The Telegraph
Thursday , September 15 , 2016

Unwilling is willing now. Over to Tatas

- Mamata offers 1000 acres in West Midnapore and one month for decision

Mamata Banerjee wraps Saraswati Das in an embrace during the Singur Divas rally on Wednesday. One of the principal flag-bearers of the anti-land acquisition movement of 2006-07, Saraswati, 75, was one of the landowners who received a compensation cheque at the programme in Singur.

Mamata fondly calls Saraswati the Matangini of Singur, a reference to the septuagenarian freedom fighter Matangini Hazra who refused to stop marching with a flag and took bullets to her chest before falling dead during the Quit India Movement on September 29, 1942, in front of Tamluk police station.

Saraswati, whose family's 1-bigha plot was acquired for the Nano project, had led many rallies, usually carrying a broom in one hand and a flag in another. Picture by Pradip Sanyal

Singur, Sept. 14: Mamata Banerjee today offered the Tatas 1,000 acres in West Midnapore and a month to "think a little" about building an automobile plant - making the appeal from the same spot in Singur from where she had dared Ratan Tata to leave Bengal if other states were courting him.

On a day high on symbolism and rippling with the images that changed Bengal politics, the chief minister launched what could be construed as one of the most ironical, if not audacious, attempts at rewriting the history of industrialisation in Bengal.

"I am saying this here today. I give you one month. Think a little. In a month's time, I will give you 1,000 acres of land. In Goaltore, we have such land in the land bank. Would you do it? It is our land, the government's, not snatched away forcibly from the people," said Mamata.

The irony could not have been starker. Mamata was standing barely a few metres from the abandoned Nano plant in Singur and she was offering almost the same number of acres to the very same investor she had driven away but 175km away in West Midnapore.

And she was making the announcement on a day named Singur Divas to celebrate the Supreme Court order to return the land.

Mamata used the opportunity to send a message to Bombay House, the Tata headquarters in Mumbai, and potential investors in Bengal. "We have kept the land in Goaltore. This will be kept for auto industry," she said, before adding the name of German car major BMW to the list of potential occupants of the plot.

As Mamata paced the 4,000sqft dais built near the main gate of the abandoned Tata Motors plant and recalled her struggles to free up the land, it was not clear how well she remembered that fateful dusk on August 24, 2008.

Mounting a siege on the Tata plant demanding the return of land to unwilling land losers, Mamata, then in the Opposition, had thundered on podium number 7, the biggest among the 21 Trinamul had erected near the plant: "If other states are inviting you, please go there."

She was responding to Tata's comment, made on August 22, 2008, that he would "exit" Bengal if violence continued at the Singur plant site and the company was made to feel "unwanted".

Around 40,000 people cheered her then - and the Samajwadi Party's Amar Singh and Narmada campaign spearhead Medha Patkar were by her side. The sun was setting, not just on the day but on the Nano plant, too.

A similar twilight moment flickered in Singur today but the message from Mamata - Medha was again by her side though Amar was preoccupied elsewhere - was different as she wrapped up her speech with the call to the Tatas and a vow to bring industry to Bengal.

In the evening, a Tata Motors spokesperson said "we do not have any comments at the moment" and there were doubts among industrialists whether one appeal was enough to turn the investment tide in Bengal.

An industrialist said he was wary of the impact of the Singur celebration on industry. The noise around the victory - the celebration was a government programme - would further hurt the image of the state, he felt. "Some people will think this to be a celebration of Tata Motors' departure from Bengal.... Will that help the state?" he asked.

Keen to dispel such misgivings, the chief minister said: "Bengal will surely have industry."

It was clear that the chief minister, who went to Germany earlier this month scouting for investments, was trying to shed the anti-industry tag - at least in her words.

"We want more IT industry. We want manufacturing industry. We want employment-oriented industries, like textiles, agro, coal-methane, to come up," she said even while celebrating the "triumph" of agriculture.

Police sources said around 1.5 lakh people had assembled for the Singur programme.

A considerable part of her speech was devoted to recounting her days of struggle for Singur, her resolve to return land to the farmers and her gratitude to those who stood by her.

But the predicament of a firebrand-leader-turned-chief-minister was apparent in the latter half of her speech, during which she tried to strike a balance between industry and agriculture and Opposition politics and economic compulsions.

Mamata sought to convey to the Tatas that she had no prejudice against Brand Tata, reeling off instances to suggest that despite her anti-acquisition protests, she had never discriminated against the Tata companies. No reference was made to her erstwhile prod to her supporters to shun Tata products.

"The Tatas, in trying to be adamant regarding the 1,000 acres of land, could not set up the factory. But even then, I am saying this, we work with them in a lot of industries. Let us take it sportingly," Mamata said.

"When I was the railway minister in 2009, every order I gave. Mukul (Roy) too gave every order. In the state government, we get all sorts of work done," she added.

But aware that too much stress on industry might let her core constituency down, Mamata repeatedly reassured them: "I am against snatching land forcibly from the people."


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