October 12, 2008
THE opponents of the Left Front in West Bengal led by the Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee have, unfortunately, succeeded in driving out the Tata’s car manufacturing unit from Singur. They have, thus, with the mere support of less than 10 per cent of the owners of the acquired land who have not taken the compensation cheques, adversely affected the future prosperity and improved livelihood for a large number of people in the area as well as the process of industrialisation that would have generated greater employment opportunities. As we have repeatedly argued in these columns earlier, the disruptive violence mounted both in Nandigram and Singur were basically political in nature. Through these movements, the Trinamul Congress and other opposition to the Left Front are seeking to consolidate their support base. In the final analysis, it is for the people of Bengal to decide on the type of politics that they would want.
Mamata Banerjee has not merely ensured the exit of the Nano project from Bengal but being the loyal steadfast ally of the BJP in the NDA, she facilitated the project’s re-location to Gujarat. Remember, she continued to remain with the NDA and, thus, in a way endorsed the communal carnage unleashed in the state by the BJP’s Narendra Modi government.
Be that as it may, voices in the corporate media, despite the stark realities of why the Tatas have shifted from Bengal, cannot refrain from their usual CPI(M) bashing. “Don’t just blame Mamata” screams the editorial of The Economic Times. Some others have been less aggressive, but nevertheless hold the CPI(M) and the Left Front government responsible and, in the process, eulogise Mamata Banerjee by comparing her to David in his fight with Goliath (Business Standard), or, portraying her as “India’s saviour” (Prem Shankar Jha, The Hindustan Times)! The latter justifies this by reference to an alleged electronic media footage of policemen brutally attacking “unwilling farmers” in the process of acquiring land at Singur. There is no iota of any evidence of either the source or the credibility of such footage that few others seem to have seen. This is followed by graphic description of how the villagers’ consent was “obtained” through police excesses: “Are the blood and tears of the poor a necessary price of development?”
Such descriptions remind us of the times, in early 1970s, when graphic accounts of the advance of the US army operations in its war against Vietnam in Saigon, were being filed as `eye witness accounts’ from the Press Club in Bangkok. As the evening advanced, such `eye witness accounts’ became more ‘spirited’. In the event, it was Vietnam that triumphed over the US army and liberated Saigon and the rest of the country.
Amidst such anti-Left vitriol, certain substantive issues have been raised that require attention. First, why did the Left Front government acquire arable land for industrialisation instead of barren land? The answer is simple. There is less than 2 per cent of land in West Bengal which is barren. Secondly, why did the Left Front government not persuade the Tatas to give a share or stake to the land owners in the company or the project that is to be set-up on this land? Again, the answer is simple. What we require is a new central law for land acquisition in the country.
Land currently being acquired all over the country (5 lakh acres of arable land in the last three years has been acquired) is being done under a law enacted by the British while the rail roads were being constructed way back in 1894. The CPI(M) has been demanding that this anachronism must be immediately removed by enacting a new law that will take into account the nature of compensation including providing a stake in the future of the project not only to the owners of the land, but also to those dependent upon the land for their livelihood. This has to be a legal arrangement under law. This cannot be left to the whims and fancies of individual corporate houses or the state governments. The need for a negotiation on this must simply not exist. This needs to be enacted under law.
Unfortunately, during these last four years or so, especially when the drive for the Special Economic Zones began aggressively and the issue of land acquisition came to the fore, no new law has seen the light of the day. This needs to be urgently addressed.
Thirdly, the common refrain is that the Left Front government failed to provide adequate security forcing the Tatas to leave Singur. That is not the reason as Ratan Tata himself has stated for the Nano project to leave. Indeed, adequate protection was provided and the state government was discharging its responsibilities towards the maintenance of law and order. The Tatas, however, took a stand that unless everybody cooperates, they are not going to continue to remain in Singur. One can, surely, disagree with such a position. For, after all, no one can say that they shall build their house in a locality only when all others living there will give an assurance that their house will not be burgled. However, like Mamata Banerjee, the Tatas also have an equal right to take an unreasonable position.
In any case, the net result is that Bengal and its people have been denied, temporarily and only in this particular project, the opportunities and advantages arising from such industrialisation. As argued in these columns in the past, what Bengal and its people require to advance further is rapid industrialisation on the basis of the consolidation of the land reforms and attendant increases in yield and productivity in agriculture. This has been a decision arrived at after long discussions in the Left Front and amongst the people and this was emphatically endorsed by the people in the last elections to the assembly when the Left Front won a whopping two-thirds majority on the basis of an election manifesto whose major thrust was for rapid industrialisation. The current opposition is, in fact, a negation of the people’s mandate.
It is, therefore, upto the people of Bengal to decide, when the opportunity arises, to endorse this negation of their earlier mandate or to reject such politics which are acting against the interests of the state and its people. In other words, the politics that led to the re-location of the Nano project from Bengal also needs to be re-located elsewhere in the interests of greater prosperity of Bengal and its people.