Faced with the possibility of his own resignation or the threat of three key Left Front constituents pulling out of his government, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee buckled under pressure and owned up the responsibility for the mayhem in Nandigram.
At the crucial Front meting on Saturday, the chief minister also conceded the Left allies' demand and announced that no SEZ would be set up at Nandigram and so there would not be any land acquisition there. He also agreed to withdraw police from the area and initiate a "socio-political" process to restore peace and confidence among the people.
The chief minister, who had justified police firing in Nandigram on the floor of the assembly barely two days ago staged the climb down following the CPI, RSP and the Forward Bloc's threat that they would pull out their ministers from the cabinet unless Buddhadeb owned up responsibility of the carnage, withdrew police from Nandigram and declare that the SEZ would not be set up there. They had also demanded an end to the "CPI(M)'s one-party-rule" and condemnation of the police firing.
"I am the head of the government. It (firing in Nandigram) was my decision. Whatever happened there is my responsibility," the chief minister said in the Left Front meeting attended also by CPI(M) patriarch Jyoti Basu.
"We did not understand that there would be such a huge resistance in Nandigram. Our assessment of the situation was wrong. I did not know that police excess would be of such an extent. I am shocked. I am sad," the chief minister said. "People will have to be compensated and rehabilitated. Their treatment has to be arranged. There is a lot of work to be done now," he said.
The chief minister, however, argued against tendering a public apology. "The CBI is conducting a probe. The High Court has ordered it to find out who was responsible. At this stage I should not publicly own up responsibility and tender a public apology." The irate Front partners, reasonably softened by his candid approach, agreed.
"There will be no SEZ in Nandigram. There will be no land acquisition for industries there. The chemical hub may come up in Haldia instead. I will publicly announce this on Monday. I will also withdraw police in phases from the area," the chief minister said.
Veteran CPI(M) leader Jyoti Basu, who was present throughout the three-hour-long meeting despite his poor health, agreed with the criticism of the Front partners that Bengal was having a virtual one-party-rule. "Only they (CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc) are not saying this. Even the common people say that we have a CPI(M) government and not a Left Front government," he said. The chief minister acknowledged that all was not well in running the government. "This will not happen in future, I can assure you," he said..
Front chairman Biman Bose announced after the meeting that from now on, all major policy decisions would be first discussed in the Left Front and the cabinet core committee before the government implemented them.