The stillborn Tata Nano plant at Singur became a turning point for West Bengal in more ways than one. The protests around the land acquired for the factory – in which Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress played a major role – marked the beginning of the end of the CPM’s political hegemony in the state. Tata Motors moved the project to Narendra Modi’s Gujarat and West Bengal’s push to attract private industry and generate employment was halted. Now, with the Supreme Court verdict admonishing the then state government for mishandling the land acquisition, Mamata Banerjee seems to be willing to go beyond just celebrating victory – she is keen not to repeat past mistakes.
The West Bengal government has offered land to the Tata group in lieu of the losses they incurred in Singur. According to Amit Mitra, the state’s finance minister, the government’s land bank has allocated tracts for industry in West Midnapore, Purulia and Bardhaman. It has also offered a slew of tax incentives. As things stand now, the West Bengal government may have to pay part of the Rs 1,400 crore losses incurred by the company, according to a clause in the 2007 agreement between Tata Motors and the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation. The offer of land for a plant comes as part of the recent bonhomie between Mamata and the Tata Group. On her recent trip to Germany to woo investors, she was accompanied by Tata Metaliks MD Sanjiv Paul and Tata Steel India and South Asia MD T.V. Narendran. Clearly, the decision to welcome the industrial conglomerate back to the state is well thought out. On the other hand, Banerjee presented land deeds to farmers who had been unwilling to part with their property in Singur on September 14, in what she has called a “victory for farmers”.
Mamata Banerjee is trying to walk the same tightrope as Buddhadeb Bhattacharya — attempting to hold on to the rural vote while encouraging industry to come to the state. However, Mamata seems to have learnt from her predecessor’s mistakes. She is not relying merely on the fiery rhetoric she is known for, but rather, seems to have systematically planned to usher the Tatas back. The move is both symbolic and necessary. Bringing back the company that fled the state will cement her reputation for making government industry-friendly in West Bengal. By being pro-farmer without becoming anti-business, Banerjee displays a pragmatism that could help revive Bengal’s moribund economy.