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Vilakudy Days

Friday, March 31, 2006

DOES ANYONE REMEMBER THIS MAN?


BUDDHA'S MOMENT OF RECKONING
Ratings don’t matter. He is the best Chief Minister in the country. Defying the sacrosanct politburo, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is trying hard to change the face of West Bengal through his pathbreaking policies. I don’t want to call him a reformer. Despite all the fast-track progress he has made, a small trouble is brewing in rural Bengal. The farmers are speaking up. A strong voice of dissent and dissatisfaction is creeping into the Writer’s Buildings. Like his many counterparts, Buddha can’t ignore such voices. The land acquisition for the Salim Group, an Indonesian firm, has ruffled many feathers in rural Bengal. Farmers are worried of displacement. The Salim Group, amid much opposition, is going ahead with four projects: a health city, knowledge city, an SEZ and an Express Highway. The investment will change the face of South 24 Paraganas- one of Bengal’s most backward districts. I completely back Buddha on the project. But on the way to development, he has to tread a cautious path. The controversy is brewing over the acquisition of nearly 5,000 acres of land in a compact block. Critics accused the state government of reneging on its pledge to improve the lot of small and marginal farmers and sharecroppers. It could prove disastrous. My memories went flooding back to Andhra Pradesh. Years ago, its then Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has learnt the rural lessons in a hard way. The media, especially English language ones, created a halo around him and termed him the best chief minister. Naidu, who had a humble beginning, rose to dizzying heights after his blue-eyed Hyderabad-centric projects hogged international limelight. In some interviews, he conveyed across a message saying that he would rather listen to Washington (US powercentre and World Bank headquarters) than New Delhi. He made more visits to the US and other countries than trips to New Delhi. His agendas were international. Hyderabad, not Andhra Pradesh, was gleaming on the world map. The World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, McKinseys…….all premier institutions and personalities came calling to Cyberabad. Undoubtedly, he changed the face of Hyderabad in 10 years. But there was another face of Andhra Pradesh, which everyone blissfully pushed under the carpet. About 77 per cent of the population fell beyond the poverty line. Jobless workers moved to Bombay in hordes. Hundreds of farmers committed suicide. The crops started withering. Naidu was busy entertaining the Other World. The media wishfully stayed away from the parched realities beyond City Limits. India Today rated him the best chief minister of the country. The other side was completely ignored. The farmers’ deaths and their million problems were dumped in brief columns. Only some “anti-development” journalists like P Sainath travelled beyond that 20-km dreamland. The Hindu, probably the only paper, devoted its space for the rural realities. Left in the lurch, the poor was waiting to strike. Waiting for the next elections to make their voice heard. Those who were basking in the glory of a Shining Hyderabad- mostly IT and corporate men- did not cross the road to vote. But just 20 km away from the bluechipp-ed city, lakhs of farmers, probably nothing else to do, did cross and exercise their franchise. The result was disastrous. The Indian Express, the country’s most vocal pro-reform newspaper, and a staunch Naidu supporter, flashed a sarcastic headline. Naidu= Cntrl + Alt+ Delete." The political requiem was complete there. So was the fancy story.
Naidu was thrown out by the people. In his moment of ignominy, no none was there. The English media quickly deserted him and wrote editorials on the way he neglected the rural AP. He was painfully alone. No Bill Clinton. No World Bank. No Tony Blair. Naidu quietly went to the US for a political hibernation. He paid the price. That was that.
The story is different, though in West Bengal. The biggest advantage for Buddha is that the Opposition there is in tatters. Mamata’s Trinamul is a joke. The Congress just exists. The BJP is virtually non-existent. Even a last-minute Mahajyot alliance- like the last time- were to be cobbled up, it will not be a force to reckon with. But Buddha should be careful. The people, the supreme force, are watching. No force on earth can stop the will of democracy. I don’t want Buddha to go Naidu’s way. Never ever. He is probably the most promising chief minister West Bengal has ever had. He is, perhaps, the only person capable of bringing back a declined Calcutta to its glorious past. But that should not be at the cost of rural development. Every farmer’s issue has to be addressed. If a farmer will not be addressed in a Communist Bengal, it is less likely to be addressed elsewhere. Buddha is a hope for not just Calcutta. Not for CPM. He is the guiding light of West Bengal and a prime-ministerial material.

1 Comments:

Blogger Malayalee said...

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11:37 PM  

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