Invitation to Tatas: Why pro-farmers’ CM Mamata needs to woo industry to Bengal

Politically, Mamata Banerjee needs to ensure that farmers’ rights are protected or she runs the risk of alienating her strongest support base

Written by Esha Roy | Kolkata | Published:September 15, 2016 2:35 pm
mamata banerjee, trinamool congress, west bengal, singur, nandigram, singur tata, nandigram tata, bengal industry, india news West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee along withe other Ministers and Government officials after meeting on Singur on Monday at Nabanna. (Express photo)

Mamata Banerjee has always identified herself with the farmers of Bengal, espousing their causes and riding on the back of their support to power in 2011 and again in 2016. But now, the Chief Minister knows it is imperative that she woo industry if the state is to sustain itself and move forward. The invitation to Tatas to invest in Bengal is therefore, no casual courtesy but Mamata’s effort to reach out and pull in industry.

Today, Bengal has a new day of celebration. From this year on, every year, September 14 has been earmarked on the state calendar as ‘Singur Utsav’, adding to Chief Minister and Trinamool supremo Mamata Bannerjee’s long list of festivities. September 14 will join March 14 – Kisan Divas marking the Nandigram agitation — as one of Trinamool’s red letter days.

But even as Mamata announced Wednesday, from the mammoth stage set up for the first Singur Utsav that she was “against land acquisition’’ and will never allow “forcible acquisition in Bengal ever again’’, even as she vowed to protect “farmers and their lands’’, in the same breath she said that her government will push for industrial investment in the state.

No one understands the crisis Bengal now faces better than its two-time chief minister. Last year, the Bengal government paid just over Rs 37,000 crore in debt alone to the central government. Bengal’s districts continue to live in unimaginable abject poverty and with few avenues to generate revenue as well as jobs, high levels of unemployment continue unabated. The only way for Bengal to sustain itself is by ensuring that factories are set up and industries find an amicable environment to run.

Keenly aware of this, Banerjee said yesterday that she believed “farming and industries’’ are not mutually exclusive and can exist simultaneously. “We need to push industries for our younger generation,’’ she declared. She said that her government had invited the Tatas, Samsung, Raymonds and a host of others to invest in the state. Information technology hubs, manufacturing industries, textiles, agro-based industries, food processing, coal-methane and gas are amongst other thrust areas.

Having come to power on the basis of the anti-land acquisition agitation in Singur and Nandigram, one that overthrew the 34-year old regime of the Left in a historic victory in 2011, Banerjee has been walking a tightrope between these two seemingly contrary positions.

Politically, the CM needs to ensure that farmers’ rights are protected or she runs the risk of alienating her strongest support base — Nandigram and Singur continue to be two of Bannerjee’s strongest electoral bases in Bengal. However, while keeping rural Bengal happy, she also needs to ensure that urban Bengal thrives and so does industries.

With the outrages and bloodbath fresh in the collective memory of the residents of Nandigram, they say that under no circumstance will a SEZ ever be allowed to be set up in the area. Singur has been a little more flexible. While most beleaguered farmers, whose lands were forcibly acquired ahead of the 2006 Singur uprising, say that they will go back to cultivation once their land is returned, they don’t oppose industry in Singur. Unlike Nandigram, the farmers and residents of Singur realize that industry will generate employment for the largely unemployed youth in the area.

Sensing the farmers willingness, Bannerjee held an administrative meeting earlier this week with her ministers to decide whether Singur is to remain entirely agriculture-based or whether the state government should allow industry in the area. For now, the land belonging to the 9,117 farmers in Singur will be returned — within the next eight weeks, Banerjee has promised. Roads cutting through Singur farm land will be dug up, the land will be made cultivable again and handed back to its rightful owners.

Singur may not see industry being set up in the near future but the Bengal government has readied 1,000 acres of land and is wooing both domestic as well as international industries. The chief minister seems to be finding her balance on the tightrope to reconcile two of Bengal’s most controversial violence-inducing positions — that of being either pro-agrarian or pro-industry.