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Why six years later Singur still remains a key poll issue in Bengal

Monday, 28 April 2014 - 4:07am IST | Place: Singur | Agency: dna

Fear is the key where lies the ghost of Tata Motor's Nano plant off NH2. Not a soul could be seen anywhere near whatever remains of a promise to transform the rich agri-fields into an automobile hub. The dream died in 2008 but it still stinks at the graveyard. "Don't tell anybody you are from the Press. You could be in trouble," advised a portly built man who runs an eatery on the opposite side of the expressway.
His fortunes depend upon serving meals to the workers of a nearby plant of Himadri Chemicals, a mid-sized listed company that produces carbon compounds. "Business is down these days. Flow of workers has dwindled by about a fifth over the last few years. Probably, the company is not doing that well," the eatery owner, who refused to be identified, said.

Between an industry that lost out to popular agitation to protect farmland, and another which is suffering due to slowdown in global commodity market lies the story of people who wish to break away from the stagnation of farm income. A culture of intimidation has also vitiated this poll season in Singur, once a happy agrarian region of the Hooghly constituency known for its high yield of potato. The yield has been satisfactory this season, and the farmer is supposed to feel happy. Yet a seething rage overtakes a Singur farmer.

"We heard the CPIM candidate's workers were threatened and stopped from meeting people door-to-door. It's part of the democratic process of election. How can someone be stopped from visiting one's house?" asked the farmer, who refused to be identified. Intimidation is also happening in the form of stopping the farm hands from accessing their wage due under the 100-day work programme, alleged CPIM candidate Pradip Saha.

"Trinamool Congress is holding crores of rupees as ransom, the money that is due to the workers as hard-earned wages for gruelling manual work done under NREGA," said Saha adding that the environment of fear is across the state cultivated by Trinamool Congress to stem dissidence of any form.

Mention the abandoned Tata Motors' Nano plant and it evokes different responses from the rival parties. Trinamool Congress continues to maintain that the acquired land, about 997 acres, would be returned to the farmers despite the improbability of it – the treated land is no more suitable for farming and legal hurdles remain as land once acquired by state can't be returned. BJP candidate Chandan Mitra, noted journalist and an import from Delhi but who claims to be a son-of-soil being born in the district, has been selling the dream of getting an IT park built at the desolate project site.

Mitra's excitement might have been derived from Narendra Modi's plans to turn Singur an election issue. In an interview to a local Bengali daily, Modi said he has unintentionally hurt interests of Bengal by helping the Tatas shift its Nano plant to Gujarat. But such promises don't excite those who have so far suffered lies and half-truths. "See, what happened to the Nano car! The Tatas wanted to build plant by forcibly acquiring our land and now the car, which was supposed to be world's cheapest, couldn't be built," a village elder said probably unaware of the story of Nano's rebirth at a place called Sanand near Ahmedabad.

That the village elder hasn't seen a Nano on NH2 is more to do with the car's poor sales since it came out of that plant in Gujarat but truth did become a casualty in a revolution led by Mamata Banerjee in 2008 that turned land acquisition a bad word. "We were shocked to see on TV Trinamool leaders claiming Singur land yielded crops three times a year! What a lie! You can hardly get two crops even if you are lucky," exclaimed a Singur farmer.

Looking away from the prospect of industrialisation, Trinamool Congress is concentrating on things it has done for the predominantly agrarian economy. "Farmers have always been a focus of our policies. They are getting much better prices for their products now. We have made schemes for the weavers too. We gave pattas (right to land) to 2 lakh people in two and a half years. We are also setting up ITIs in every block and polytechnic colleges in every sub division," Mamata has been telling people in rallies in this constituency.

Singur is but one of the seven assembly constituencies in Hooghly consisting of Chandannagar, Chunchura, Balagarh, Pandua, Saptagram and Dhanekhali. Its Trinamool that rules everywhere except Pandua, where CPIM managed to retain the assembly. Hooghly, once being a major river port and a trade route, is like no other place in Bengal, each of these places being witness to historical events like arrival of Portuguese sailor Vasco-Da-Gama, settlement of Dutch traders in Chuchura or the French in Chandannagar.

As global sea trade, and history changed course its the fight between industry and farming that is now being played out. And with Trinamool promising nirvana in the latter, it wouldn't be such a tough job for its candidate, sitting MP Ratna De Nag to retain the constituency who in 2009 had won garnering a comfortable 47% of votes polled defeating rival Roopchand Pal with a margin of 54,500 votes. Wth a view to avoid the ignominy of another defeat again this time, Pal, like many other elderly veteran Leftist leader, has decided not to contest forcing his party to field Saha instead, party insiders said.

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