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Now Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee chants the coalition mantra news
15 September 2007

West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is experiencing the anguish of running coalitions, and he is quickly learning its mantra. And why not? He has a great teacher in prime minister Manmohan Singh.

"We should not and cannot stop big retailers. That is my own opinion. But, unfortunately, I am running a coalition government. And that is my problem," the chief minister said on Friday 14 September.

Curiously, it is prime minister Manmohan Singh''s problem, too. And the sheer irony is that Bhattacharjee''s own party, the CPI(M), has threatened to pull the rug out from below the feet of Singh''s government, over the 123 nuclear deal.

Of course, Bhattacharjee faces no such threat. The CPM has an absolute majority in West Bengal. But, despite this, it is running a Left Front (LF) coalition in the state. It seems even an absolute majority is not enough for the government to ensure that Reliance Retail can do business in Bengal... Any lessons in this for the PM and his party?

CPI(M) ally and LF member Forward Bloc has stoutly opposed Reliance''s entry. Party supporters attacked a store the company had planned to open. To compound matters further another LF member and ally, the CPI, added its voice to the anti-retail protest on Friday.

That happened to be the same day that the CM was addressing a meeting organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). Facing pointed questions from industry representatives, Bhattacharjee talked around the point, and said he was trying to sort out the problem in his own way. That neither satisfied those present nor explained the actual situation. But what to do…?

In the meanwhile, facing violent protests sponsored by members of the ruling coalition, Reliance has decided that discretion is the better part of valour, and suspended its plans in West Bengal.

When he is asked about his views on retail, Bhattacharjee has a coherent answer. He enunciates his party''s stand. The CPI(M), he says, opposes foreign investment in retail, but not the entry of Indian companies. It wants a regulator for large retail chains.

The party also demands that large retail outlets open outside city limits, so that they do not encroach on the businesses of small traders and family-owned corner shops. It says that large retail outlets should not sell foodgrains. The party''s LF allies opposed Reliance not only because it was opening stores in city areas, but also because it was purchasing farm products in bulk.

The violent protests in Nandigram and Singur have frightened a number of industrialists away from West Bengal. But Bhattacharjee disagrees. He says they are overpublicised and not representative of the situation on the ground. The CM cites examples of steel companies that, he says, are getting cooperation local people to set up plants in Birbhum and Bankura.

He says the government is preparing a comprehensive policy for land acquisition and rehabilitation, after taking lessons from both good and bad experiences. Pressed for details, all he will say is that it has to be a "just" policy, and may prescribe different models for different areas.

Meanwhile, a number of large retail outlets like Spencer''s, C3 and Pantaloons have already come up in Kolkata city, without facing any protest.

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Now Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee chants the coalition mantra