Trinamul pre-Puja play - Party pins hope on 2-week siege for sops

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT in Calcutta
  • Published 23.08.08
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Calcutta, Aug. 22: The Trinamul Congress does not really expect the state government to return 400 acres at Singur to farmers, but wants “some concessions” it can flaunt as a political victory before it calls off its agitation, party sources said today.

Trinamul believes that if it can continue its August 24 siege for two weeks, it can put enough pressure on the government to act with the Pujas approaching in early October.

“Nobody wants trouble during the Pujas,” a party source said. Besides, the party feels, the government must strike a deal before the Pujas because the Tatas’ official deadline to roll out the Nano is around the festive season.

A meeting at Mamata Banerjee’s home on Tuesday had discussed the siege’s possible duration. “The general opinion was the movement should continue for about a fortnight but cannot be extended till the Pujas. If the government can be given a jolt, it may offer some concessions…. That would help our party leader claim a moral victory,’’ a Trinamul general secretary said.

Party sources said they would be “satisfied” if the government publicly acknowledged acquiring land “forcibly” in Singur and promised to return a portion of it.

“Our public stand is that 400 acres must be given back, but we are willing to negotiate and settle for a smaller amount,” a Trinamul leader said.

“It’s better if the government announces a decision to return some land after holding further talks with us. Then we can also help the government identify the plots. That would give us an escape route to call off or tone down the agitation,” the leader added.

MLA Saugata Roy said Mamata was annoyed at the government’s “adamant” refusal to offer concessions to her.

“She had been on a 26-day fast on the Singur issue and called it off after the President and the Prime Minister requested her. Our fresh Singur movement too can be called off if the government agrees to give her something she can show off as a victory,’’ Roy said.

Pradip Banerjee, convener of the Trinamul-led Save Farmland Committee, said: “I firmly believe the government will not allow our dharna to continue beyond this month and will come out with a solution.”

He added that Mamata had expressed a similar opinion.

Although Mamata has said the Singur siege would be peaceful, party sources argued that violence and trouble would allow her to extract “political mileage’’ in the same way that Nandigram had helped her win votes.

MP Mukul Roy said that memories of those rural poll defeats would force the CPM-led government into striking a deal with Trinamul.

At a news conference today, Mamata kept up her demand for the return of the 400 acres “at any cost” and blamed the state government for the crisis.

“Why was Tapasi Malik murdered?” she asked, referring to the teenager found dead in a Singur field nearly two years ago. “Why is the government not making the deal with the Tatas public?”

She claimed the state government had given “undue advantage” to the Tatas while allotting land for the small-car plant.

“Several other industrialists are making a beeline to invest in Bengal. Why were the Tatas, who have invested only Rs 1,500 crore, given undue advantage?”

Mamata scoffed at the government’s move to station 30,000 policemen around the Nano plant. “But what about the security of the people of Singur? Why was Tapasi Malik murdered?” she asked again.

She demanded that a Rs 20-lakh compensation be paid to the family of each of the 10 people who died in violence in Singur over the past two years.

The Trinamul chief halted in Singur for a few minutes tonight on her way back from Burdwan town where she had attended a party programme. She stopped her car about 100 metres from the Nano plant’s main gate, near the spot where one of the 21 roadside camps is being set up for the siege.

Mamata is expected to sit on dharna in that camp. She asked the Save Farmland Committee convener in Singur, Becharam Manna, to contact her if there were any problems.

Earlier, at her home in Calcutta, Mamata had sneered at suggestions that a Tata pullout would set back Bengal’s industrialisation plans. “Tata was not here for so long -- did the people of Bengal starve to death? Why is there trouble wherever Tata goes?” she asked.

“Why did the Tatas have to come back from Bangladesh and Kalinganagar? We were not there to lodge protests!”

Asked if she was ready for talks with the Tatas, the Trinamul leader said: “I have no problem if Tata concedes our demand for return of 400 acres.”

She asked journalists: “You are only seeing Tata cry but why can’t you see the silent tears of poor farmers whose 400 acres were forcibly acquired to set up ancillary units. Can’t these units be shifted elsewhere?”

Mamata was also critical of industries minister Nirupam Sen’s “late-night secret meeting” with Tata at a city hotel.

“Why did the industries minister hold a secret late-night meeting with Tata? Did they conspire against the people of Singur?”