Perhaps it is about the political culture of the times. Far more than deputy prime minister L.K. Advani or West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, it is Calcutta's bhadralok political class which is all agog as to why the two get along so famously. The press writes about it and in the city's ageless addas the 'friendship' often comes up for discussion. Meanwhile, equally intrigued are the CPI(M)'s allies and state BJP leaders.
That, however, has done little to ruffle the two. And neither of them is defensive about the 'friendship'. Says Buddhadeb: "I do not see why I should quarrel with nda leaders when I discuss official matters with them. Personally, I have had no problems, they generally live up to their official commitments. Mr Advani has certainly helped the state in some matters. Our politics, of course, will always differ." Perhaps it's this ostensible separation of the personal and the political that leads Buddhadeb, when he's calling on Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee for administrative reasons, to enquire at the end whether he has penned any new poem. The deputy PM is no less open. He said as much at a recent party meeting in West Bengal when state leaders raised a faint murmur of protest over his relations with the CM, which, they suggested, undermined their position. Said Advani, "You should fight the CPI(M) politically. How I and Bhattacharya get along has nothing to do with this."
So is it a case of opposites attracting each other? Advani is stern, deliberate—a man who thinks before he speaks, decisive when it comes to taking action. Buddhadeb, on the other hand, waxes intellectual and is emotional and somewhat instinctive in his relationships. But that is as far as appearances go. Delve deeper, and you realise their personal chemistry is not mere gratuitousness and that it springs from a political affinity that transcends their avowed ideological differences.
The task of governance coupled with their almost self-created compulsion of managing their respective votebanks in these fragmented times is what has pushed both Advani and Buddhadeb on to the same boat. In fact, Buddhadeb's declared determination to arrest West Bengal's decline at all costs only marked the gradual shift in the Left Front's administrative line ever since he took over as CM. In effect, this has meant an increasing convergence of positions—even ideologies—of New Delhi and Calcutta.
CPI(M) circles recall that Buddhadeb had told party leaders that he "would try out a few new things" when he takes over—a signal perhaps that he had no intention of doing things the Jyoti Basu way. He, in fact, spoke a different language. "It is not my intention to pick quarrels with the Centre. I'm interested in seeing that decisions are implemented and things run smoothly. The days of Centre-state battles are over," he said. This is not to suggest that the BJP and the CPI(M) will ever be allies, for appearances need to be saved. But for all practical purposes, Buddhadeb's new Left is trying to play the game according to the rules set by the central government. The CM's statement more than a year ago after the attack on usis, Calcutta, that madrassas in Bengal were breeding grounds of Islamic fundamentalism was a complete echo of a sentiment that the deputy PM has on more than one occasion expressed. The festering West Bengal-Bangladesh border, the migrations from across that keep the wounds open and the CPI(M)'s cynical politics that has thrived on the consequent communal polarisation in the state has only served to lessen the gap between the ideologies of Buddhadeb and Advani. It has also gone on to reveal that ideology, in the ultimate analysis, is slave to the compulsions of governance.
For good measure, Buddhadeb may have added that "We have leaders like Jyoti Basu to handle national political issues, I am only a poor chief minister", but it's finally his wish of a Centre-friendly approach that has been fulfilled. And with it has obviously come rich dividends. The resumption of British Airways and Lufthansa flights from Calcutta, or the posting of additional troops along the border with Bangladesh are all thanks to the state government's cordial working relations with the Centre.
So, thanks to the cynical contingencies of governing riven peoples, Advani and Buddhadeb have revived the sunnier side of old-school Indian politics when despite bitter political differences leaders were cordial in their personal relationships.
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