguity over private capital'srole in nation building. After five years of tardy implementation under Jyoti Basu, Buddhadeb added punch to ?Shilpayan? by lending to it not only his youthful demeanour, but also attempted internal reforms which included reducing bureaucratic flab and controlling indiscipline. But, six years down the road, the programme, despite media attention disproportionate to its success, is losing its lustre. The reason: Buddhadeb went so far in his overdrive with Shilpayan that he angered everyone both within and without. One industrialist from Kolkata recently told me: ?Buddhadeb, like any neo-convert to a new ideology, is trying to do more than even the most capitalist States of India or the world?.
Naturally, this is too much for the CPI(M) old guard to stomach. Led by former Chief Minister Jyoti Basu, a concerted programme to sabotage the Shilpayan overdrive is detectable. Basu, 92, can'tyet accept his marginalisation which was forced by Buddhadeb'ssilent coup in November 2000 which forced him into retirement, albeit with full perks. Now, seven years later, Basu is believed to have promoted a broad front of disgruntled old timers as well as insiders in the Buddhadeb ministry who are rankled by his ideological somersaults. At the meeting of the CPI(M)'sState Committee in Kolkata last week, Basu not only put his successor in a tight spot by raising questions over the rate at which his Government would be selling land to Tata Motors (reports that they would be given at a loss or even ?free? were provoked by Basu'sown cohorts) but also spilled the beans on whatever emanated indoors at the conference venue to the media. That, as all Communist watchers know, is an act of bad faith. A nervous Nirupam Sen, Buddhadeb'sIndustries Minister, when questioned about the price tag for the land passed on to the Tatas, snapped back: ?We are not bound to reveal trade secrets?.
The utter lack of political correctness in the Buddhadeb-Nirupam position is what'sstriking at the heart of ?Shilpayan?s? acceptability to the Left. Though Mamata Banerjee is leading a powerful, State-wide movement, damage of far greater import is caused to the Marxist government by Buddhadeb'sduplicitous policy. The deal with the Ambanis, whose draft was leaked to a leading Bengali paper,
Bartaman, this week, speaks of prime lands going for a discount in scores of locations around the State. What'smore, the terms and price are left deliberately vague and the draft is strongly worded in favour of the investor. Abdul Rezzak Mollah, the Land Minister who resisted last year'smove to legally convert land use patterns, openly told the same paper that the Chief Minister's?grovelling? was ?deeply regrettable?.
Industrialists, meanwhile, are watching with deep interest. Realisation is fast creeping in that Buddhadeb may have bitten more than what he could chew. There was a creepy feeling right from the beginning of the Communists? friendly overtures towards India Inc. that the smiles on the faces of their Ministers was forced. Added to that were apprehensions that the Marxists were only willing to embrace market principles for pecuniary purposes. This latter tendency was manifested with great gusto from the mid-1990s onwards when Basu?g government went overboard to woo only those industrialists who promised private enrichment. Soon it was clear that cronyism was to be the name of the game. Neophyte industrialists like Harsh Neotia, whose real interest lay in land grabbing, were given so many special privileges that most of India'stop-ranking industry houses stayed clear of West Bengal. That'swhy even today, close to 12 years since the Marxists announced their belated love for the private sector, West Bengal is yet to get a single steel plant or automobile assembly line.
Adding to Bhattacharjee'swoes is news that Ratan Tata, the patriach of the Tata group, has reopened his options for destination for his small car project. The Tatas are known to be sensitive to political controversy. Earlier this year Tata cancelled a $ 4 billion investment plan in Bangladesh because of the storm generated over reports that it would use up the country'sgas reserves. Now, shaken by Mamata Banerjee'shugely successful October 9 call for a 12-hour bundh over Singur, Tata is reportedly consulting with Bihar Chief Minister for moving the small car factory to that State. The Ambanis too have indicated that they may have second thoughts unless they get the land at a throwaway price ? which calls for a superb balancing act by Buddhadeb.
Clearly, the Communists? honeymoon with marketnomics is nearing its denouement.