ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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West Bengal : Licence to Kill?

By giving the police force the licence to kill at will, West Bengal's new chief minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharyya, has transgressed the nation's Constitution and violated his oath of office.

He began well. He seemed to be positively reactive. He tried to reach out to the people. He rushed to console a bereaved mother who lost her son resisting dacoits in a suburb of Calcutta. He went to flood victims and admitted that relief distribution had not been proper. He assured them that the situation would improve and it did improve. While requesting the Kamptapuri agitators to eschew militancy and to give up their demand for a separate state, he admitted that enough was not done in North Bengal and they did have a legitimate grievance which he would try to remedy. To improve efficiency in government offices, he introduced yearly assessment system abandoned long ago when the left front government (LFG) came to power. He sternly asked the irresponsible militant trade unionists to change their tactical line to improve the investment climate in the state. He suspended a couple of IAS officers on charges of corruption, though he did not carry through his crusade against dishonesty by more action as people would have expected. His modest lifestyle including his insistence on staying in a small government flat even after becoming the chief minister instantly endeared him to the people. Even his bitterest political enemy would not dare to say anything about his personal honesty and integrity. Buddhadev Bhattacharyya made a promising beginning.

And what a refreshing change it has been from the icy aloofness of his predecessor. The charisma that was crafted round Jyoti Basu over the years made his image larger than life-size. The party had projected him as its matinee idol since the late forties of the last century. He played his role admirably – with finesse, never faltering, never lisping, never wavering. He was a crowd puller. He converted the language of colloquial dialogue of south Calcutta salons into a fine oratorical idiom which the crowd relished and cheered. He was an impeccable ‘babu’ of south Calcutta – never a comrade, never an elder brother (dada), clad in snow white dhoti, crisply ironed white kurta and polished casual shoes. Short, agile, brisk, smart and firm with an unsmiling face and cold frozen look, he was distant even when he was physically near. He commanded attention more than loving adoration. Crowds felt attracted to him more as an icon rather than a lively leader. Over the years, his growing age and uninterrupted spell in power made him imperious further distancing him from all around him. As a result he started relating to the masses not as groups of human beings but as some mathematical abstraction, some algebraic alphabets. He refused to be with them when natural calamities visited them. His reactions to some gross aberrations of governance were to attribute faults to the victims. His language increasingly became harsh to the point of being impolite, often unbecoming of a ‘bhadrolok’ of south Calcutta. He started exuding chilling insolence of a rex imperator. Disenchantment of the masses had started. His rancour and bitterness with a section of his own party for being prevented him from becoming a prime ministerial candidate frosted his vision, and perhaps, undermined his health. Being a shrewd judge of the public mood, he thought it wise to voluntarily retire when the going was still good, setting a precedence in contemporary Indian politics and adding a couple of more feathers to his cap. No one can deny his unmatched political skill and acumen in winning five consecutive general elections from 1977, continuing as the chief minister of a problematic state for almost a quarter of a century and keeping the state of West Bengal by and large peaceful when different parts of India had been undergoing periodic violent political unheavals. With a perfect sense of timing he knew how long to rule and when to relinquish. Through his retirement he scored a magnificant victory. That was Jyoti Basu.

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