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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 43

Exceptional Significance of Singur Movement

Friday 17 October 2008, by Amitava Mukherjee

Although there have been umpteen number of attempts to belittle the mass movement launched by the Singur Krishi Jomi Raksha Committee (SKJRC), it will certainly not be an overstatement if the Singur movement is described as one of the most important social developments in post-independence West Bengal that has the potentiality to influence the dynamics of change not just in the State but in other parts of India as well. The course of events has also brought into focus the irresponsible roles that business houses, political parties, certain individuals and media houses can play to the detriment of the interests of poor people.
It is not yet verified whether Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the Governor of West Bengal, has averred in any of his reports to the President of India that both the Government of West Bengal and the Opposition led by the Trinamul Congress are adopting stands over the Singur issue with an eye to the forthcoming parliamentary elections as has been reported by a section of the vernacular media. If this is not correct there should be a denial from the Governor’s office which has not yet appeared in any Kolkata based newspaper. This stand cer-tainly takes away much of the shine from the praiseworthy role that the Governor had played while bringing the CPM-led State Government and the Trinamul-led Opposition to the negotiation table.
Protests over the West Bengal Government’s forcible land acquisition in Singur started nearly two years back and the Trinamul Congress-led Opposition sided with the victimised farmers from that time onwards although there was no election around. Moreover resettlement on a similar quality and quantity of land is the only humane precondi-tion before eviction of a farmer from his age-old occupation. If the farmers of Singur now agitate under the banner of the SKJRC for return of their land then it cannot be called electoral politics.

It is difficult to find fault with Mamata Banerjee’s argument that it is the Left Front Government which was to be held responsible for the entire imbroglio over Singur. First, they acquired land under a law which is colonial in origin. Secondly, the government of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Nirupam Sen started dishing out misinformation by advancing the argument that the acquired land cannot be returned as the law prohibits it. This was a white lie proved later during discussions at the Raj Bhavan, Kolkata. Chittotosh Mukherjee, the retired Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court who had assisted the Governor as a legal expert during the discussion, had already publicly averred that the law is no impediment if the acquired land is to be returned to the farmers. Finally, Buddhadeb and Nirupam also gave in and agreed to return the land from within the project area. Then why did they try to misguide the people of the State?
Although a controversy has cropped up over the interpretation of the word ‘maximum’ in the agreement that the West Bengal Government had entered into with the Opposition, yet even a cursory reading of the same points out that the legal interpretation is on Mamata Banjerjee’s side. Common sense suggests that the agreement had visualised the rehabilitation of a maximum number of peasants out of the land from within the Tata project site. The truth is that this govern-ment is extremely immature and is unequal to the job of arbitration and conciliation. It signed the agreement being blissfully unaware of the fact that it nullified at one stroke whatever stands the State Government had taken at different points of time. Subsequent developments pointed out that the government side was represented at the negotia-tion by some persons who did not know their own job while the Opposition had fielded some stalwarts.
It is now a publicly established fact that the West Bengal Government has no credibility. This has been amply proved by the severe indictments it received from the Calcutta High Court over the Rizwan-ur Rahaman death case. But it would be mistake if only the CPM is identified as the villain. In fact all the constituents of the Left Front are of the same ilk. They had once shouted slogans against the Tatas and the Birlas. But now their Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, openly declares himself as a ‘dalal’ (agent) of the Tatas. It only shows that after 1977 there has been a terrible dearth of credible politicians in the State. It is only natural that an unhealthy atmosphere in all walks of life has taken root in West Bengal.
Otherwise how can one miss the vital point that the real issue is not industrialisation but employment. How many jobs the Tata small car project at Singur would generate and how many farmers would it uproot to make land available for the plant? If this simple calculation is done it would come to light that the Tata project hurts public purpose. In the midst of the hullabaloo of drum-beating by the West Bengal Government and the Tatas over the ‘likely bonanza’ the Singur car factory is set to ensure in West Bengal, one feels it necessary to ask: why are the Tatas so afraid about the disclosure of their agreement with the West Bengal Government? Is it really a fact that they originally planned to build up a stadium for motor racing, a modern form of international gambling, over the acquired land of poor farmers? Have they really submitted a detailed master plan to the West Bengal Government containing all the details of land utilisation? The people of West Bengal have a right to know, for modern car factories hardly require so much of land. The Maruti factory at Gurgaon has come up over 350 acres of land, the Ford factory near Chennai has the same amount and even the Tata car factory at Pune has 300 acres.

