Singur (West Bengal): The historic anti-land acquisition movement in 2006 in Singur propelled Mamata Banerjee to office five years later and brought the curtains down on the 34-year-old Left rule in West Bengal.
Cut to 2021, Singur now repents the decision to support Banerjee in her land acquisition struggle and letting Tata Motors leave. Tata Motors shifted its Nano car project from Singur to Gujarat after Banerjee led an agitation for the farmers who refused to give up their land.
Singur farmers now complain of Trinamool Congress’ inability to make their barren land cultivable, which has become a major issue in this election, with many of them contemplating to bring a ‘poriborton (change)’ again.
Singur is famous for three reasons — the land struggle, the Tata Motors’ exit and 88-year-old former Trinamool leader Rabindranath Bhattarcharya, locally known as ‘master-moshai (teacher)’, who is now with the BJP.
Bhattacharya was at the forefront of the Singur land movement, just like Suvendu Adhikari was in the Nandigram agitation. Both the former aides of Banerjee are now with the BJP.
Baneshwar Manji, a 67-year-old farmer from Singur’s Bajmelia village, said his land that was taken for the Tata Nano car project but was later returned doesn’t hold any value for him now.
“The Supreme Court has given the verdict to return land and told the state government to make them cultivable but that didn’t happen in the last five years. In our land, there are snakes, and jackals roam around. In the rainy season, the land turns into a lake,” he added.
“The chief minister had assured us that the local administration will issue a tender to construct a canal to make the land cultivable, but that did not happen. We have supported Mamata that time, but we regret now. If the Tatas would have been here, jobs would have been created for our children. Now there are no jobs and land is barren for agriculture. What should we do?”
Just behind Manjhi’s hut, there lie two busts of Singur ‘martyrs’ Tapasi Malik and Raj Kumar Bhul.
Malik, a member of the Save Singur Farmland Committee, was raped and her body was found inside the Tata Motors small car factory building. Bhul, a villager, had died in police action on agitators.
Swapon Mali, a farmer from the same village, hesitated to talk about Malik. “I am not going to recount old memories, but what have we got in return? Some money, but how many days that compensation will last?”
He added: “I want to tell you land is necessary, but more necessary is jobs. Youths are roaming without jobs, there was hope when Tata came. Whoever comes after the election, must focus on (establishing) industries.”
Singur goes to polls on 10 April.
Schemes not enough to run family
Manji’s and Mali’s words echoed in other villages of Singur too.
Hareshyam Pal of Kamarkundu village said the “question is not what Mamata has done for the area”, but it is about what she has done to generate employment for the youth.
“She has given people ration and launched several pro-poor schemes like Kanyashree, Swasthya Sathi. She also offered Rs 2,000 to people who did not give land (to Tatas), but tell me is this enough for a family of eight members? Our sons are unemployed. How will our home run?”
He added: “The only problem with the Left was that they did not consult the farmers before giving land, but their decision to allow the Tatas to set up factories was right, not just for the entire area, but also for the entire state.”
Singur, a keenly watched contest
Singur has become one of the keenly watched seats after Bhattacharya’s switchover to the BJP.
TMC has fielded Becharam Manna, the sitting MLA from adjoining Haripal seat, from Singur. Manna was also an important face of the Singur land movement, but he fell out with Bhattacharya soon after 2011. Manna’s wife has been fielded from Haripal.
Bhattacharya, who had won the election from Singur in 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016 elections as a TMC candidate, joined the BJP after he was denied a ticket due to his old age.
Before the ticket distribution, BJP sources said, the party had tried to contact Manna to switch over but he wasn’t ready to leave TMC.
“Master-moshai is a gentleman and a legendary figure in this area. People respect him a lot, but the only problem with him is his age. People will vote for change, though Becharam Manna is a strong candidate, he knows every village and lanes in Singur,” said Biren Sharda, a farmer in Kamarkundu village.
BJP workers in Singur had protested against Bhattacharya’s candidature, but party leaders now said they all are united in the fight.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the BJP led the Singur assembly segments by 10,000 votes. Singur falls under Hooghly Lok Sabha seat, where BJP’s Locket Chatterjee had won the 2019 election.
This time, BJP fielded Chatterjee from the adjoining Chinsurah assembly seat against TMC’s Asit Majumdar.
“Since there is less presence of minority votes in Singur, which will be divided between the Left-Congress candidate and Mamata, the BJP is hoping to win one of the prestigious seats, which will write the story of industrialisation in Bengal,” said a senior BJP leader, who didn’t want to be named.
(Edited by Debalina Dey)