The day of reckoning is here. The clear statement by Ratan Tata that if the situation so demands, the Tatas would pull out of the Singur project should bring out the stark reality. He stated a truth that should be self-evident even to the Bengalis — business cannot be carried on under the threat of violence and in the shadow of police protection. If the truth be told — however harsh this may sound — Mr Tata should perhaps consider withdrawing from Singur. He should do this because West Bengal and the people who live here do not deserve any large-scale investment committed to manufacturing.
The cloud that hangs over the small-car factory in Singur is the result of the decision of Mamata Banerjee, the diva of the West Bengal Opposition, to begin from Sunday an indefinite blockade of the Singur site. This will bring Ms Banerjee to an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the State, while large-scale violence waits ominously in the wings. What cannot be denied is that Ms Banerjee enjoys popular support and she is recognized, despite her many acts of irresponsibility, as the sole spokesman of anti-Left sentiments in the state. If her actions lead to the departure of the Tatas from Singur (and most likely from all future investments in West Bengal), there is hardly any likelihood of her constituency turning against her — not even for reversing West Bengal’s economic clock. It is significant that to date there have been few voices of protest — even from Calcutta’s vaunted (and recently discovered) civil society — directed at Ms Banerjee’s movement to sabotage the Singur small-car project. Thus the bigger question: do the people of West Bengal want industrialization at all?
The question is important because, if Ms Banerjee is opposed to the Singur plant, her opponents, today’s evangelists of industrialization, had in the past driven out capital from West Bengal by pursuing the same kind of politics as Ms Banerjee engages in now. The communists have never been short of votes in the state, notwithstanding their advocacy of bandhs, gheraos and assorted acts of bravado. The people of West Bengal have thus lent wing to politics that has ravaged business and industry in West Bengal.
The inhabitants of the state have to decide on their future: whether they want to fish and farm or be part of a wider economic process that brings development and prosperity. Mr Tata’s statement has brought forward West Bengal’s nemesis. Unfortunately, while the people of West Bengal ponder the future, the matter may actually be pre-empted if Mr Tata seriously considers leaving and then decides to exit from Singur. At the moment, there is very little that prompts him to stay and do business in the state.
The choice for West Bengal is between light and darkness. In the past, people of the state have shown a bizarre penchant for darkness.