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Of Cricket, Coconuts, and Communists!

Last updated on: August 14, 2006 17:09 IST
Connoisseurs of political dissent dismiss our Communist comrades as mere amateurs. They have a point. When was the last time that an expelled Leftist reached the heights of Uma Bharati's volcanic outburst against the BJP leadership, or of Kunwar Natwar Singh's venomous outpourings against his own prime minister?

That is not to say, however, that the facade of the Red Fortress cannot crack - as it has recently both in West Bengal and in Kerala.

Let us start with Kolkata. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is currently reputed to be one of India's better chief ministers. (Not much of a compliment to be sure!) He has also earned the reputation of being a gentleman - in contrast to his immediate predecessor who once baldly stated, 'I am not a gentleman, I am a Communist!'

So what led the soft-spoken chief minister of West Bengal to vent against Jagmohan Dalmiya, after the businessman turned cricket administrator kept his presidency of the Bengal Cricket Association? Why did Bhattacharjee describe Dalmiya's victory as one of 'evil over good', even vow -- if I read the reports correctly -- to maintain a 'jihad' against him?

Believe it or not, Jagmohan Dalmiya does not spend all his time plotting to regain control of the BCCI, his full-time job is as head of M L Dalmiya & Company Ltd, a firm which has been in the construction business since World War II.

It was in that capacity that Jagmohan Dalmiya undertook to set up the Calcutta Leather Complex, a project born out of the Jyoti Basu ministry's desire to remove the highly-polluting leather industry out of metropolitan Kolkata. Huge tracts of land were allotted for this purpose, and the 1,100 acre industrial park now claims to be the largest integrated leather complex anywhere on this planet.

So what is the problem? Well, sections of the Left Front say that part of the land allocated for relocation of the leather factories is now being used for other purposes. They say an Information Technology Park is coming up on land that had been earmarked for the leather industry, with M L Dalmiya & Company Ltd acting as a single-window support centre, offering its expertise in procurements of permissions, licenses and other clearances.

Quite honestly, I am not sure why this should make the Communists -- some of them at any rate -- see red. Everyone agrees that the information technology sector gives India its best chance to escape poverty, and Kolkata needs to do plenty if it wants to catch up with Pune, Kochi, and Gurgaon, leave alone Bangalore and Hyderabad. But be that as it may my Left Front comrades are left venting their anger against Jagmohan Dalmiya.

I would have thought there is a simple solution. If M L Dalmiya & Company Ltd has indeed done something illegal then the government of West Bengal can drag it through the courts. But there is nary a whisper of taking any legal action, just dire muttering. (Actually, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee didn't mutter as much he yelled out in public!)

Be that as it may, it was apparently this that led the chief minister of West Bengal to take such interest in the Bengal Cricket Association election. And this in turn led to Jyoti Basu having his say -- just as publicly of course. The bad blood reached the point where it apparently had to be discussed at a Politburo meeting, after which a visibly embarrassed CPI-M general secretary asked both factions to pipe down.

But the comrades are clearly out of sorts. West Bengal Sports Minister Subhas Chakraborty openly backed Jagmohan Dalmiya, in clear defiance of his chief minister's well-articulated wishes. It is, almost, unprecedented to see such rank undiscipline in the CPI-M ranks.

The brouhaha over Jagmohan Dalmiya is, I believe, a symptom of a greater clash for control of the party, with the likes of Sourav Ganguly and even Jagmohan Dalmiya himself being surrogates for different CPI-M leaders.

The CPI-M Politburo meeting where Jagmohan Dalmiya was discussed must have been one of the most interesting of its kind. The Bengal Cricket Association election was apparently not the only item on the agenda; India's third-largest party also discussed the 'Case of the Eight Coconut Trees'.

The story begins with Captain Krishnan Nair. Captain Nair is recognised as an entrepreneur in two fields, namely the garment trade and the hospitality industry. Leela Lace and Leela Hotels have each won global recognition as among the best of the breed in their respective spheres.

But Captain Nair is equally passionate about several other matters. He is, for instance, something of an expert on the life and work of the late V P Menon, Sardar Patel's right-hand man in the integration of the princely states. And he is devoted to the environment, having planted thousands of trees in and around Mumbai. (I am not exaggerating when I write 'thousands', I think it was around 3,000 at last count.) So, it came as a bit of a shock that he had been hauled up for stealing eight coconut trees!

It seems Thiruvananthapuram District Collector N Ayyappan filed a complaint on behalf of the state government that eight coconut trees were missing from the disputed Halcyon Palace inside the campus of the Leela Hotel. On July 13, Sub Inspector Binu Jose Chacko and his team solemnly went off and uprooted the disputed trees, taking them to the police station as evidence.

The Neyattinkara first class judicial magistrate quickly ordered that they be replanted. (I could be wrong but police stations normally lack the facilities to keep eight coconut trees alive once they have been dug up!) With immense solemnity, the horticulture department and the revenue department carried out the magistrate's orders with the media in full attendance.

The man who planted thousands of trees is now accused of uprooting eight! As in Kolkata, the dispute in Thiruvananthapuram is over land, specifically the ownership of the Halcyon Palace, which may or may not be Leela Group property. The whole thing is sub judice, and I am not venturing into that minefield. But I would love to know why it was necessary to enact the farce of uprooting trees and presenting them as evidence. Was someone trying to make a political point by embarrassing an entrepreneur as prominent as Captain Nair?

It seems the answer lies in the fact that Captain Nair is said to have a friendly relationship with Pinnarayi Vijayan, head of the CPI-M's Kerala unit. Vijayan and Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan are famously at loggerheads, so much so that Achuthanandan was being denied a ticket to fight the last assembly election until the CPI-M high command stepped in. Achuthanandan is an old school Marxist while Vijayan is said to be far more pragmatic. People in Kerala suspect that poor Captain Nair was caught in the crossfire between the two rival CPI-M factions.

As was poor Sub-Inspector Chacko, who has reportedly been transferred to Kollam district. Or, given his talents, it would be more accurate to say that he has been transplanted...

At any rate, having settled a spat between Comrades Basu and Bhattacharjee, it was necessary for poor Prakash Karat to settle the quarrel between the Achuthanandan and Vijayan factions. I am sure the Politburo has no dearth of innovative solutions to settle the conflict in West Asia, but the CPI-M bosses would do well to use their diplomatic talents a little closer home as well.

Thus far, the factions in the Bengal and Kerala units have confined themselves to shadow-boxing. But governance suffers when chief ministers spend so much time and energy on such, relatively, petty issues. It is small consolation that nobody has reached the heights of an Uma Bharati or a Kunwar Natwar Singh, but give the Marxists some time, they are still new at all this!

T V R Shenoy