The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Politics prey to violence

From defeat to desperation and violence. And, another Bangla bandh call to cap it all.

If Mamata Banerjee has done it again, that is because she knows no other kind of politics, because she, like the Leftists in another time, believes violence is the only tool of Opposition politics.

The result: from a serious development debate, Singur shrinks to yet another symbol of her violent, amateurish approach to politics.

Among the common people, the discussions after the mayhem at the Assembly will surely shift from Singur, land and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s industrialisation policy to Mamata, violence, Trinamul Congress and so on. In other words, by unleashing violence, Mamata herself robbed her Singur campaign of political substance.

One would have expected a political agitation, such as the one over the automobile project at Singur, to gradually gather momentum. A sensible political leader would have seen a great potential in that campaign. It could have been Mamata’s hope for a resurrection from last May’s electoral grave. It is perfectly legitimate for Opposition parties to have dissenting views on Bhattacharjee’s model for industrialisation. Even some partners of the CPM have such views.

But look at what Mamata has done. Even before her protests over Singur could shape into a movement, she stormed the Assembly. There was always a possibility that the government would take the first false step over Singur and, thereby, indirectly help Mamata’s cause. Instead, it was she who took a suicidal step and gave the government a huge advantage. Her people vandalised the Assembly, far from Singur, even before any real showdown with either the government or the CPM. She thus proved once again that she lacks a mature politician’s skill to join, let alone win, a battle of attrition.

But then, she had miscalculated the Singur campaign all along. A shrewd politician would like to match the spirit of a campaign with the overriding belief of society. Even if the majority of the farmers have been driven — by whatever reasons — into selling their land for the Tata car project, they can understandably resent the loss of their land. But society in Bengal as a whole sees in Singur a hope of the state’s economic revival.

Ironically, the social constituency that is most optimistic about the Singur project — the urban middle class — is known to be Mamata’s strongest political base. Her agitation thus militates against this belief. Violence on the issue would, therefore, be seen as an attack on this hope. The farmers, whose interests she is apparently out to protect, are not exactly her best bet. The fact that the CPM’s largest frontal organisation is the Krishak Sabha — with a membership of 1.5 crore in Bengal — does not help her.

None of these arguments may deter Mamata from compounding her mistakes. Bengal will see two things running parallel in the coming months.

On the one hand, there will be a series of new industrial and other investment proposals, which will require the government to acquire more agricultural land.

The Salim Group’s proposals alone range from major infrastructure projects to a chemical hub and a special economic zone. The Kulpi project, which includes another SEZ, is likely to be finalised next month.

The Nuclear Power Corporation has identified a site for a nuclear power plant in Bengal. The Jindal Group has already identified Salboni in Midnapore for its steel plant. There will be several other big projects and a host of smaller ones.

Shall we also see Mamata running from Singur to South 24-Parganas to Midnapore and every other possible project site to try and stop them' It is likely that she will run around before running out of steam. The closer the time for the transfer of land at Singur to the Tatas approaches, the more desperate she may get. And the more isolated from public sentiment.

On Day One of her violent “non-cooperation” with the government, there is a clear hint of the outcome. It came from none other than the chief minister who said that despite the violence in the Assembly, the Singur land would be handed over to the Tatas “in a few days”. When that happens, Mamata may not even be able to hide defeat in violence.

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