“Tears of joy” – that was the reaction of Bengal’s Chief Minister on 31 August after the Supreme Court of India termed the land acquisition in Singur illegal and ordered for the land acquired to be returned to farmers. A fight that had started on 18 May, 2006 finally attained fruition. Life came a full cycle for not just Mamata Banerjee, our Didi, but for many of us who had been associated with the Singur andolan.
Back in 2006, the ‘Nano plant’ at Singur was sold to us as a panacea that would magically end all the woes facing the State; it was marketed as the one big investment that would propel Bengal to a position among States that would put other ‘vibrant’ States to shame. True, after three decades of Left rule, Bengal was desperate for a ‘magic pill’.
So, when Tatas decided pull out of Singur, the mainstream media branded Didi as ‘anti-industry’. The West prefixed before Bengal was laughingly referred to as ‘Waste’ meaning there was no hope left for the State. We always maintained we are not against industry. Investors are most welcome to Bengal. However, the manner in which multi-crop fertile land was acquired using cadre-power, the scant regard shown for due process, the sheer arrogance of the CPI(M) propelled the hapless people to rise up against the establishment. The Supreme Court verdict has only vindicated our stand.
Mamata Banerjee in Munich
The Singur verdict will embolden Mamata Banerjee. That she is not against private investment has been demonstrated in the two successful seasons of Bengal Global Business Summit and her trips to UK and Singapore. Despite the huge legacy of debt inherited from the Left Front Government, Bengal has been growing by leaps and bounds. The State’s GVA growth is 12% compared to 7% of India. The industrial growth of the State (8.3%) is also much higher than the national average (5.6%).
In this light, the CM’s trip to Germany was extremely significant. From 5-9 September, Team Bengal (the Chief Minister was accompanied by the State Finance, Commerce and Industries Minister Dr Amit Mitra, Mayor of Kolkata, several departmental secretaries, 29 industrialists and other members of the press) held several meetings at Munich, Stuttgart and Dusseldorf.
Team Bengal at BMW HQ in Munich
At a business conclave at Munich, Bengal CM made an impassioned appeal to investors to come to Bengal. She talked about easy availability of land, power, labour. She made a strategic appeal to move over an incident in the past. The response in Germany has been impressive.Top-level officials of BMW made presentations to Team Bengal during a three-hour meeting. Dusseldorf has expressed interest in making Kolkata their ‘Sister City’.
The opinion about Bengal is changing in the global market. A State which was once known as the Bandh Capital of India was running like any normal day on September 2, when 17 trade unions had called for Bharat Bandh. In fact, the man-days lost in Bengal due bandhs has come down to zero in the last five years. Business conclaves like the one in Munich help bolstering the message ‘Bengal Means Business’.
Standing ovation for Didi after Business Conclave in Munich
The seeds have been sown. The efforts of the State government to woo investors is clearly visible. All eyes on Bengal Global Business Summit, 2017. One thing is for certain: Bengal is back on the business map.
Photos courtesy: Ashok Majumder
The memory of that evening is still fresh in my memory. After classes, we were leaving for tuitions and the mid-December chill was getting a grip on us. Presidency College (now an University) was located near the Calcutta Medical College and we had to pass by CMC to reach Central Metro Station. A sudden call on Madhurima’s phone and all hell broke loose. We had become acquainted to the extraordinarily high police presence on College Street by now, thanks to the daily agitations and rallies that happened at College Square. But that evening beat even that of 2 Dec (the day when fencing began at Singur, after CPM cadres burnt houses, paddy fields, tortured women, beat up men on LIVE TV and went scott-free). The evening of 18 December 2006 held a lot of surprises for us.
Madhurima was informed about some girl, aged 17, at Singur who was set on fire for being a member of Bhoomi Uchched Pratirodh Committee. Her body had been brought to CMC and there was a snap meeting called by USDF-AISA (United Students Democratic Forum-All India Students Association, both frontal organisations of Maoists as has been revealed now). Soon, another phone call informed us that the girl in question was named Tapasi Malik and she had been gangraped before being set on fire. My innards received a sudden jolt. Tapasi was just 17. About my age, and my female classmates, she was just fighting for the sake of her land! Madhu had by then almost collapsed. Words were lost in the solemnity of the moment. From Eden Hindu Hostel, we changed track and made way towards Surjo Sen Street – University Institute Hall.
During those days, we used to attend many such meetings. Whatever little support we could give, in our capacity as students, to the landlosers in Singur, we extended with whole heart. I was there when Medha Patkar was stopped, by SFI cadre and Kolkata Police, at the gates of my alma mater, where she had arrived to talk to students for supporting the Singur cause. I was there when Arundhati Ray had arrived at University Institute Hall to speak. I was there when Kabir Suman sang for the memory of Tapasi at College Square months later. But the meet on that evening of 17 December 2006 was different. The speakers were traumatised – still grasping the fact that a little girl could be butchered so mercillesly, just because she had challenged the might of the Party and a famous business tycoon.
Horrors awaited us even when we reached home that night to find the perpetrator of the crime being branded by CPM’s visual mouthpiece 24 Ghanta as Tapasi’s grand-dad. Debu Malik was on TV informing 24 Ghanta’s anchor that Tapasi committed suicide because of a failed love affair. Conspiracy theories were planted. Many powerful media houses, which run on the money of business houses, started giving credence to this story. WB CID too showed their allegiance to Alimuddin Street. Back then, the Central Govt was dependent on Left Front for survival and Congress tried to wash their hands off the incident with trademark lip-service about murder of democracy etc.
Thankfully, PIL’s were filed in court, and CBI enquiry ordered which finally sent Debu Malik behind bars (to which CPM reacted by giving him the epithet of Party’s honour being victimised for politics). 2 years later in 2008, Ratan Tata unceremoniously refused to accept the Singur compromise formula devised by then West Bengal’s Governor Dr Gopal Krishna Gandhi, in a tripartite meeting with Mamata and Buddha. He left the state just ahead of Durga Puja and moved the project to Sanand. Had Tata let go of his ego in September 2008, may be Singur would have been a different tale. But now only the ghost of a Car Plant graces the vast lands by the side of Durgapur Expressway. The land where Tapasi Malik was raped and burnt alive. 6 years ago. At the altar of politics, power and greed.
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