August 30, 2008


The frustration was easy to gauge, as we looked upon the contorting face of Mamata Banerjee spewing venom against the Bengal Left Front government, against chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, and against the entrepreneurs building the motor vehicles factory at Singur in Hooghly, less than hundred kilometres from Kolkata. 855 of the work of the factory have been completed. Nearly sixty ancillary units have started to buzz with activities in the factory area -- and beyond. The downstream units in the meanwhile are ready to receive the first orders for motor parts, vehicular and engine.

Mamata Banerjee could not wait any longer. Her support base even in Hooghly where her outfit had won several Panchayat seats, was unravelling fast. The ‘activists’ were becoming restless. Somen Mitra had split from the Congress and floated a new party that had ostensibly proved supportive of Mamata – and everyone in the Congress circle knows the famous fall-out that led to the formation of the Trinamul Congress between Mitra and Banerjee in 1997-98. They also know the capacity of Somen babu of swallowing political outfits completely once having made friends with it. Thus – the desperation had a certain raison d’ĂȘtre ring to her pattern of predictable enough behaviour.

Without her customary ‘ultimatum,’ usually delivered when the ‘action’ has already been started by her workers – the sit-in demonstration commenced at locations closely abutting the motor vehicles factory on 24 August. ‘We are a patient lot -- and this drew sharp bouts of laughter, angering Mamata no end -- ‘and had we been not so, we would have brought out the necessary tools lying at the ready for demolishing the factory-- the heavy hammers, and the pickaxes, and the shovels,’ she shouted, this time with great appreciation from the dais packed to capacity by her lackeys and also including the returning Medha Patkar, Anuradha Talwarkar, plus that swift turncoat, Amar Singh. The latter in particular was directly abusive of the entrepreneurs whom he had himself called upon to set up a motor vehicles factory in UP when Mulayam Singh & Co were in office.

Earlier, on 20 August at Buddhadeb’s invitation, a Trinamul leader and his history-sheeter Maoist ‘minder’ had had a talk with the chief minister as well as industries minister Nirupam Sen. At that meeting, Buddhadeb and Nirupam spelt out in detail the reasons why the demand for return of 400 acres of the project land was not a practicable one. Some of the claimants had left the place, in other cases, the ownership was in doubt, and then there was the court order about the government having to acquire land where compensation has not been accepted – for whatever reason. Full sets of papers and land utilisation maps on the project were handed over to the two worthies of the opposition

We recall that a court ruling at the apex level notes: ‘It is a settled law that if the land is acquired for a public purpose, after the public purpose was achieved, the rest of the land could be used for any other public purpose. In case there is not other public purpose for which the land is needed, then instead of disposal by way of sale to the erstwhile owners the land should be put to public auction, and the amount fetched through the public auction can be better utilized for the public purpose envisaged in the directive principles of the constitution.’ This was communicated to the Trinamul Congress representatives at the meeting.

The duo went back, and stuck to the claim of ‘returning 400 acres to kisans, and at the same time agreed to have further meetings with Buddhadeb and Nirupam. Nothing on that line materialised. Instead we had Mamata Banerjee shout loudly at the betrayal of the people at the hands of the government, adding such crude non sequitors as the entrepreneurs may well go back to ‘where they had come from,’ and ‘they are welcome to leave Bengal under LF government well alone’ and so on.

Buddhadeb responded, if that is the term, by being civil, polite, and non-confrontational in extremis, by calling a media briefing at the Muzaffar Ahmad Bhavan in the afternoon of the day when the Bengal Left Front had met and endorsed the stance of the state government on Singur: ‘We are certain,’ said Buddhadeb ‘that the small car being put together at the Singur factory shall start to roll out in scheduled time.

‘More than 85% work has been completed’, added Buddhadeb. ‘We, he said, ‘are hopeful also that the opposition would realise that by demanding 400 acres to be taken away from the project, the project itself would become dysfunctional, and that we can hardly acceded to demands that are completely irrational.’

Buddhadeb also pointed out that the state government, after discussion with entrepreneurs, and the other ancillary industries involved in the project, ‘has drawn up a vast plan to employ the youths of the families who lost their land for this project.’ Several hundreds of youth are already at work after receiving professional training. Later Biman Basu, Bengal LF chairman called for negotiations to be continued to solve the impasse. Bimanda also hoped that the ‘programme of action’ of the Trinamul Congress ‘shall remain peaceful,’ and added to say that ‘everyone has the right to organise democratic movements and struggles in Bengal.’

Addressing a mammoth rally at Singur on 22 August Nirupam said in clear tone and unambiguous tenor that the people wanted the motor vehicles factory to come up, and the Trinamul Congress leadership should witness the vast proportions of the rally from which constant slogans arose in favour of an early completion of the motor vehicles producing unit.

Nirupam supplied the gritty details of the land acquisition and said that the LF government has acquired 997.11 acres of land at Singur. There are 10, 852 raiyats (cultivators) on the land parcel taken over. Of them, 8, 890 covering land area of 691.64 acres have accepted the highly lucrative compensation package. 2251 had, for various reasons, some obscure, others non-transparent, yet some others under duress, refused to accept compensation for a total of 305.47 acres of land. Nirupam concluded to say that the opposition to the project was the principal aim of the Trinamul Congress and its sidekicks and it was they who had blocked a great many people from accepting compensation, generally failing but succeeding marginally. This is their capital on which they seek to stall the development of the project, causing harm to the state itself.

In the meanwhile, Mamata Banerjee has continued with her sit-in demonstration, and on the second day itself – we stayed over at Singur – we could not but fail to note the thinning of her rank-and-file. Singh, Patkar, Talwarkar & Co has fled the scene. The sumptuous feasts and the free flow of alcohol – it is there for anyone staying back to see -- arranged for the ‘braves’ who stayed could not keep the people out there in the sun for any length of time and we fully expect when we visit Singur on Friday (29 August), Mamata and her faithful band comprising right reactionaries and left sectarians to be feeling more than a tad lonesome at the top of the garishly decorated dais.

Elsewhere, massive marches have been brought out by the district units of the CPI (M) and the Left Front, and by the Left student-youth organisations. Kolkata and Siliguri witnessed two such large processions. The demonstrations will continue throughout the month against the anti-people policies of the union government, and in support of the development of Bengal, thwarting all conspiracies. As we file this report, Mamata Banerjee has replied to Buddhadeb’s letter to her (asking her for a one-on-one meeting to solve the impasse) by rudely replying that ‘no discussion would be held unless the 400 acres of land were returned to their rightful owners.’


No comments: