Opinion: Marcus Dam,  

The Hindu February 27, 2007


These are challenging times for Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, West Bengal’s Chief Minister. In an interview in  Kolkata, he speaks of the absence of an alternative to the industrialisation drive his government has  undertaken, the opposition he faces from both within the ruling Left Front and outside, and the need to take  the people into confidence. Excerpts:


Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee: “Ideology is not an abstraction and will have to be applied according to the  situation. What we are looking at is the Left alternative and the compulsions of the objective  situation.”


Very challenging times? Indeed… here we are facing a transitional period of development; from agriculture  to industry. Many political and even ideological issues are involved. And I am closely observing the  reactions of Opposition parties. But I am very clear about what we are trying to do. If we fail to move from  agriculture to industry then the benefits we gained from our agricultural polices, from land reforms, will  collapse. It is high time now that we move from agriculture to industry. Therefore, yes, these are challenging  times. West Bengal is at a turning point. Could you elaborate on the challenges as you perceive them?


We are at a turning point and it is therefore critical that we formulate our policies in a very clear-cut manner.  There should be no confusion over our intentions and the meaning of the transition. There should be no grey  areas.


Now is the time for us to consolidate our successes in agriculture and guarantee food security. The other side  of our policy is if you think that agriculture alone can help one to advance it is not possible as land is being  fragmented. A father dies and his land is divided among the sons. Moreover, prices of inputs like fertilizers,  seeds are increasing. We have now come down from remunerative prices to minimum prices.


As for industry, prior to the seventh Left Front government, investment coming in annually was between  Rs.3,000 crores (US$ 750 million) and Rs.6,000 crores. In 2006 it shot up to Rs.30,000 crores. Now it is Rs.  one  lakh (100,000) crores if you take all the proposals being made.


 Sixty-five per cent of our people are engaged in agricultural activities. This is not a very healthy picture.  Agriculture contributes 26 per cent to our economy, industry 24 with the rest from the services sector. We  have to go gradually and consciously improve and accelerate our industrial growth. The figure for industry’s  contribution must prevail over that of agriculture. This is the most important and challenging task.


Surely there are the political spin-offs?


The political reactions are predictable. Opposition parties, basically, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the  Trinamool Congress, cannot accept the prospect of the Left Front government moving towards making West  Bengal an industrial State. There will be political benefits deriving from this so they are unwilling to accept  this position.


As for the Congress, I am in touch with some of their leaders but there are others who are creating problems.  Then there are the extremist groups along with some NGOs who are also creating problems. They do not  have any ideology and are politically bankrupt, opposing for the sake of opposing.


Some Left partners and some Left intellectuals who may be good in their profession are also failing to  understand the compulsions of this particular period – a turning point, as you rightly call it. We are trying to  persuade some of our Left partners that the consequences would be damaging if we fail to perform. We have  even asked them the alternative they might have in mind. Tell it to us. If we fail to perform the new  generation will not forgive us. I think gradually a consensus is emerging. We had a meeting with major Left  parties like the Communist Party of India, the Revolutionary Socialist Party, and the All India Forward Bloc,  and after some exchange of opinions I feel we are slowly arriving at a consensus.


 Could you elaborate on the differences?


There are two or three areas of controversy. First is the land situation. Sixty-three per cent of our land is  agricultural, fallow land is strictly speaking only one per cent. Another 13 per cent is made up of forest  reserves which we cannot touch. This leaves us with only 23 per cent for urban areas and industry. I have  asked them [the Left partners] whether they are suggesting that we should not move forward. `Do we stay  where we stand and not touch agricultural land?’ They say `no.’ Now it seems we are coming closer. But their  apprehensions are genuine. I think that finally I will be able to convince them that this is the only alternative.


Another point being raised is that industrialisation means capitalist development. Yes, I cannot build  socialism in this part of the country. This is not possible. If you want industry you have to ask all industrial  houses including big business to invest… Like Birla, Reliance, the Tatas as well as foreign companies like  IBM and Mitsubishi. If you say that we will only allow small industries to come up like cottage industries,  handloom and handicrafts, it is not feasible. We must have modern industries and have to try to attract  investment from big business. On this controversy too I think we have been able to come to a common  understanding among the partners. It will take some time but finally I will be able to sort out these problems.


Some friends are unfortunately failing to understand the land position. We have 1.34 crore acres of  agricultural land in our State of which we need only one lakh acres for new industry. Percentage-wise this is  a mere 0.7 per cent. I tell them `let us not miss the wood for the trees.’


There has also been a re-thinking within your party on its ideological line.


Yes. Ideology is not an abstraction and will have to be applied according to the situation. What we are  looking at is the Left alternative and the compulsions of the objective situation.


All these years we have revised certain important clauses regarding our party programme – about foreign  investment, the multi-party system. Now we have accepted that foreign capital should be allowed for  technology and for creating job opportunities. We also accept political pluralism. These are the changes.  Even in the last party Congress we adopted some resolutions regarding accepting loans from financial  agencies like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. There is a debate going on within the party  and we are changing accordingly.


 First we have to mobilise the entire party’s ranks. They must be confident about what they are doing. If there  is any confusion in the ranks then it will be difficult for me.


Your government has marked certain areas as sites for future industries, for commercial purposes and for  infrastructure. We have had Nandigram where there has been a swell of resentment among a  section of the local people over land being taken away from them for a commercial hub in the area. You have  been able to assuage their fears but is there a likelihood of Nandigram being repeated elsewhere in the State?


Not at all. If you look at the other parts of the State where we are planning projects like in north Bengal,  there is no problem for land and investments are coming in. In south Bengal, we have plans for three big  steel plants and there will absolutely be no problems in these areas. Even at Singur in Hooghly district, where  the Tata Motors’ plant is coming up, nearly 95 per cent of the people supported the project.


Nandigram is a different case: there was bureaucratic failure, which should not have happened. Without  going to the people, without conducting a land survey, paper work had started which created a problem. But I  think Nandigram will not be repeated in any other part of the State.


Will your Nandigram experience get you to somewhat slow down the industrial drive for a while?


 As for the State as a whole, my government’s position is that we must move as fast as possible because  companies investing will not wait for us years on end, we cannot delay giving them land. We must hasten the  speed but where there is some confusion like in Nandigram it will take some time. The people there  apparently don’t know what is a chemical hub, how it could change the face of the entire area.


But I am sorry. It is not the people’s fault – we ought to have told them how it is going to change their lives  but before doing that we took some wrong administrative measures. Therefore in that case we have to go  very cautiously. If the people there think that they are happy with agriculture and the present economic and  social positions, if they think they don’t want to improve the quality of life, then it’s all right [laughs]. I am  not going to force them. If they don’t voluntarily agree to give land which would help them first, before it  does the government, then why should I force it?


For the Salim group which plans to invest in the area as well as set up infrastructure in other parts of south  Bengal, it is a package deal. They will earn profits from their investments no doubt but we  have calculated how much they are helping the State economy and how much they are gaining through  profits. We have calculated how much we are losing [by giving away land] and how much they are gaining  [by investing in infrastructure and other projects] and have finally come to a conclusion that will benefit our  State.

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