'Religious Fundamentalism, Not Just Some Madrasas'

'Do It Now' is hardly a variation of the Nike exhortation for the West Bengal chief minister, who speaks on the controversies surrounding him in the first year of his tenure.

'Religious Fundamentalism, Not Just Some Madrasas'

Where others exude gung-ho optimism and breezy confidence, West Bengal ChiefMinister Buddhadeb Bhattacharji projects a consciously different personain media interviews: sincere, self critical, yet self assured  -- acombination of qualities that has its own attraction. It was no different ashe spoke to Outlook on completion of one year of his tenure. 

Underplaying some of the positives the state has chalked up under him -- amore accountable administration, a new positivism on work culture, stresson education, public health and industries, an alternate agriculturalstrategy -- Bhattacharji insists all this is only a beginning and that the roadahead will be difficult.

There are questions as to how far his party, the CPI(M) will allow him togo . Already the party has virtually overruled him on the issue ofmonitoring some madrasas, dealing with errant doctors , not to mention theright of political parties to hold rallies and processions. 

His criticsnaturally make much of this, but they overlook that on most other mattersof policy, the party has been wholly behind him. Not bad for someone whohas had to replace the towering Jyoti Basu as Chief Minister and emergedas the party's most presentable face to the people all in a single year ina difficult state like West Bengal.

Let us begin with law and order, Chief Minister. You often express fears about the law and ordersituation in the East and have askedfor more forces to be deployed in the border regions. Just what sort of asituation now prevails in the border areas?

Bhattacharji: I think we in Bengal have to remain vigilant in our areasbordering Bangladesh and Bhutan. There are certain trends and incidents wesimply cannot ignore. There was the recent arrest of confirmed ISI agentDilshad from North Bengal. You remember the kidnapping of Partha RayBurman, owner of Khadim company. That is only one of 18 terrorism-relatedincidents we have had to deal with. The problem is, some activists operateout of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. There has to be a change in theworking style of the administration as well....

You mean...

Obviously, now more than ever we need more accurate intelligence, more modern weapons to face up to the challenge that we facefrom terrorists on the ground. We have discussed our problems in Delhi andthe centre appreciates our problems . Efforts have to be made at thepolitical level among the countries concerned .

You once spoke of taking action against some madrasas, sparkingoff a major controversy......

It is a question of religious fundamentalism, not just somemadrasas. The way I see it, there are two contending streams ofreligious fundamentalism in India, and we cannot compromise with either.And when terrorism combines with religious fundamentalism, we must mobiliseeveryone against it. How? Through meetings , rallies, group meetings onthe ground.

We understand you are suggesting to the centre to amend theprovisions of the Indo-Bhutan treaty of 1949 and the Indo-Nepal treaty of1950. Would you please explain why ?

As you know, these provisions enable citizens of Nepal andBhutan, and India to visit each others' country without visas, to work,settle down and carry out business here. Nothing wrong with all this. Onlyproblem, Katahmandu has now emerged as a major operational centre for thePak intelligence agency, ISI, for some time. 

We have evidence ofundesirable elements taking advantage of near-open borders to move freelyinto India and carry out their sabotage. The hijacking of the Indian planethat was flown to Afghanistan was masterminded form Kathmandu and elementswithin India. So we suggest that there should now be more checks on peopleentering India from neighbouring countries, ensuring at the same time thatthe traditionally cordial relations between these countries is notaffected at all. 

I have discussed this with Union Home Minister L.K.Advani.In Bhutan again, there is the problem of the camps run by insurgents, whereULFA and Kamtapuri agitationists take arms training, with ISI help. Wemust make movement more difficult for them.

After the recent communal violence in Gujarat, there arereports that some industries want to shift out of the state....

Perhaps, but I would rather not invite them here myself ... I donot believe in taking advantage of others in distress, although in thepast, leaders of other states had done it to us .

There is a common perception that you are far more concerned withfilms and urban culture, instead of grassroots level folk culture ....

(smiles) You say this because I visit the Nandan culturalcomplex frequently.. No, it is by no means as though we have neglected ourtraditional, rural folk culture and the arts. There are folk academies inevery district and regular cultural fairs there, with accent on literaryactivities, handicrafts and folk music. We now know the exact number ofpeople involved on Chhou dancing in Purulia and are compiling a census ofGambhira artists in Malda so that the government can help them moreeffectively. We have district rural fairs held in Kolkata as well.

How do you assess you official performance in the past year ?

I think a beginning has been made, that:"s all. Youy willperhaps agree that roads are a little better now and so are our healthcentres in the rural areas, where I visited. We are working also on Healthand education sectors, but punctuality and regular academic tests havebeen ensured. In agriculture, we have problems of over production andcultivators are getting proper price for paddy.We are thinking oddiversifying agriculture, now that the first phase of our rural reforms isover. For instance, we plan to increase the production of potatoes,pineapples , mangos and lichis with an eye to exporting them.Similarly wehave identified areas where horticultural and vegetable production would beincreased. Mind you ,we lead most other states in agricultural production,but we plan to consolidate the position.


What of industries, are enough investments coming in ?

With the commissioning of the Haldia patrochemical plant, there isa definite flow of investments. Mitsubhishi, which has its only Indian unitin Bengal, is putting up another one. Over 500 downstream units have comeup in Bengal and neighbouring states. Big organisations like L and T,Lafarge , Bhushan Steel and others are setting up major units. During thelast three years, we have secured new investments of over Rs 10,000 crorewhich does not compare unfavourably with other states.

However, infrastructure remains a problem and a priority. The AsianDevelopment Bank is helping us build the Haldia -Kolkata and Kolkata-Siliguri highways, which will certainly accelerate the pace ofdevelopment in our state. During the last couple of years we have openedover 30 new engineering and medical colleges. We are also setting up a newbiotechnology unit and are setting the pace in IT where internationalmajors are coming here to invest and we are exporting software over Rs 1200crore within two years.


But all this, again I emphasize, is only the beginning. In view of ourunemployment problem and requirements, we have a very long way to go.

What is the response to your slogan -- Do It Now?

There has been some improvement, but not much, I think. I thinkI need to repeat this slogan and monitor progress strictly. If people(government employees) respond, fine, but if they do not, then naturallywe have to think of other measures.