Singur Set to Switch Loyalties Again?


Singur set to switch loyalties again?The closed site of Tata’s Nano project in Singur

    SINGUR: TNN Apr 23, 2012: Singur has always been a harbinger of political change in Bengal. This was once a Congress bastion, but turned its back on the party after police firing led to deaths of a few farmers agitating for land rights in the early 1970s. It then became one of the first CPM citadels in Bengal and heralded the victory of the CPM-led Left Front in 1977. For two decades, Singur remained loyal to the CPM, but the forcible land acquisition in May 2006 changed all that.

    Singur switched loyalty to the Trinamool, bringing it to power in the 2008 panchayat polls that were a curtain raiser to the Trinamool’s rousing capture of power in Bengal last year. If she had not been swept by the swell of support, Mamata Banerjee might have been wary of the Singur legacy. But she has, in less than a year, managed to turn this administrative block about 45km from Kolkata against herself.

    Those who were willing to let go of their lands, of course, never forgave her for driving Tata out but even those who were unwilling – they formed the backbone of her support base – are now furious with her. She has not visited Singur since she came to power; and she hasn’t kept her promise of restoring the land back to those who signed it off.

    Beraberi Purbapara, one of the hamlets where the anti-acquisition stir started, is enraged. "We were the first to protest the takeover of our farmlands. Mamata then took over the agitation. None of us accepted the compensation cheques. We participated in Mamata’s dharnas, blockades and agitation. But while she became the CM, we gained nothing," says Malati Das, 51, who lost six bighas of land to the car project.

    This now-desolate swathe of land along the Durgapur Expressway was supposed to have kick-started Bengal’s industrial and economic turnaround. Instead, it has now come to symbolise all that has gone wrong with Bengal. Singur is today a depressing picture of acute despair and deprivation.

    Six years ago, all scorn and vitriol had been reserved for (then CM) Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who was seen as the architect of the forcible land acquisition, and for Tata Motors. Today, Mamata has replaced Bhattacharjee. So intense is the anger that Singur MLA Becharam Manna hasn’t managed to find the nerve to visit the villages whose residents’ farmlands were taken over for the car plant.

    Even though Mamata acted on her promise to return 400 acres (?) of farmland to the ‘unwilling’ farmers immediately after coming to power and enacted a Bill – this was challenged in the Calcutta high court by Tata Motors – to pave way for the return, the people here are unimpressed. Says Angurbala Das, 63, who was beaten up by police thrice for protesting: "We had total faith in Mamata and believed her promise to return our farmlands. Now we feel we were fools to have been taken in by her promises. She simply used us to ascend to power."

    Ashtu Das who does odd jobs to make both ends meet regrets turning down the enhanced compensation that the agitation had resulted in. "We lost out lands and didn’t accept any compensation at Mamata’s behest," he says.

    Robin Das, 45, of Gopalnagar Modhyo-Ghoshpara, who lost four bighas, feels the same way. "We all feel we should have accepted the compensation and allowed the factory. We now realise that the factory could have changed the face of Singur and Bengal. The locals would have got jobs and a lot of development would have taken place here. Tata Motors had promised to set up a hospital, a school, build roads and sponsor other development projects. They had initiated some such projects too. In hindsight, we all feel that we should have reposed faith in Tata rather than Mamata," says Das, a carpenter’s assistant now.

    That Mamata has not visited Singur after coming to power is seen by people of all the 16 gram panchayats – the Trinamool bagged 15 in the 2008 panchayat polls – as betrayal. "Till the (assembly) elections, there used to be a steady stream of Trinamool leaders. They used to provide rations and any help we asked for. They arranged for medical help and even private tuitions for our kids. But it all stopped as soon as they came to power," says Das. His sentiments find wide and easy resonance across Joymalla, Beraberi, Gopalnagar, Bajemelia, Kamarkundu, Doloigachi and all other villages in this area.

    The anger against Mamata Banerjee is more intense among those who accepted the compensation.

    "A lot would have happened here if Mamata didn’t drive Tata away. We counseled our fellow farmers who were agitating, hoping to get them to accept the cheques and allow the plant to come up. But they didn’t listen and all of us are suffering now," says Gayaram Pakhira, 50, of Joymalla village who gave up 16 bighas of farmland.

    Bikash Pakhira, 35, of the same village, would have been working as a machinist at the plant today for at least Rs 12,000 a month. "Tata sponsored my training as a machinist for 18 months and I worked for nearly a year as an apprentice at the project. Now I am a security guard at Rs 4,000 a month," he says.

    Narayanchandra Pakhira of Joymalla says Mamata should now give Singur the kind of development Tata would have ensured. "But is she capable of doing all that? Does she even have the will and the vision?" he asks.

    People accept that they were foolish to have fallen for her promises. "She knew very well that her attempt to return land would run into legal wrangles. But she misled us. She’ll have to pay a heavy price for this," says Nakibuddin Ahmed of Joymalla.

    The next panchayat polls are slated for April 2013, but Mamata has been talking of bringing them forward to this year-end. But no matter when they’re held, Singur says it has a few nasty surprises up its sleeves for her.

Courtesy: TOI, Kolkata


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One Response to “Singur Set to Switch Loyalties Again?”

  1. Ashok Chaudhury Says:

    The farmers of Singur must have now realised that by refusing to accept the cheques towards compensation of their lands only blocked the commissioning of the project which ,if could come up,helped to generate thousands of employments and change the picture of to-day>s Singur.

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