A Singur resident asks junior agriculture minister Becharam Manna (extreme right) where Trinamul leaders had been when the villagers were not receiving the promised monthly allowance and subsidised rice. Picture by Ananda Das
Singur, Nov. 28: The Mamata Banerjee government today heard in Singur what modern-day messiahs had prophesied about many a promised land: you can feed promises to some people sometimes but you can’t do that to all the people all the time.
Enraged villagers today besieged a minister, openly complaining of bottlenecks in a monthly dole and quota of cheap rice.
Countless villages across the country are certain to echo similar complaints. But the location, the timing, the crux and the source as well as the target of today’s burst of disenchantment were unique.
The ground of discontent was Singur, which propelled Mamata to power after her campaign drove out the Tata Nano project;
The complainants were “unwilling” land-losers, the group of people whose well-being was cited by Mamata to justify her agitation whose legacy has turned out to be the biggest millstone around her government’s industrialisation efforts;
The anger was directed at Becharam Manna, who was at the forefront of the Singur street fight and was rewarded with an Assembly ticket in a nearby seat last year and a minister’s chair last week;
Tempers exploded two days before the chief minister is expected to visit the area for a hastily rescheduled meeting intended at controlling the damage inflicted by a veteran leader who has rebelled against her;
Most significant, the people openly asked what they have gained by forcing the car project to abandon the site. They have neither got their land back yet nor have they been provided with a sustainable source of income.
Manna had gone to the block development office in Singur this afternoon to supervise the distribution of coupons for rice at Rs 2 a kg. Several villagers surrounded him and vented ire, saying they were not regularly getting either the subsidised rice or the Rs 2,000 a month promised by the chief minister to the Singur farmers who had not taken the compensation cheques for the land acquired from them.
The villagers rushed towards Manna, the minister of state for agriculture, and shouted that the “ministers and leaders” of Singur had betrayed them.
They said that ever since Mamata had announced in May this year that each of the land-losing families would get a monthly allowance of Rs 1,000 and 2kg of subsidised rice per week (later raised to Rs 2,000 and 4kg), no one had ensured that the promises were kept. District administration officials said that there are 3,746 such “unwilling” farmers.
“It is only because the chief minister is coming to Singur that we are receiving our rice,” said Mayarani Koley of Gopalnagar. “Since Didi’s announcement, we have received the cheap rice only once or twice. The last time most of us did was five months ago.”
Meena Panja, also of Gopalnagar, said that she had got only Rs 1,000 and a total of 24kg of subsidised rice.
She asked Manna: “All you leaders, where were you?”
Many were incensed that the administration had woken up on the eve of Mamata’s visit and asked them to turn up this morning to collect the rice coupons.
“Only last evening, we were told to go to the BDO’s office to collect the tokens,” said Ganesh Malik of Bajemelia.
He added: “We have been waiting for months to get back our land. Nothing has changed for us. Now it appears we should have collected the compensation package. It would have been better than this. ”
Manna said no one was criticising the government. “No one is angry with me. Some people were forcibly trying to enter the queue. I went and stopped them. There was no disruption,” he said.
State food minister Jyotipriyo Mallick denied the allegations. “I reviewed the process of distribution. Rice is being provided to the beneficiaries as promised. The 3,746 unwilling farmers in Singur are getting 4kg of rice per week. The allegation is being made to malign Mamata Banerjee,” Mallick said.
Dudh Kumar Dhara, Trinamul’s Beraberi gram panchayat pradhan, said: “Funds have been released till September and the process of paying out to the unwilling farmers has started.”
If what the minister and the pradhan are saying is true, it will mean that the government is finding itself in an unenviable situation: it is paying the dole but reaping a bad name.
By making Singur the signature tune of her administration — Mamata went out of her way to devote her initial days of governance to returning the land that is now caught in litigation — the chief minister has ensured that expectations were raised to unrealistic levels.
Unable to keep pace with the aspirations, the government announced the handouts. But either the delivery system is not working or the villagers are exhausting the coupons at one ago, leaving them with some weeks without the grain.
Against the backdrop of disgruntlement, Manna and Rabindranath Bhattacharya, the dissident minister, continued to wash dirty linen in public.
Both hurled charges at each other — Manna accusing a family member of Bhattacharya of wrong-doing and the veteran asking Manna how he got to own a car.
Lost in the cacophony of one-time Singur gladiators is the lost opportunity of Bengal.