West Bengal’s Marxist Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee (picture from cpim.org) has received a glowing encomium from the Economist magazine. Check the Business section of the latest issue. He may not like the headline, "The capitalist communist", but he will certainly love the subhead, "How a poetic Marxist has transformed business prospects in West Bengal". And it’s absolutely right. I enjoyed the article so much I must quote it:
Until a few years ago foreign capitalists were unlikely to look for
investment opportunities in the Indian state of West Bengal, seat of
the world’s longest-serving democratically elected communist
government. They were about as likely to ask for the novels of Gabriel
Garcia Marquez in Bengali, the local language. That both are now
readily available is largely down to one man. He is Buddhadeb
Bhattacharjee, the state’s chief minister, a poet and playwright, the
translator of the great Colombian-born novelist—and a life-long
Since taking charge of West Bengal in 2000, Mr Bhattacharjee has
embraced business with apostate zeal. The results have been little
short of revolutionary. Under a coalition of leftists led by his own
Communist Party of India (Marxist), which has won seven consecutive
elections, West Bengal was previously best known for industrial action,
capital flight and the immiseration of its capital, Calcutta, recently
renamed Kolkata. Things improved slightly in the mid-1990s, after
investors were officially invited to the state. But only in recent
years, after Mr Bhattacharjee began travelling the world and wooing
foreign companies, have many actually come. They have joined an influx
of Indian firms in computer services, manufacturing and steelmaking.
Tata Motors says that next year it will start producing a new low-cost
car—expected to sell for less than $3,000—at a factory it is building
at Singur, near Kolkata.
Bhattacharjee, who has a reputation for probity unusual in an Indian
politician, has been credited with this success. In person, he is
modest and engaging. With shining eyes and a breathy chain-smoker’s
voice, he enthuses on topics from agri-business to consumerism and
Indian poetry, which he often quotes. In private life his tastes are
Gandhian in their austerity: he has lived with his librarian wife and
environmentalist daughter in the same two-bedroom flat for two decades.
Azim Premji, the chairman of Wipro, a big computer-services company,
has called Mr Bhattacharjee India’s best chief minister. The prime
minister, Manmohan Singh, agrees.
Some Indian commentators have likened Mr Bhattacharjee to China’s great
moderniser, Deng Xiaoping. He laughs off this suggestion, and notes
that communist ideology is practically extinct in China. Yet his own
“Marxist principles”, which he says he has discussed at length with
Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela, do not sound terribly radical.
They are, he says, to “protect the poorest of the poor, protect
un-organised workers, protect womenfolk who have no income.”
The Economist does not give him a perfect score, however.
Peasants are being uprooted by his land acquisition policy to help develop industries and the fallout has been "disastrous", it says, referring to the violence in Nandigram: People have been killed in clashes between the ruling Marxists and their opponents protesting against the land being given to the Salim Group of Indonesia to set up petrochemical plants.
The Economist adds:
The dispossessed are not alone in their protests. India’s urban classes
retain a sentimental fondness for village life, poor and squalid as it
may be. This is especially true in West Bengal, where peasants are
officially considered the vanguard of a proletarian revolution.
The chief minister is certainly to blame, in part, for the crisis. And
with a general election expected next year, in which the Communists are
expected to do badly, there is talk that party bosses, wedded to the
outworn ideology that he has so sensibly forsaken, might force Mr
Bhattacharjee to quit. That would be a pity. India needs more leaders like Mr Bhattacharjee, who is a talented administrator, even if his political views remain enigmatic.
It’s remarkable for the Economist to show such a soft soft for a Marxist. But that may be because in its view he isn’t a typical Marxist but a "capitalist communist". Unconsciously, the cultured, literary chief minister, who graduated from prestigious Presidency College in Calcutta (Kolkata), betrays a certain elitism. It’s there in the last sentence of the Economist article:
Quoting Vladimir Mayakovsky—a Russian poet whose verse he has also
translated into Bengali—he says: “Proletarians arrive at communism from
below, but I from poetry’s sky plunge into communism, because without
it, I feel no love.”
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee may love communism, but this incorruptible, cultured, literary, middle-class Bengali gentleman is no prole.