14 May, 2011, 01.40PM IST, IANS
KOLKATA: With a reputation of being incorruptible and cultured, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will go down in history as a chief minister who tried to fast-track industrialisation in West Bengal. But the emotional 67-year-old was no expert in managing political contradictions and that proved his undoing.
Notwithstanding his deeprooted Marxist convictions, Bhattacharjee wooed big capital to create jobs for lakhs of unemployed youths in the state. He, however, ended up eroding his party's core constituency, seemingly proceeding too fast without preparing the stakeholders.
A yardstick for judging the quality of an administrator is also his ability to take swift and decisive decisions, but on this front he took a beating again and again, ultimately leading to the Left Front's debacle at the hands of the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress and his own shock defeat at the hands of his former chief secretary in assembly polls.
The beginning of Bhattacharjee's chief ministerial stint was promising when he took over from an ailing Jyoti Basu in November 2000.
He worked with passion and dedication. He sold a dream of industrialisation and the Left Front won the 2001 polls and repeated the triumph with a bigger majority five years later as foreign investment came and there was also substantial success on the IT front that gave coveted jobs to the youth of Bengal.
For a state long known for its outward flight of capital, it seemed like a windfall in May 2006 when Tata Motors announced that its small car Nano would roll out from Singur.
However, peasants - the mainstay of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led ruling Left Front - revolted against acquisition of their land; sections in the CPI-M expressed reservations; while other Left Front partners openly dissociated themselves from the move. The Tatas shifted the plant to Gujarat.
Alongside Singur, came Nandigram. The government's bid to construct a gigantic chemical hub with Indonesia investment triggered a violent peasant unrest backed both by established political parties like the Trinamool Congress and Maoist guerrillas that ultimately led to 14 dying in police firing.
The public outcry that followed numbed the administration. The Left Front then suffered a series of debilitating electoral blows culminating in its crushing defeat.
Bhattacharjee's weakness as an administrator post-Nandigram came to the fore when he refused to take stern action to end the sit-in organised by the Trinamool near the gates of the proposed Tata Nano plant in 2008 despite the advice of some ministerial colleagues and a section of partymen.
"He allowed the sit-in in good faith thinking the opposition would not scuttle the project. Many of us felt the platform should have been dismantled," said housing minister Gautam Deb.
Bhattacharjee has admitted that he made an error of judgement.
He again delayed taking action against some police officers accused of bullying graphics teacher Rizwanur Rahman into leaving his Hindu wife, the daughter of a big businessman. As a result, the Left Front lost some Muslim support.
Born March 1, 1944 in north Kolkata, Bhattacharjee is the nephew of famous Bengali poet Sukanta and did his graduation in Bengali from the famous Presidency College. He worked as a teacher for some time, before becoming a fulltimer of the CPI-M, a party he joined in 1966.
Bhattacharjee got elected as a legislator in 1977 and was made the minister for information and culture in the first Left Front government. He got wholesome praise for his work in promoting good films, Bengali theatre and other forms of art, but lost in the 1982 polls.
He rejoined the cabinet in 1987, after winning from Jadavpore from where he won five consecutive times.
In 1993, Bhattacharjee suddenly resigned from the cabinet. Though he never spoke publicly on it, then chief minister Jyoti Basu later said he had ticked the latter off for being rude with a bureaucrat.
On his return to the cabinet, Bhattacharjee was gradually given charge of police and then made deputy chief minister, as Basu groomed him as his successor.
Bhattacharjee, a chain smoker, was an avid cricketer in his youth, and retains his passion for the game even now.
A well read man, he is known for his ability to give apt quotes from Rabindranath Tagore's writings suiting any particular situation. He is married to Meera, a corporate data centre manager. The couple have a daughter Suchetana, who is a wildlife activist.
It was under Bhattacharjee that winds of change began to blow in West Bengal , but ironically it swept away the Left Front that was in power since 1977.
With his exit, perhaps posterity will debate whether the state lost a golden opportunity to regain its place as a frontline industrialised state.