Naked Expression of Political Vendetta in Singur

Debabrata Bandyopadhyay

Despite all that has been said and written about Singur, it is not clear why the Tatas were shown this farmland, which produces four crops annually, in Singur rather than any other agricultural land in West Bengal. The Minister of Industry has said that the Tatas were shown four or five areas and they selected Singur. They have also declared that they would not open an automobile factory in West Bengal unless they were given this land. Although the statement seems reasonable, one may detect an attempt to conceal facts here. Firstly, so far, nobody has disclosed which four other places were shown to the Tatas. If one is served with some adulterated molasses, sweet drops made of molasses, and a soft, spongy rasgulla, can we blame the person for choosing the rasgulla? I believe the Tatas were treated somewhat in this fashion. And that is the reason why they selected Singur. The question arises why Singur was shown first. Does Singur have any other auxiliary industries? Henry Ford did not set up his automobile factory in Singur. The Mercedes Benz Company does not manufacture their cars in Singur. Therefore, it is nonsensical to suggest that car factories cannot be located anywhere other than in Singur.

Near the Dankuni toll gate, on the Durgapur Express Highway, the road sign says ‘Bardhaman 82 km.’ Along this 82 km stretch from Dankuni to Bardhaman, one can see only sprawling agricultural land on both sides of the road. Why, then, was Singur selected in preference to all other regions? The only reason that seems likely is political vendetta. In this 82 km stretch, only in Singur, the local candidate, a respected teacher, Sree Rabindranath Bhattacharya, defeated the Left Front candidate and won the election by a substantial majority. This is manifestly a rebellion against the party, which can be called a rebellion against the state. The zamindars of the olden times used to punish their recalcitrant subjects by evicting them from their land and burning their dwellings. Is today’s new zamindar, the Left Front Government, especially the CPM, punishing their rebellious subjects by evicting them from their land? Is the Government trying to teach people a lesson through this particular case so that no other electoral centre may ever be able to stage an electoral rebellion? Actuated by feudal pride and anger, the babus of this state have decided to punish their recalcitrant subjects by handing over Singur to the Tata group.

During the Middle Ages, of course, such practices of punishing people and compelling them into submission by physical or mental torture were common. On 18.12.06, the Government provided evidence of such medieval barbarity and bestiality by raping and killing a teenaged protesting girl. Far from showing any sign of modernity or cultural achievement, this incident demonstrates the opposite. In places like Bantala, Dhantala, Bajemela etc., such incidents of disrespect to women and lawless killing are growing rampant. It seems that time is moving backwards. In these thirty years, we seem to have gone back by three hundred years. History will judge whether this is true or false.

Significantly, those who have opposed the acquisition of land in Singur have never opposed the establishment of the automobile factory in West Bengal. Mahasweta Devi has repeatedly requested the Tatas to come and set up the factory near Kolkata but not to evict 10,000-15,000 agricultural workers from home and land and push them below the poverty line. And by saying this, Mahasweta Devi has expressed the feelings of the right-minded people. On the other side, it has been said that the economic and social development of West Bengal is not possible without the Tata automobiles. It seems that only the Tata Motors possess Aladdin’s lamp, the key to our future development and prosperity. Perhaps, not many people know that the first motor car factory in independent India, that of the Hind Motors, was first established near Konnagar at the initiative of Dr. B. C. Roy during the decade of the fifties.

Until the era of liberalisation during the nineties, Hind Motors have done business for forty years at a stretch. But did this venture eradicate the poverty of West Bengal? Nearly a hundred years back, in 1907, Jamshedji Tata had set up the steel factory in Bihar. After that many other factories of heavy industry grew up around it. According to the NSSO survey, in 2001, 44% of the people lived below the poverty line in undivided Bihar. That is during the ninety-six years, from 1907 to 2001, undivided Bihar was the second poorest state in India despite the presence of Tata Steel and other industries. In Orissa, the Tatas have many industries and mines. Much of the iron and other mined minerals that is necessary in Tatanagar industry is produced in Orissa. However, according to the NSSO 2001 survey, Orissa is the poorest state in India where 48% of the people live below the poverty line. Therefore the statistics indicate that the prosperity that the factories of the Tatas produce is limited to a small area. By the side of the dazzling lights of Tatanagar appear the darkened villages of the tribal people.

