Bengal election: BJP’s Nandigram redux in Singur |India Today Insight. An iconic town, a TMC defector. Why the saffron party thinks it has Mamata on the backfoot At the BJP’s mega road show through Singur on April 7, the party’s 88-year old candidate, Rabindranath Bhattacharya (fondly called Mastermoshai), who defected from Trinamool Congress (TMC) after being denied a ticket for his age, was wearing a saffron head gear, much like those grooms wear. Beside him, Amit Shah was sweating it out, mopping his pate with a white cloth frequently. The crowd milling around the vehicle, snaking through the narrow lanes of Singur, whispered that Mastermoshai, being conscious of his age, was hiding his grey head with an oversized crown.
Age sits heavy on his slouching shoulders, but what Mastermoshai likely finds weighing down his head is the responsibility that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah have entrusted him with by making him a candidate in Singur. In 2011, Mamata had also made him a candidate from this area, acknowledging his support to her land movement against Tata Motors in 2006-07, and his clean and amiable image. But 10 years later, on the BJP’s ticket and with a party manifesto committed to bringing back industries and investment, Mastermoshai has raised his voice for industry. However, he is hampered by being unable to go after Mamata and the TMC’s land agitation since he himself had used that plank to win two consecutive Assembly polls. Perhaps this time too he would have toed Mamata’s line, had he been given a TMC ticket.Amid these political somersaults and shifting agendas, many in Singur continue to pine, having missed what might have been the opportunity of a lifetime—the Tata Motors automobile project. As a now textbook example of farmland agitation that has drawn international attention, Singur has made it to the history books; but having driven out the Tata Motors Nano factory, it is also an example of how agitations against land acquisition can bury the possibilities of industrialisation.
As the-then opposition leader, Mamata had waged a movement against land being acquired forcibly by then Left government for Tata’s Nano factory in 2006-07. As a result, the Tatas exited Singur in October 2008, later setting up a factory in Gujarat’s Sanand. Mamata’s land agitation gave her political traction, with the support and backing of rural Bengal helping her topple the 34-year-old Left Front rule. Since then, in the last decade of her government from 2011 to 2021, she has failed to bring any big-ticket investment to Singur, though she has frequently promised an agro-based industrial park in the vicinity to honour the support she got from the locals behind her land agitation.In this time, the younger generation of Singur has begun to feel the need for a local industry, as many of the children of farmers, farm labourers and landowners, graduating from colleges and universities, have proved unwilling to go back to the fields and take up the plough. Instead, they say that Tata Motors’ proposed factory at Singur would have been a good prospect. In September 2016, Mamata had returned 997 acres of land to farmers as per the Supreme Court’s direction—the apex court had struck down the Singur land acquisition by the state and ordered the return of all the acquired land to the landowners.
However, as the initial euphoria died down, farmers realised the land returned would not produce the economic returns the Tata’s factory might have. The younger generation of farm households, who were now going to colleges, hoping to secure jobs in offices or factories, felt the pinch the most. As a result, the people of Singur began rooting for industry. Feeling the pulse, the BJP, since 2018, has been promoting public opinion on the industrialisation of Singur. Though opinions have been divided, even those against farmland acquisition for industrialisation agree on the need for investment and industries to check the exodus of young people going to Hyderabad, Chennai and the southern states for jobs.
As opposed to the TMC, which continued Mamata’s narrative on agriculture and industry being twins and siblings, the BJP has gone all out on the idea of bringing back the lost opportunity. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the Singur assembly constituency gave the BJP’s Locket Chatterjee a lead of 11,000 votes. The BJP’s poll agenda for Singur was fixed.On April 3, at a rally at Haripal, some distance away from Singur, Prime Minister Narendra Modi fanned the grouse among the youths of Singur, saying, “People are aware more than me what kind of deceit was done at Singur…Today there’s no industry at Singur, no jobs at Singur and farmers are troubled by land sharks.” As a solution, the BJP’s manifesto talks of creating industrial hubs, parks, setting up an automobile park and increasing the number of MSMEs as part of the party’s Sonar Bangla revival package. There’s no specific mention of Singur in the manifesto but both Modi and Shah are weaving dreams of a big-ticket investment on the same land, where Tata’s exit had dropped the curtains on industry.The people of Singur are dreaming big, and Modi’s Gujarat model is adding wings to the dream. And if BJP is voted to power, Mastermoshai will have to go back to the ground and convince people of the need for industry to make the dream come true. In that case, Mastermoshai, pitted against a fiesty Opposition leader in Mamata might find the going tough.
It has rightly been said that uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. In this, Mastermoshai has craned his neck rather too willingly to wear it.