Fourteen years after he spearheaded the movement against land acquisition for Tatas’ small car plant in Singur, 90-year-old Rabindranath Bhattacharjee – once considered Mamata Banerjee’s lieutenant – now, BJP’s MLA aspirant in the region is batting for industry and jobs.
Clad in white kurta, dhoti and slippers, the man – the oldest person in Bengal’s electoral politics this year – says his former party “frittered away a people’s mandate” to become a “den of corruption”. Today’s need of the hour, in Singur and elsewhere, is jobs and industrialisation, something that he alleges is the least of priorities for the Trinamool Congress.
Starting with the anti-industry movement in 2007 at Singur which became instrumental in Mamata Banerjee’s rise in Bengal politics, life has come a full circle at this rural hamlet in Hooghly. The campaigning here by BJP and the Left Front-Congress alliance is on the lines of industrialisation and jobs. Trinamool is pushing for farmers’ welfare and jobs.
“Farmers’ income in the region halved or they have moved to some other trade. Adding insult to injury is the continuous hype around free rations. Farmers are not beggars. This was not the mandate that Singur gave to Mamata Banerjee in 2011 or in 2016,” Bhattacharjee tells BusinessLine.
‘Land Not Cultivable’
With much fanfare the acquired lands were returned to the farmers by the Mamata Bannerjee government in 2016 after the Supreme Court declared the land acquisition illegal. Of the nearly 1000-odd acres acquired for the Tata plant, just about 200 acres are cultivable at the moment.
Farmers claim that once a “multi-crop” land, plots are barely cutlivable still; the nature of the land has changed. Now ensuring one crop and “earning profits” from it is a “Herculean task”. To make matters worse, the gen-next does not want to take part in farming.
“Cultivating the land is unproductive. Our children question why we protested against the factory. It would have ensured jobs for them,” one of the farmers once instrumental in organising protests along with Rabindranath Bhattacharjee said, requesting anonymity.
Of the nearly 14,000 farmers from whom land was acquired, nearly 11,000 were “willing landlosers” with 3,000-odd being dissenters (called unwilling landlosers).
When Ratan Tata relocated the Nano car project to Sanand (Gujarat) in 2008, the death knell for industrialisation was rung here, say industry experts. Most projects, announced during the 10-odd year tenure of Bhattacharjee decided to “go slow”.
After Mamata Banerjee came to power in 2011 and again in 2016, there was hope that “although she was against SEZs and forceful land acquisition”, she was “not anti-industry”. She backed the Narendra Modi government in the roll-out of GST, in the initial days. But soon went back to the “anti-GST pitch” claiming that it was not the same set of rules that her party supported.
Industry minister, Amit Mitra, has over the years highlighted on multiple occasions Bengal’s “stellar industry drive”, focus on MSMEs, among others.
The state government, after being questioned multiple times by West Bengal Governor, Jagdeep Dhankhar, went on record to say, a little over 50 per cent of investment proposals received between 2015 and 2018 have gone into ‘implementation mode’, and that 28 lakh jobs have been generated through the state’s flagship industrial summit. The cumulative investments across five such summits (2015-2019) stands at over ₹12-lakh crore.
Sorry Story on Industrialisation
Interestingly, the DPITT (Department of Industry and Internal Trade) website shows a different set of data.
The annual report for 2020-21, which lists state-wise industrial entrepreneurs memorandum (IEM) shows Bengal received investment proposals worth Rs 30264 crore between 2016 and November of 2020. A total of 264 projects (cumulative across the period) have been filed.
For instance, the State-wise break-up of investment intentions (January -November 2019) shows that India received 2,128 investment intentions, of which Bengal received 40 (or just 1.88 per cent); in comparison Gujarat received 19 per cent of the investment proposals – the highest amongst states.
In terms of investment size, the numbers are worse. Of ₹482,566 crore worth of investments being made in India, less than one per cent of these investments ₹4,264 crore (or 0. 88 per cent) came to Bengal. Gujarat bagged 50 per cent of the investments.
The Trinamool Congress is quick to dismisses poll campaigns around industrialisation as a “bunch of lies”.
Local leaders refer to a packaging unit by a cement-major as proof of industrialisation. This was their pacifier in 2016 too, when there were talks of return of land.
The State government, says Becharam Manna, the Trinamool candidate there, has proposed “agro-industrial” hubs (food processing units). There are some blue-and-white boards too in this regard. His poll pitch remains on how petrol, kerosene and cooking gas prices are “on fire”.
“Left leaders have no ground here. And Rabinranath Babu and BJP are spreading a bunch of lies. Ask them to show industrialisation in states that are BJP-ruled. In comparison, Didi is pushing MSMEs, generating jobs. Food security and not industry is the poll plank here. We are guaranteeing that,” he says.