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October 23, 1997


Tatas in the wrong, says Jyoti Basu

West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu on Thursday said no business house should pay insurgents to buy peace and the tea companies in Assam should not have bypassed the state government.

''It was unthinkable to me that the tea companies were buying peace bypassing the state government. You cannot do it in any case even after informing the Centre, but now it is clear that the Centre had no information,'' Basu said on a visit to Guwahati. He was referring to the Tata Tea's stand that they had always kept the Intelligence Bureau in confidence while maintaining links with the United Liberation Front of Asom.

He said the tea companies should clear their stand in the controversy. ''Both the Centre and the state should protect the investors but no way you can buy peace from the insurgents,'' he said. ''The state government should not be bypassed in such a matter because even in the presence of the military, the solution is only political and ultimately the state government has to carry out the political measures.''

He, however, criticised the tapping of telephone conversations between Bombay Dyeing Chairman Nusli Wadi, Tata Tea Chairman Ratan Tata and Keshub Mahindra of Mahindra and Mahindra.

"It should not have happened at all,'' he said. Basu favoured a dialogue between the state and Centre to end insurgency in Assam. ''We need the military to contain violence, but that is not desirable,'' he added.

About the shifting of headquarters of the tea companies from Calcutta to Guwahati, which was one of the major demands of both the Asom Gana Parishad and the All-Assam Students' Union, Basu said he had no objections to it if business was suffering because the headquarters were located in Calcutta.

"How can we dictate where businessmen should have their headquarters,'' Basu said. ''But I must tell you that West Bengal has suffered for the last two decades because many financial institutions shifted their headquarters from Calcutta to Bombay."

He said that along with Bhutan and Bangladesh, the extremists of Assam were trying to take shelter in north Bengal. ''Although there is no violence there, we do not want to see them taking shelter there," he said.

Regarding Bhutan offering a large number of sanctuaries to both ULFA and Bodo militants, Basu said the Union government should urgently approach the Bhutan king on the matter.

About the Bodo problem, he said some Bodo leaders met him in Calcutta last month regarding a boundary problem of the Bodoland Autonomous Council. "I am given to understand by the Assam government that those areas could not be included because they were not Bodo-dominated and do not fit into the accepted theory that 50 per cent Bodo inhabited land should be included in the BAC,'' he said.

''I was also told by the Assam Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta that he was discussing the matter with the Bodo leaders,'' Basu said.



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