Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Singur case: Mamata wins, Tata image dented but will farmers be the biggest losers?  

The much-awaited and discussed Singur land case has been settled with the Supreme Court on Wednesday asking the state government to return 400 acres to farmers, who are the original owners, in 12 weeks' time. The verdict comes as a moral victory for chief minister Mamata Banerjee and a big jolt for the Tata group, for whom the land was acquired by then the Left government in 2006 for the highly ambitious small-car project, the Nano. 

However, the biggest losers are likely to be the farmers who were the real heroes of the agitation and remained loyal to their cause. It was the Singur land agitation that had propelled Mamata into the political dominance in West Bengal. The agitation against the land acquisition by the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee-led Left government started with a few farmers expressing their unwillingness to part with their cultivable land for the industrial project. 

Mamata, who was then cashing in on every opportunity to create her own space in the Left-dominated political space of West Bengal, seized the chance to lead the agitation. At a rally, she breathed fire challenging the government to acquire even an inch of land "without creating a river of blood". "Let them deploy a million-strong police force, there will be no retreat," she vowed. The Left front government was projecting the deal with Tata Motors as its big victory.

It was a key milestone that would have helped the Left, which had been ruling the state since 1977, ward off its industry-unfriendly image. As this article in The Economist in 2008 says, "The West Bengal government wanted the Nano plant both for the jobs it would bring and the message it would send." But after the two-year-long agitation by farmers, lead by Mamata and strongly backed by many eminent activists and writers such as Mahashweta Devi, Aprna Sen and Medha Patkar, the Tata group was forced to pull out of the state and relocate the plant lock, stock and barrel to Sanand in Gujarat. 

The decision in one stroke resulted in the rise of two stars - then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as an industry-friendly politician and Mamata as a politician for the farmer and the farm land, an image until remained the monopoly of the Left. Around 2200 farmers were 'unwilling' to part with their land. They owned about 400 acres, as per the claim of Mamata (the government then said only 181 acres fell in the unwilling category). 

 Soon after Mamata became the chief minister riding high on the wave of this and other agitation against industrial use of agricultural land, she enacted a law wresting the land from the Tatas. The company contested the claim. After 10 years, when the Supreme Court has given its verdict on the land vindicating Mamata's stance, there is an irony that is hard to escape.

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