Parties scramble to capture Singur turf
By Sirshendu Panth, Kolkata, June 30 : The rural pocket of Singur that played a decisive role in shaping the big political change in West Bengal last year again seems headed towards becoming the epicentre of the political theatre following the recent court verdict cancelling the Singur land law as "unconstitutional".
The order by a Calcutta High Court division bench pronouncing as "void" the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011, passed by the Mamata Banerjee government, has not only jolted the regime but also triggered a mad race among political parties to reach out to the aggrieved farmers of the area - particularly those who had not accepted the compensation cheques issued by the earlier government.
While the ruling Trinamool Congress has mobilised its students' wing to take out a rally Saturday in the area, a part of the Hooghly district and about 40 km from here, the Congress has asked its senior leaders to visit the belt and - strangely enough - some naxalite factions have teamed up with a disgruntled Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) peasant leader to woo the farmers.
The target audience for the hectic political activity is the bunch popularly called 'unwilling' farmers - those from whom land was alleged to have been forcibly taken by the erstwhile Left Front government for setting up the Nano car factory of automobile giants Tata Motors in 2006.
That the factory had to be shifted to Gujarat's Sanand following an intense peasants' movement spearheaded by then major opposition Trinamool Congress under Banerjee's stewardship with the demand that 400 acres be returned to the unwilling farmers is all too well known.
A similar oft-told story is how the movement reversed Trinamool's electoral fortunes and dislodged the Left Front (LF) from power last year.
Having enacted the Singur law to return land to the "unwilling farmers" soon after coming to power, the recent court verdict following an appeal by the automobile major against a lower court ruling upholding the act, has seemingly rattled Banerjee and her colleagues.
Banerjee lost no time in announcing that the monthly allowance being paid to the Singur farmers would be doubled to Rs.2,000. But ruling circles fear the disenchantment among the farmers, whose shifting of support to the Trinamool largely led to the LF's collapse, could grow with each passing day as the court fight stretches on.
In fact, a section of the 'unwilling' farmers of Singur now strongly feel they have committed a blunder by not accepting the compensation cheques given by the LF government and instead hopping on to Banerjee's bandwagon.
In a damage control exercise a day after the court struck down the Singur Act, which had scrapped the land lease given to Tata Motors, the government activated a farmers' committee that had been the pivot of the anti-farmland acquisition movement in the area.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and several of her cabinet colleagues and intellectuals attended the meeting of the now virtually defunct "Krishi Jami Jibon Jibika Rakha Committee" (Save Agricultural Land, life and Livelihood Committee) which took a decision to start afresh the movement for return of land to unwilling farmers.
"Along with the legal battle the committee will start a movement with the
farmers," said agriculture minister and Singur lawmaker Rabindranath Bhattacharya.
A day later, the minister favoured an out-of-court settlement with the Tatas to protect the farmers' interests.
He only articulated one particular line of thought in the government.
A second theory is to redraft the law which the court has annulled saying it had been
enacted without obtaining presidential assent and that sections of compensation were in conflict with the central legislation the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
But the hawks within the government are pitching for an appeal in the Supreme Court to get the division bench's verdict overturned.
The main opposition LF, gloating over the government's discomfiture, has called for amending the law and pilloried the regime for hurrying through it without listening to the voices of reason.
Former minister in the LF government Abdur Rezzak Mollah, who takes pride in calling himself "chashir byata" (son of a farmer) has announced an "Occupy Singur" movement from July 3 on the lines of the Occupy Wall Street agitation in the USA that started last September.
Annoyed with his party CPI-M for not heeding his warnings on Singur when the LF was in power, and also lately for not including him in the state secretariat, Mollah has teamed up with some naxalite groups to carry forward his movement.
(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)