Mamata's new challenge

Nandigram & Singur recall

In her vicious tirade against the Buddhadev Bhattacherjee government’s policy of ‘forcible’ acquisition of land for industrialisation, she emerged as the new messiah of farmers, not just in the corridors of Bengal, but across India and beyond. However, there is also another flip side to the story; with Bhattacherjee going hammer and tongs on a fast industrialisation drive in the state, Mamata’s efforts in 2006 and 2007 to block that and champion the cause of the farmers were only pooh-poohed during the initial days.

Not only that, Mamata was desperate to boost the sagging morale of her party activists and brush her image up in the wake of a rout of Trinamool in the 2006 assembly.

But two incidents overnight catapulted her to the national mainstage -- the barbarous police firing in Nandigram on farmers that left 14 dead and a mindless batoncharge on the protesting women and unarmed villagers at Singur. This was quickly followed by Mamata's 26 days' fast that established a new record of the peaceful and longest `satyagraha' and all this began to gradually clear the cloud that had gathered around her image.

Yet, Mamata baiters in the CPM refused to see the signal and the point that got lost in the face of a propaganda that it was another political stunt by the Trinamool chief, was the issue of proper compensation and a decent rehabilitation package for the affected families. Many of her baiters now admit in private that had not she hijacked and highlighted these twin issues then, the consequences would not have been so disastrous.

“We should not have wasted time after Mamata derailed the Singur project; we could have sought a fresh referendum from the people on the issue as the people's sentiments, particularly that of the young generation, was with us till then," argued Sundarbans development minister Kanti Ganguly.

Lakhman Seth, former CPI(M) MP from West Midnapore, supporting Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati for demonstrating courage in arresting Rahul Gandhi when he took part in the farmers’ protest in Greater Noida in UP against land acquisitions. “It was the right decision and no government ought to allow this situation to go out of its hand,” said Seth.

But Rahul Gandhi’s Mamata act (she did exactly the same thing and reached the venue of a meeting after the CPI(M) supporters blocked the road with vehicles) and surprised the Mayawati government, his popularity on the barometre must be on the upswing, raising expectations of the farmers.

New expectations

The Singur and Nandigram agitations that provided Mamata Banerjee the crucial launch pad to strike back at a regimented party like the CPI(M), have also triggered fresh expectations of the locals. Promise of setting up a railway coach factory in Singur (on new land in case negotiations with Tatas for return of the acquired land fails) and buying of land from willing farmers only has been made in the Trinamool manifesto.

That the land inside the acquired Nano factory can no longer be converted into arable one for agri-activities is more or less accepted. For Mamata Banerjee, returning the disputed 400 acres of land to the farmers out of 997 acres already in possession of the Tatas is a huge challenge. After fulfilling this, whether the proposed coach factory becomes a reality remains to be seen.

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