Chandipur, Jan. 5: A contrite but categorical Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today stood at the gateway to Nandigram and virtually asked his Waterloo to take a look at itself and Haldia to understand what it had lost.
“Look at Nandigram now. There’s no industry. The condition of the people of Nandigram hasn’t improved. Trinamul prevented industry there but nothing positive is happening in Nandigram,” the former chief minister told a CPM meeting that drew 40,000 to 50,000 people to the Chandipur venue.
The place, the people and the pitch resonated with symbolism and carried echoes of one of the most tumultuous phases in contemporary Bengal.
The venue was less than 15km from Nandigram, the epicentre of the land-acquisition eruption nearly six years ago that is keeping the new government prisoner to its hands-off land policy even now. The CPM meeting was organised in the name of peasants and farmers, the group that became the mascot of Mamata Banerjee’s poll plank and provided her party the rocket thrust.
That the former chief minister, whose crushing defeat was seen as a veto on his industrialisation drive, could draw such a crowd at such a place was inconceivable two years ago.
Equally, if not more, striking were the circumstances that allowed Bhattacharjee to come close to saying that the current state of affairs had virtually vindicated his thrust on industrialisation — albeit tinged with an admission that he should not have sent in the police.
Against the backdrop of the new government’s empty industrialisation showcase, the former chief minister rubbed it in. “What will you all say? By taking land for industry in Haldia, had we done wrong? Not at all. We took the correct step,’’ he asserted.
Regretting that he couldn’t convert Nandigram into a Haldia, he added: “When we started building Haldia, there was an outcry that all land would be taken away by the government. But see the gains Haldia has made. Sixty industrial units are operating there. There has been direct employment of 10,000 people and, indirectly, 30,000.”
If the Mamata government’s inaction gifted Bhattacharjee the chance to claim vindication, the lethal action when he was in power compelled him to admit he was wrong.
“I wanted Nandigram to be another Haldia, rich in industry. But when the people of Nandigram didn’t want industry there, I backtracked. But I didn’t send the police there to take away land for industry. They went there to stop violence,” he told the meeting, held around 25km from the spot where 14 villagers were killed in police firing in March 2007.
Bhattacharjee said: “Unfortunately, people were killed in the firing. Firing is firing, deaths are deaths and there’s no denying that. In hindsight, I think it would have been better if the police were not sent to Nandigram. But I was compelled because of the presence of Maoists there. People got the wrong message because of that and lost faith in us.’’
The turnout in rural Chandipur is significant as the entire East Midnapore district lacks any CPM or Left MLA and the district zilla parishad is run by Trinamul. The preoccupation of some local Trinamul leaders with a programme for Mamata in neighbouring West Midnapore may have helped CPM push up attendance ( ). The turnout caused such a snarl that Bhattacharjee had to cover the last few kilometres on foot and on a motorbike’s pillion.
Bhattacharjee’s appeal to Nandigram to compare itself with Haldia comes at a time little has improved in the cluster of villages. Some villagers are also unhappy that the scheme for generating self-employment, which Mamata had promised before coming to power, has not materialised.
“Didi had promised to set up stalls where people could set up shop and earn a living,” said Jagannath Bera, 54, of Nandigram’s Sonachura. “She had said that she would do this if she came to power. But nothing has happened.”
Added Srikanta Giri, 48, a resident of Gangra village in Nandigram: “The Trinamul government hasn’t taken any step that can improve our lot. Nor have we been given any sops such as those announced for Jungle Mahal. The roads are in bad shape and houses are running without electricity. There’s no industry either.’’