SO there are so many unexplained areas about the Tata motor factory that the sudden advocacy of Amartya Sen in favour of it raises several questions. First, Amartya Sen has been speaking in favour of the Tata car factory in a Kolkata based media house which has already earned enough opprobrium from the general public for its one-sided approach over the Singur issue. Why is not Sen writing for other newspapers which are known for their balanced approach and would have certainly carried articles from other experts who maintain opinions different from those of Sen? For any conscientious media house this is necessary to give the debate a balanced character as some of Amartya Sen’s views do not stand the test of time and ground realities. For example, his opinion that democracy precludes famines falls flat in the Indian context. India has no doubt a thriving democracy and at the same time there are famines at places like Kalahandi in Orissa.

Amartya Sen has visualised generation of employment in West Bengal over the Singur based Tata Motor factory but has not been able to give any cogent reason for such hope. It is common knowledge that capital intensive industries do not generate employment and the present-day automobile factories fall in this category. Amartya Sen should try to find out the retrenchment trend in the major automobile industries all over the world.

Amartya Sen is impatient with the physiocrats and says that till today no country has attained sufficient prosperity by means of agriculture only. But the problem with him is that he is missing the vital point that human beings are the most valuable resources of any country and the industries which gobble up human resources (for which Sen is advocating) are curses to civilisation. So far as the Singur imbroglio is concerned, the Nobel Laureate is full of inconsistencies. He says that he is not at all perturbed over the loss of agricultural land as that constitutes only a small fraction of the total amount of land in West Bengal. But in the same breath he admits that it is a great loss to those who were unwilling to part with their land. Now two questions can be asked to him. First, can he com-pensate the loss of the unwilling farmers as he speaks in favour of the Tata industry? Secondly, if on one fine morning, Amartya Sen is forbidden by any authority to cultivate and practise the study of economics and instead forced to adopt any other profession against his will, is he prepared to accept it?

Since the assumption of power by the Left Front in West Bengal there has been a steady erosion of values and qualities of the Bengali mind in general. This is in consonance with communist culture which always differentiates between “we" and "they” (“we are 235 they are 30,” in the words of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee) and this always results in creation of sycophants and elevation of sub-standard people to high positions. But the most unfortunate thing is the creation of a parasitic class comprising writers, artistes, film personalities and journalists in the last thirty years. It is really nauseating to see these parasites trying to justify forcible occupation of poor farmers’ lands in some vernacular language TV channels.
The importance of the Singur movement lies elsewhere. From this has originated a platform for greater struggle of the under-privileged against the decadent culture being promoted by the forces of globalisation and the market, a point so far missed by many critics as well as supporters of the movement. The Singur agitation also witnessed the presence of a large number of street-hawkers who now feel threatened by the West Bengal Government’s policy of giving licence to shopping malls. Many landless agricultural labourers also took part in the sit-in demonstration that Mamata Banerjee had undertaken near the Tata car factory site.
There was a time when politicians of West Bengal had a soft corner in their heart for the poor people. The Left has jettisoned this path and now speaks for globalisation and the market forces, at least in West Bengal. The Congress, at another end, provides a pathetic example. Pranab Mukherjee, its seniormost leader from the State, was never seen anywhere near Singur when the farmers were agitating and braving police actions. Suddenly he has appeared on the scene and is speaking for the indispensability of the Tata project.

Is the Tata project really vital for the indus-trialisation of West Bengal? In spite of the massive de-industrialisation that has taken place in West Bengal in the last thirty years, the State is still an industrialised one and has an industrial culture. So far as employment generation is concerned, the Tata car factory’s contribution would amount to very little. So where is the indispensability of the project?

The problem could have been solved had the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee Government honoured the agreement it reached in presence of the Governor in letter and spirit. The agreement called for a land-based solution and not any package which the West Bengal Government suddenly floated. If the Tatas back out from Singur, then the responsibility would lie equally with them as well as the State Government. The Tatas have failed to exhibit minimum management quality. They should have tried to feel the ground reality before reposing faith in high-sounding but empty words of the West Bengal Government. The latter has also been found to be pathetically wanting in assessing its own strength and ability.

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