In September 2000, when CPI(M) patriarch Jyoti Basu took the bow from his cabinet colleagues, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee appeared to be a poster boy who would change the face of archaic bureaucracy in the corridors of power and character of the arrogant CPI(M) cadre on the street.
Eleven years later, when he lost by 16,770 votes to Manish Gupta, his first home secretary, the communist in pristine dhoti-kurta and kolhapuri chappal had been reduced to a tragic hero.
Knowing the way Bhattacharjee has lived his political career, the way he kept his feet firmly on the ground even at the cost of being tagged “impractical” and “arrogant”, the manner in which he used his head and not communist dogma to judge reality, Friday was sheer catastrophe for his image and political career.
From being a leader of Bengal Provincial Students Federation in 1963 to heading an industry-savvy government, the protégé of legendary Marxist Pramod Dasgupta survived many crises, including an exile from politics following strong differences with Jyoti Basu in August 1993.
But Bhattacharjee could not survive Singur, Nandigram and the fallout of his very own judgements. People of Jadavpur, who offered him a victory by 58,130 votes in 2006, literally dragged him through humiliation and agony.
The worst possibly came from his old cabinet colleague and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Molla, who emerged victorious from the Canning East seat in the same district. “One who can’t even handle a non-venomous water snake should not have touched a cobra,” Molla told the media in a non-discreet reference to Bhattacharjee’s land acquisition methods. “He was not alone. There were people with him. Nobody thought about the poor people. The result of all that is here for everybody to see.”
Clearly, a veteran like Molla was bracketing Bhattacharjee as one who ignored the agenda of a Marxist leader and lived in the company of wrong people. Nothing more could have cracked the image of a defeated leader and a vulnerable poster boy so blatantly in public.