October 21, 2008


An article by B. Prasant
A huge ruckus has been thrown up in the corporate media in India and elsewhere, that "poor helpless farmers" are being robbed of their agricultural land, their only source of livelihood, by the Bengal Left Front government for the sake of catering to big business and big capital.
Singur comprises a cluster of small villages in the district of Hooghly, about 60 km from Kolkata. As part of its pro-employment and pro-poor industrial policy, the Left Front government, at the head of which is the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has chosen to build up industries in this area. The central government would not help, and the state government does not have the resources. Thus, private capital has been invited, but under conditions stipulated by the state government.

The state government acquired a Tata Motors project that would produce a US $2,500 small hatch back car called Nano. Big and small farmers, absentee landlords, and sundry smallholders including shop owners, populate the 998 acres of farmland that has been taken over. The land plot also includes residential houses, mostly single-storied.

Agriculture here is no longer profitable. Thanks to population pressure (with a politically stable government and the state domestic product on an increasing curve, Bengal has been undergoing a "baby boom" for the past thirty years) land plots have become smaller and smaller, not viable to produce enough to allow the farming families even the basic necessities.

The state government came forward with an attractive compensation package, providing more than 200% of the market value of the land. By merely keeping the money in banks, even for short-term deposits, the land-loser families would have more than four times the annual income that they earn from farming.

There was more. Each land-loser family would be ensured of at least one high-paying job in the Tata factory itself, the necessary training to be provided free by the state government.

The Tata project would require setting up a series of ancillary and downstream engineering units, which would provide direct employment to the unemployed youth of the area, including members of the families of land-losers. Excitement spread across Singur and the Hooghly district because an industrial hub was in the making. Employment would rise, to be followed by more industrial capital.

But the opposition parties, with the covert and overt support of the central government, foreign-funded NGOs, and various US agencies operating in Communist Bengal, would have none of it. They put together a rag-tag outfit of right reactionaries, left sectarians, Maoists, religious fundamentalists, and rich landlords to foil the project. The attempt is still going on.

The chief demand of this campaign is that land be given back to the farmers, most of whom show no interest. Those not willing to accept compensation (mostly on political grounds) are less than one percent of the entire population who have accepted the compensation-rehabilitation package.

These elements have beaten up the Tata employees, and threatened local youth against joining the Tata enterprise. They have attacked showrooms and offices of the state's industries department. They have organised demonstrations blocking the Tata factory, which was 95% completed, with the entire workforce plus the ancillary projects ready to roll out the cars come the festive season in mid-October.

At this stage, during the week starting on September 15, the Bengal LF government announced further incentives to the land-losers: more funds, more jobs, and assurance of employment even for farmers who are actually migrant labourers. The impasse goes on.

Still, the Indian and the western media kept shedding crocodile tears for the "poor, suffering farmers." The Tatas, in their turn, took the opportunity to threaten to take their projects elsewhere to Congress-run states, the chief ministers of which have made loud appeals to the Tatas to "come away from Communist Bengal."
The Bengal government and the CPI(M) hoped that statewide campaign-movements involving hundreds of thousands of people from almost every section of society could bear enough pressure on the irresponsible opposition parties and their backers in and outside of the country to stand down and let the factory go online.
Sadly, Ratan Tata announced rather casually at a hastily convened media conference that the Tata group would not wait for a people's response to the right-wing depredations.
Having extracted the full benefits from the Bengal Left Front government, including infrastructural facilities, low land prices, payment of compensation to the land-losers at a high rate, and a steady supply of specialised motor parts vendors as part of the ancillary network, security, and free access to the highest echelons of the cabinet of ministers, are concerned, and more), the Tatas have now chosen to leave for greener pastures.
As we file this report, they are in the midst of negotiations with Gujarat (where the right-wing state government distinguished itself by allowing religious fundamentalists to run riot against Muslims and Christians), Orissa (where another right-wing government has recently supported by default the killing of Christian priests and the raping of nuns), and Karnataka, where another tight wing government rules the roost having come to office after an open rigging of the elections held earlier in the year.
As the people of Singur go through a period of terrible uncertainty, Ratan Tata even managed a sick joke at their expense, smilingly assured the media conference that he "had to leave" because the opposition could "pull the trigger effectively."

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