Now let us talk about West Bengal. In 1981, in West Bengal, 51% of the people were below the poverty line. In 2001, this figure was reduced to 31%. This 20-point reduction in twenty years was not due to Tata Motors or any heavy industry. During these two decades, no factory for heavy industry or car manufacture was set up in this state. The only reason for the drop in poverty level was the implementation of limited land reform measures and work on a few related areas. After nearly a century, from 1982-1983, a new rise in agricultural production materialised in West Bengal. This growth lasted nearly until the end of the decade of the nineties. The annual growth rate rose from 5% to 6%. This is almost twice the growth rate of India and is also much higher than that of the growth rate in Punjab and Haryana. As a result, poverty in the rural areas of West Bengal has perceptibly decreased, if not completely eradicated.

The marginalised and small peasants, sharecroppers, middle and large peasants, and agricultural labourers have all contributed to this advancement in agriculture. Therefore, whatever economic policy is adopted, if it hurts or obstructs progress, there can be a rapid increase in the number of people below the poverty line. Such a condition is not desirable for our state or for the advancement of people in our state.

Moreover, it is necessary to state another point here. Has anybody checked whether the Tatas really need 1000 acres? It is the responsibility of the Government to examine the given estimate because appropriation of land means eviction and unemployment of many people. If the area of land to be appropriated was less than 1000 acres, if it was around 250-300 acres, then the problems related to the acquisition of land would have been reduced. I say this because India’s largest automobile factory, Maruti, has an area of only 300 acres in Gurgaon. This factory produces 5 lakhs of cars every year. The company is about to acquire 500 acres of land in the neighbouring Manasaur for producing 10 lakhs of cars per year. For producing 10 lakhs of cars per year the required total area of land is 800 acres. Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy gave 750 acres of land near Konnagar to the Hind Motors. They have not been able to use more than 350 acres of land for the factory in fifty years. 400 acres still remain. They have received permission from the State Government for making houses in the remaining land and selling it. Then it is not clear why the Tatas will need 1000 acres for producing one lakh cars, worth a lakh of rupees each, per year. If the area of land to be acquired decreases to 250/300 acres, then it is possible to reduce the acquisition-related problems and complications. Why is the Government not looking at this issue? 250 or 300 acres of land can very easily be given to the Tatas from the land that the Government already possesses in Durgapur, Haldia, Kalyani, Haringhata, Dankuni etc. And the advantages of transport, electricity and other infrastructural facilities, which the Government has announced as available in Singur, are also available in these areas. Then why this display of obstinacy, egotism, arrogance, and why this use of force?

I read in the newspapers that a leader of the Left Front had sarcastically remarked on the fact that the opposition leader on hunger strike was lying before Mahatma Gandhi’s portrait. Obviously some jokes and sarcasm are allowable in political debates. But, that this remark has been repeated again and again shows that it is against the principle of politeness and decorum. Recently, the Russia Foreign Publishing House has published Lenin’s collected works. I humbly request this learned, leftist leader to show me in which volume and chapter of Lenin’s works occurs the principle by following which the Bengali Marxist leaders are seeking to accelerate the people’s revolution by sucking up to capitalists like Ambani, Mittal, and Jindal and evicting the peasants. If they can show this, only then they would have the right to indulge in sarcasm by relating Mahatma Gandhi and Mamata Devi.

The writer is the former Commissioner of Land Reforms in West Bengal.

Courtesy ‘Dainik Statesman’, Kolkata, 24.12.2006

Translated from the Bangla by Rita Banerjee

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