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Bengal CM protests PM's remarks

Our Bureau

Kolkata , July 17

THE West Bengal Chief Minster, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, has joined issue with the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, saying that his comments at the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce in the city on Wednesday indicated he was on an election tour rather than at a meeting of an industry body.

Taking exception to many of the comments made on West Bengal's economic performance, the Chief Minister said the Prime Minister should have been talking about the country rather than highlighting what he (Mr Vajpayee) thought was the non-performance of the State on the economic front.

He ruled out any possibility of the State's image (especially as that of an investor-friendly destination) being impacted by Mr Vajpayee's comments, saying that "the State will not lose out but the BJP will lose votes", he said.

Mr Bhattacharjee said: "India has slipped in position in the United Nation's Human Development Report, with Botswana and Bosnia overtaking the country — what has he to say to that?"

He said that West Bengal's performance was way ahead of the national average on many counts, including that of gross domestic product, agricultural growth and poverty alleviation. But these did not find mention in the PM's observations, an obviously peeved Mr Bhattacharjee said, adding that his sense of decorum had prevented him from commenting on these issues yesterday since the State guest was still around.

The Bengal CM's comments gain significance as he was one of the first Left Front leaders to announce, after assuming office in May 2001, that he did not favour a confrontationist posture between the Centre and the State. His reactions today are being seen as a slight shift in that stance and are being seen by political observers as a fall out of his proximity to the Deputy Prime Minister.

Admitting that unemployment in the State was a problem, he remarked that West Bengal was not an independent state outside the Indian Union and neither was the situation in the Prime Minister's constituency any better. "Or was he getting the fragrance of flowers from Lucknow"? an obviously agitated Mr Bhattacharjee said.

Referring to the comments that the West Bengal government was dogmatic, he said that these comments were surprising as they were coming from a person with links with a party such as the BJP and an entity like the RSS!

However, he made it clear that if Mr Vajpayee was making comments about the State's stand against institutions such as the IMF, it should be made clear that their policies could not be given a blanket approval by the West Bengal government. He also said that since 1994, there had been no flight of capital from West Bengal.

On the comments on work culture, he said the State was just as good or as bad as any other state in the country.

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