It was in September 2008 that the Tatas decided to finally leave Singur. To be honest, they were kicked out by Mamata’s campaign against them. Rather than being welcomed for the thousands of crores they were planning to bring in themselves and the thousands more that others would follow from partners, they were harassed, called names and made to feel like thieves stealing land from farmers. Mamata Banerjee was telling the people of her state to go to hell in a desperate bid for power. Four years later, she is ruing her actions; and the people their decision to vote for her. The other gate-crashers – the NGOs, the activists – have all made a silent exit – with their tail between their legs.
Lets not forget we are talking about the impoverished, debt-laden, industrially backward state of WB, not a rich state that can play tough with industrialists. Every rupee of investment should have been welcomed, especially from the private sector….especially from a group like the Tatas. The Tatas were not putting up any ordinary plant there. They were putting up their most prestigious plant….the plant to manufacture the Nano, the car that had impressed the auto industry worldwide. Imagine the goodwill it would have generated for the state had Mamata not decided to play petty politics. But politics always gets the better of economics, especially in Bengal. For Mamata, the controversy offered an easy ride to power. She grabbed it with both hands.
Well, the Tatas lost time, and got embroiled in litigation, but they had no problem in finding other states who rolled out the red carpet. There were TN, Haryana, Maharashtra and Gujarat all calling on the Tata chief to woo him. Look at the contrast. These states were wooing Ratan Tata, when Mamata was shooing him out. Call it the Bengali pride (what Bengal does today, India does tomorrow rhetoric) or the destructive “hobe na” (can’t be done) attitude….whatever the reason, Bengal lost a prime industrial project to Gujarat. Had Mamata correctly understood the political importance of the project, like Narendra Modi did, she could have been a much-loved CM. Today instead, Gujarat stands tall, and WB stooped in a beggar’s stance. Narendra Modi is the loved CM, and Mamata the reviled one.
The farmers whose land was “forcibly” taken by the Left government are also in tatters. Here was an opportunity for them to be part of the re-industrialization of the state. To learn new skills and be part of the new economy. Bad politicians – read Mamata – made gullible and uneducated farmers turn the wrong way. Thanks to their decision, they remain buried in poverty. Today, they are demanding that the litigation be stopped and a settlement be reached with the Tatas. Given a choice, they would want to “undo” their decision and welcome the Tatas back. But this is like trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Where are the Medha Patkars, the Arundhati Roy’s now? Where are the Aparna Sen’s and other “intellectuals” of Bengal now? All have scooted. They made political hay while the sun shone on the issue. They have since gone elsewhere where the political sun is shining. I must single out Medha Patkar here. She’s a completely hare-brained woman (with due apologies to the hares) who cannot understand that economic progress, and only economic progress can bring about social equity. She also opposes all forms of power generation – at different points in time, she has opposed hydro power (agricultural land gets flooded), thermal power (causes air pollution) and nuclear power (too risky). What does this woman want? All she seeks is sensationalism and 5 minutes of media glory. The tragedy of India is that its NGOs, its activists, are made up of nitwits like Medha Patkar. Read Tavleen Singh in Indian Express yesterday (6th Jan) to know what she thinks of NGOs in this country.
State agriculture minister Becharam Manna of the TMC has been quoted in the TOI today saying “We launched the land stir because farmers wanted it. Now, if the farmers want otherwise, we have to honour their views. Our party was not against the Tatas.” Ya right. Are politicians mere voices of the people or are they supposed to guide and lead their people towards progress? Sometimes, people don’t know what is right or wrong. Issues are complicated, especially economic issues. Politicians are supposed to help people understand what is right and what is wrong; sometimes that means going against the over-riding public mood. It took the Left government 30 years to realize its economic policies were all wrong; and when it finally did, it found an opposition leader who was not willing to make amends. The poor in the state continue to suffer their fate, unable to free themselves from the clutches of the Left and Mamata. Today as always, no industrialist wants to invest in WB. The state is debt-ridden, and has to go with a begging bowl to the Center for assistance.
There is a larger message here for politicians. Those who oppose industrialization will have to face the consequences. Mamata Banerjee is expected to fare poorly in the forthcoming Panchayat elections in Singur and the Hooghly district. Likewise, those who are opposing progress nationally – be in FDI in multi-brand retail, or the implementation of the GST, or nuclear power, or the Financial bills – will all suffer at the hands of the people. People want progress. Some of them understand what is right and what is wrong. Some don’t. But even the ones who don’t will understand the truth one day. And that day, they will punish those who became bottlenecks. That’s the larger message from Singur. Politicians had better learn this now.
The real truth is that opportunism can never be a political strategy. Mamata may have won power by opposing Singur opportunistically, but now what? She has no ideas of how to run the state. It’s the same with the BJP. They oppose everything the UPA proposes, but they never tell us what they want to do. Its time political parties understood that they have to offer constructive programs; not only debunk the programs offered by the others….