The Indo-US joint air exercise kicked off with clockwork precision at the Kalikunda airforce base. So did the protesters they burnt an effigy of George Bush and set ablaze copies of the Indo-US agreement on military cooperation.
But that didnt affect the exercises. Indian Air Force (IAF) officials said there would be a joint exercise between IAF and the Singapore Airforce, the next in line at the Kalaikunda airbase. Details of the exercise are being worked out.
Charkhi Soren, a tribal from Chandrakona Road, was counting numbers: Till now I have seen three, she said. Kamaljeet Singh, a transporter from Kharagpur had come to watch the spectacle, as had youngsters from Kolkata.
But Left leaders continued to fume. Their script moved on predictable lines: The UPA is no alternative for NDA. Neither is NDA for UPA. The real alternative in the making is a Third Front.
A similar tune could be heard in Kolkata as well, where the CPI-M top brass held protest rallies. Anil Biswas, state secretary and politburo member, reminded the UPA government that should these practices continue in future, the party would reconsider its support to the UPA.
All these protests, ironically, came at a time when the state government is aggressively seeking US funds in the services as well as the social sectors. The latest example is of state finance minister, Asim Dasgupta, going to the US to cement ties. A high-powered team consisting of US Congressman, Gregory Meeks, and New York Senator, Malcom Smith, visited Kolkata in January 2004 with initiatives to bring both New York and Kolkata economically close. They had set a deadline of 10 years. Interestingly, after that, West Bengals IT sector has around 80% of US investment, with the likes of IBM, Netguru IXAI and others putting in their money.
For the social sector, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has wooed dollars from the United States Agency for International Development for improving water and sanitation. The state is also expecting major US investments in the food sector, and Pepsi has already finalised setting up a potato chips unit at Howrah.
Bengal has nearly drawn in a CMS investment of $301.72 million for power generation and is also backing Nalco-Onedo and Quacker Chemicals for an Indo-US joint venture. Yet, the Left took joint air exercise as an occasion to raise their voice against US imperialism.
Since 1977, the Left Front has been speaking against US policies. It had opposed the NDA government for its US tilt. But with the Indo-US joint exercises, it seems to have gone in for face-saving protests so that its anti-American image doesnt take a hit.