The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress steam for Mamata protest

New Delhi, Sept. 25: The Congress has given its Bengal unit a free hand to support Mamata Banerjee’s protest agenda, whatever the nature of her agitation and whatever its level of provocation.

The “tricky” question of how deeply the Congress will engage itself in Trinamul’s protests has still to be addressed, though.

“As long as the UPA government continues to be propped up by the Left, we can’t antagonise them beyond a point,” a source said.

The Bengal Congress today expressed solidarity with Mamata as she mulled a rail and road blockade against the state government for handing farmland to Tata Motors for a plant in Singur, Hooghly.

Asked about this, the Congress general secretary in charge of the state, Margaret Alva, replied: “These are local issues, they are serious issues and people’s concerns at the acquisition of farmland for SEZs (special economic zones) and industrial houses have to be voiced by Opposition parties. That was the message that came from Nainital (at the Congress chief ministers’ conclave that concluded yesterday).”

Janardhan Dwivedi, chairman of the All India Congress Committee’s media cell, said: “We have given our state unit complete freedom on how they want to cooperate with the Trinamul Congress.”

Party sources argued that the issue of land acquisition went beyond Bengal and had a bearing on three policy and political matters.

One, despite Sonia Gandhi’s call in Nainital not to divert agricultural land for non-agricultural uses, the Congress’s stand can at best remain “ad hoc” until the Centre puts a policy in place.

Two, Sonia is keen to firm up the nascent alliance with Mamata; so it is expedient to be with her on whatever “cause” she champions.

Three, the party must resolve, sooner rather than later, the larger question of balancing the need to protect farmers with that of creating jobs.

Alva was asked how the Congress could back Mamata in Bengal and yet have its governments in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana and Punjab freely buy up farmland and parcel them off to industrial houses'

“There’s no uniform policy yet,” she conceded. “All we can do in the meantime is fix responsibility on the state governments by way of compensation, and make the land-owners stake-holders in the new projects after acquisition.”

Andhra chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy — who was singled out for praise by the Prime Minister at Nainital — has ratified the creation of 27 SEZs over 8,660 hectares. Maharashtra has okayed 26 zones on 3,774 hectares and Haryana, 23 zones spanning 38,424 hectares.

Congress chief ministers have now been advised to “go slow” on SEZs until a rehabilitation policy is in place, sources said.

The chief ministers of Punjab and Haryana have reportedly asked the party brass to decide what they and the United Progressive Alliance want: to protect farmland or set up industries that create jobs and can help achieve the 8-9 per cent growth rate the Prime Minister keeps talking about.

Land policy apart, sources said Sonia wanted to pursue “coalition dharma” by retaining current allies and acquiring new ones. “Mamata has a special place in her heart because Rajiv Gandhi was fond of her and had mentored her political career,” a source said.

Sonia is reportedly annoyed with Bengal Congress chief and defence minister Pranab Mukherjee for opposing ties with the Trinamul.

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