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The CM and the Commissars

The CM and the Commissars

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Telegraph
Date: November 17, 2001

The meaningless controversy over the Russian film, Taurus, contains a warning for the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. It is clear that stalwarts within his own party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), have decided to pressurize and override him on his own turf, culture. Mr Bhattacharjee saw the film based on the life of Vladimir Illych Lenin and from all accounts did not find anything objectionable in it. But this did not deter the former chief minister, Mr Jyoti Basu, the CPI(M) politburo member, Mr Biman Bose, and other left luminaries from protesting against the screening of Taurus at the seventh Calcutta Film Festival. It will take an immense effort of the imagination and a fair degree of persuasion to believe that the ultimate withdrawal of the film had nothing to do with the protests and was not the result of some amount of unofficial arm twisting. Whatever the facts, there can be no denying that the victim of the unseemly episode is the credibility of Mr Bhattacharjee and of his government. This is not the first occasion, in recent months, that the chief minister has been somewhat humbled by machinations within his party He was forced by the aparatchiki to retract the proposed law to curb organized crime, Prevention of Organized Crime Ordinance. It is clear that Mr Bhattacharjee is yet to clinch the vital issue of who rules West Bengal: comrades in Alimuddin Street or the chief minister in the Writers' Buildings? The failure to resolve this contradiction is fast emerging as Mr Bhattacharjee's Achilles' heel.

This weakness is being exploited by the ideological opponents of Mr Bhattacharjee within the party and by people who are stricken by envy at the accolades Mr Bhattacharjee has received during his short tenure in office. In the second lot falls, unfortunately, Mr Basu, the former chief minister. He remains uncomfortable in retirement and fails, occasionally, to rise above pettiness. He could not have been unaware that his condemnation of Taurus, without having seen the film, could only serve to embarrass his successor and provide some legitimacy to the mindless protestors. The reactions of Mr Biman Bose may not have been completely bereft of factional and sectarian considerations. Mr Bhattacharjee is battling against a particular mentality within his party It is a mentality informed by hidebound ideas and dogmatic attitudes. There is a refusal to accept that the world has moved beyond the shallow certainties which made communists believe that history was on their side. In this battle Mr Bhattacharjee has very few friends among the orthodox. Moreover, according to the laws of human nature, success inevitably produces enemies.

Against his enemies on many fronts, Mr Bhattacharjee has two allies: his own strength and good sense. He cannot surrender these in the name of loyalty to the party He must remember that his government must bear his own stamp, not that of Alimuddin Street. To do otherwise would be to reduce himself to a shadow. For too long, West Bengal had a non-functioning chief minister; it can ill afford, in the present conjuncture, to have half a chief minister.

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