Singur, land of missed opportunities, in focus in Phase 4 of Bengal polls

With the Tata Nano factory failing to take off and a large portion of the land returned to the farmers remaining uncultivable, Singur is left in the lurch craving for employment.  

Campaigning for her Bhabanipur bypoll, TMC chairperson and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee frequently accused the Congress of “succumbing to the fear of victimisation” by the BJP

All eyes will be on Singur, the symbol of West Bengal’s missed industrial opportunities, in the fourth-phase of polling in 44 constituencies on Saturday (April 10) in the eight-phase assembly election.

A vast swathe of land full of rubble and weeds today lies unused in the core area of what was to be Tata’s Nano car factory, some 40 kilometres north-west of Kolkata. Only a few lucky farmers are growing potatoes on some green patches on the 997.11 acres plot that had been acquired for the factory.

In the wake of protests over land acquisition, Tata Motors shifted its Nano car project to Gujarat in 2008. The agitation, along with similar anti-land acquisition protests in Nandigram, caused the subsequent exit of the 34-year-long Left Front government and propelled Mamata Banerjee to power in 2011.

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Five years later, following a court directive, the farmers got back the land acquired from them. But, five years hence, the land is still not cultivable.

With the proposed factory failing to take off and a large portion of the land returned to the farmers remaining uncultivable, Singur is left in the lurch craving for employment.

“I had given three bighas (0.40 hectares) of land for the factory. After the project was abandoned, I got back my land (in 2016). But nothing can be grown there as it is strewn with concrete chunks and iron pieces,” said Amal Ghosh of Singur’s Gopalnagar village.

Over 3,000 farmers and sharecroppers from Gopalnagar,  Beraberi and Khejdi gram panchayats protested against the land acquisition.

They continue to get ₹2,000 per month and 16 kg rice from the state government.  But Ghosh said more than freebies, they need employment avenues.

The TMC’s Singur candidate Becharam Manna claimed the state government invested over ₹200 crore to make the plot cultivable, setting up irrigation networks and more than 50 deep tubewells.

The efforts could make only one third of the acquired land usable, said Pradyut Das of Beraberi.

Caught in a catch-22-situation, Singur wants to turn a new leaf. But even there it is stuck in a dilemma.

The BJP has pitted TMC turncoat and prominent face of the land acquisition movement 88-year-old Rabindranath Bhattacharya against Manna of the TMC.

Bhattacharya and Manna had together spearheaded the anti-land acquisition protest under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee.

The four-time MLA Bhattacharya joined the BJP after he was denied ticket this time citing old age.

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Asit Kumar Das, a local resident and a BJP sympathiser, said Bhattacharya had become very unpopular in the area because he was mostly inaccessible. “The BJP has made a mistake by giving him a ticket,” Das claimed.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had taken a lead of over 10,000 votes in this assembly segment.

This time, amidst the tussle of two prominent faces of land movement, the CPI (M) hopes to gain lost ground. It has fielded 28-year-old Srijan Bhattacharya hoping that a youth face would better connect with voters longing for employment avenues.

The party did a “symbolic” foundation stone-laying ceremony at the deserted factory plot in February with a promise to put the state back on route to industrialisation if voted to power.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing a rally at neighbouring constituency Haripal on April 3, promised industrialisation in the region to cash in on the dissatisfaction of electorates over lack of job opportunities.

Even Mamata Banerjee promised industrialisation, announcing to set up an agri-industrial park in Singur as the ghost of the land movement returned to haunt her.

The TMC is facing a similar challenge of recapturing its base in most of the other constituencies where polling will be held on Saturday.

Polling will be held in 11 constituencies in South 24 Parganas district, 10 in Hooghly, nine each in Howrah and Cooch Behar and five in Alipurduar.

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In the 2016 assembly elections, the TMC had bagged 39 of these 44 seats. The Left had won three seats and the BJP one. The scenario changed in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, with the BJP managing to increase threefold its vote shares in these assembly segments.

The BJP had taken lead in 19 of these seats. The TMC was ahead in 25 of these assembly segments in the last parliamentary elections.