Politics has been busy since 2009 when his party faced a virtual rout in the Lok Sabha elections, but West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee did not miss a single match of world cup cricket.
Happy that India has won, he is now hoping that his party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), will retain power in the state, under its rule for the last 34 years. Bhattacharjee spoke to Varghese K George and Rajiv Bagchi in a freewheeling, one-hour interview at the party headquarters at Aleemuddin Street in Kolkota. Excerpts:
You have been campaigning for quite some time now. Do you sense any change in the mood of the people?
To tell you frankly, there has been a big change in the rural areas and even in some district towns. But I should not say it is a sea change, but a big change from what we saw in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. But I cannot say the same thing is happening in and around Kolkata.
So, what's the problem in urban Bengal?
Don't say urban Bengal. If you go to Siliguri, the biggest town in North Bengal, Burdwan and industrial towns like Durgapur and Asansol, the mood of the people is fast changing.
Between 2009 and now, you had been proactively trying to recover ground and you have been very candid in your speeches on the present state of the CPM…
Apart from in party workers' meetings, at public rallies, too, we are resorting to self-criticism. There was confusion among a section of the people, especially the poor people, so now we are telling them frankly what our mistakes were.
For example, there was confusion among the people regarding the government's industrialisation and land acquisition policy. We are now telling them that our intentions were good, our programmes were good, but there were some misunderstandings and mistakes.
Now we have become very cautious regarding land acquisition. We are trying to build consensus on the issue. After Singur, we acquired 8,100 acres of land without any trouble or dispute.
Was it because you took people into confidence?
Yes. In Singur also, we met the local farmers several times. Initially, there was no dissent. The division among farmers was actually created.
By the opposition?
Yes, of course. There was confusion over the Singur project even among the Left-minded people. We have learnt lessons from the Singur experience. Now, the land revenue department finalises the land use map.
They tell us how much land should be given to the industry. Based on this feedback, we decide where to go to acquire land. We should try to avoid fertile, two-crop or three-crop land. We followed this while acquiring land in West Midnapore, Kharagpur, Andal and Panagarh in Burdwan district. There was no problem.
Even in Naihati near Kolkata, we acquired land. What I want to stress is that we have to be cautious while acquiring land for industry, but the industrialisation process must go on.
You said that you have learnt lessons from Singur and Nandigram…
There were 12,000 land-owners in Singur. Over 95% gave their consent. Only two or 3% did not. But if you start a violent agitation, it is very difficult to do anything. But this will not repeated in future.
What will not be repeated, use of force?
I tried to avoid using force.
You tried to industrialise West Bengal since you felt that without industries, the economic development of the state is not possible. But some big industrialists like the Tatas did not keep their word. Is there a feeling of hurt?
Of course, I was hurt. The Tatas first decided to set up the Nano factory in Uttarakhand because they were getting some special incentives there. I had to convince Ratan Tata to come here.
I said I cannot give you incentives like Uttarkhand, but our government, too, will give you some. He came and I was happy that the factory would be set up here. But at the last stage, Ratan Tata backed out and quit.
Do you believe that if Ratan Tata had not changed his decision at the last moment, then the Nano factory could have come up at Singur?
Of course. If I have got one more month, I would have ensured that. Ratan Tata suddenly said that he does not want to be an unwanted guest in the state. I asked him for some more time to sort out the problem. But he said that time was crucial for him. He had his own programme.
Do you believe that another industry can ever come up in Singur?
I will set up a factory there and if possible, an automobile factory. I do not know whether it is Tatas or any other company. But it will be an automobile factory.
And what happened in Nandigram?
What happened in Nandigram is quite unfortunate. We did not go for land acquistion there. Suddenly, there was a rumour doing the rounds that the government was going to acquire land there. As soon as I heard about this, I sent notices to all BDO offices there that we are not going for land acquistion.
But you had plans for a petrochemicals complex there?
Yes, we had planned a petrochemicals complex and it stands till date. But that is at Nayachar, not Nandigram. But the Opposition carried out a malicious campaign. All rightist forces joined hands against us. The agitation continued for months and there was total lawlessness. Roads were cut.
Many of our party workers were killed. Then we got information that Maoists have joined the agitation. That's when I decided to send in the police, not to acquire land by force but to restore law and order. After the firing incident, I thought that I could have waited for some more months.
But when the rumours started, could the party have stepped in to convince the people?
Our party is not that strong in East Midnapore, especially Nandigram. The CPI was the dominant party there.
You are dealing with a "unique opposition". How will you describe the Trinamool?
It is not a political party. It is a one-person movement and the entire rightist forces have joined in. Sometimes, she raises leftist slogans. But if you go through her manifesto, it is disjointed, with no focus on either agriculture or and industrialisation.
Her slogan Ma Mati Manush appears like a religious slogan. What does it mean? What is the use of this slogan? Will it create employment? It is very immature and childish. Switzerland had Alps and we have Himalayas. So North Bengal will be a Switzerland. Kolkata has Ganga and London has Tames. So Kolkata will be another London. All these are very childish.
How is it possible that such a party without any policy is taking on the Left?
Credit does not go to that lady. There are problems with our own party. It is the failure on our part that helped her.
What are the problems within the party?
Being in the ruling front, some leaders and cadres think they are running people's lives… this unnecessary interference was there. Bossing should be stopped. Some corrupt, bad elements have entered the party.
Have you raised this issue in the party?
Of course I did. We also expelled some members from the party. We have taken disciplinary action against many district-level leaders. We have cautioned others.
Are your comrades receptive to these points?
There is no difference within the party on this point. After we reviewed the Lok Sabha election results, there were two opinions. The first is that the differences should not go outside the party. The other opinion was that we should go to the public and admit our mistakes. Finally, a majority decided to go to public. You need to tell the people the truth.
Has this been reflected in the selection of party candidates this time?
Of course it has. The image of the candidate among the people was a key factor. We also wanted to encourage young and dynamic people.