| When Tata Motors' Rs 1-lakh car rolls out from Singur, the state Government will have set an example of how West Bengal is going all out to court investment and the compromises it is willing to make in the process. But it will be a lesson for the Government as well; next time it sanctions land for industry, it will know exactly the mistakes it doesn't want to repeat. |
Singur, a small town an hour away from Kolkata, has emerged as the state's biggest political potboiler. The spanner in the state government's works is the proposed Tata Motors automobile assembly plant along the Durgapur Expressway at Singur, giving Mamata Banerjee and her party, the Trinamool Congress, enough fodder to revolt. Banerjee, on a hunger strike over the 1,000-odd acre of land being given to the Tatas, is refusing talks with either the Government or the Tatas. "They can set up their factory on non-agricultural land. Why do they have to do it here?" she asks. Banerjee claims that her signature campaign includes 40 per cent of the farmers whose lands are being snatched. Further, the stir has gained strength with activists like Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy joining up in West Bengal and Delhi.
The immediate damage that Singur has caused is that it has tarnished the image of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. Since 1991, the state government has been making concerted efforts to court investors, but started seeing results only in the last seven years. That the Tatas chose West Bengal, the emerging hub of new industry, was no surprise. But what caught the Government on the wrong foot was the choice of land, a Trinamool constituency with a strong BJP presence. It went without saying that Banerjee would catch this opportunity by the throat to flay the ruling CPI(M). And if earlier it was the government-sponsored trade union militancy that kept investors away, now it is the locals who are backing Banerjee to the hilt.
For Banerjee, it is a do-or-die effort. With her back to the proverbial wall, her party's representation in the Parliament and Assembly at an all-time low (one MP and 29 MLAs), she can do with all the publicity she can get. Armed with high drama ("they will kill me with lethal injection"), hunger strike and refusal to any form of dialogue, she is hogging the headlines. Her cause has now found high-profile supporters beyond Singur. Patkar, after being refused entry to Singur, stationed herself at Nandigram to protest the proposed SEZ under the Gellingham project where, according to the Assembly Standing Committee report on commerce and industry, families have been evicted without compensation.
Though the Government has put up a brave face, it cannot dispel the fears that the Tatas themselves might leave them in the lurch. Already, the Orissa Government has tried to woo them by offering land. In a press conference, Tata Motors MD Ravi Kant, while reassuring that they wouldn't move out of Bengal, said, "The Bengal Government offered us a choice of six plots. We picked the Singur land because it was the best on offer." Last week, a Tata Motors showroom in Kolkata was vandalised allegedly by Maoists, who are also held responsible for the December 2 scuffle with the police in Singur that led to mass arrests and lathicharge.
Singur has put the Left Front in great dilemma. Fearing a bitter and long battle over the issue with their fellow travellers from within the front and outside, issuing clarifications was the best they could do. Earlier, CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat had said that amending the land acquisition laws in West Bengal was a step in the right direction. Ultra Left parties like the CPI(M-L) have however warned the CPI(M) of dire consequences if the Tata project is implemented. The Bhattacharya administration has, in the meantime, prepared a detailed report on the status of the project, claiming that 9,020 land owners and sharecroppers have already been compensated with only 3,000 more remaining. While the basic sale price of land was Rs 6.02 lakh per acre, the state Government bought each acre at Rs 8.60 lakh. So far it has disbursed Rs 76.64 crore.
For now, resurgent Bengal seems to be haunted by the old days of bandhs, rallies, mass protests and police atrocities. But Bhattacharya is adamant: "The land will be given to the Tatas on the scheduled date (December 20)." But then, close to his office at Writers' Building, he must have heard Banerjee on the microphone shouting. "Buddhababu, rokto debo, kintu jomi debo na (We'll give our blood, but not our land)." She has set December 15 as a deadline for the Government to reconsider the Singur decision. One just has to wait and see if economic logic can overcome political posturing.
-with Satarupa Bhattacharjya