Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The dilemma of Mamata Banerjee

After suspending the Singur siege on 7 September night, Mamata Banerjee will again be on her glorious protest path from the 16th. The much hyped meeting mediated by the WB governor Gopal Gandhi ended with a statement that promised to provide land ‘to the maximum’ from the project site to those who have not accepted compensation. Immediately after coming out from the meeting, Mamata Banerjee announced her ‘total victory’ with a blatant lie delivered to the hovering media that “government has agreed to fish out 300 acres of land from the project area + 100 acres from the adjacent area = 400 acres.” Her fake doctorate certificate is a well known fact, this time we also came to know about her pathetic literacy level. How come the words ‘to the maximum’ suggest 300 acres? Nowhere in the statement was the amount of land that will be spared from the project site specified. But still, if her ‘total victory’ relieves Singur and Bengal– it was a fair enough situation for the government which has from the beginning avoided a confrontational way on handling this issue. Mamata took the advantage of this goodwill mood to blackmail the government– of course with the sublime guardianship of the ‘impartial’ governor, who as a constitutional head of the state arranged the meeting but never spoken out any criticism against the illegal highway blockade by her.

Next day, the Tata’s expressed ‘distressed at the limited clarity’ coming out from the talks and said that giving back 300 acres announcement by Mamata Banerjee is ‘causing confusion in our minds’. They asked for a clarification from the WB government. The government made clear that the specific amount of land was never decided in the meeting and the four member committee which was formed will assess the possibility of how much land can be extracted from the project site.

Everyone knew that the committee will conclude nothing. Mamata Banerjee knew, Buddhadev Bhattacharjee knew, the government knew, the people of Bengal also knew. Therefore, when the government firmly announced an unprecedented compensation package for both the unwilling and willing landowners on 11 September and clearly stated that they can spare only 67 acres from the project area, not 300 acres as Mamata Banerjee is parroting, everything came back to square one. An agitated Mamata Banerjee out-and-out ‘rejected’ the proposed government package for Singur which has surprised even the other Trinamul leaders with its wide range of compensation proposals.

Let us go through the package in details:

1) 67 acres from the project area will be returned,

2) Additional 50% compensation for all land losers, both willing and unwilling, which means that land losers will gain Rs. 4-6 lakh more per acre,

3) Additional 50% compensation for all recorded sharecroppers in case where land is owned by absentee landlords. Recorded sharecroppers were eligible for 25% of the compensation for the regular land losers,

4) Wages for 300 days will be paid at one go to all unrecorded sharecroppers and agriculture labourers,

5) State government will commit itself to providing government jobs or indirect employment within one year from the commissioning of the project to a member from each land loser family,

6) Such members will enjoy a special category status in the employment exchange and will be given privileged treatment for filling up vacancies in ancillary units,

7) All surrounding villages, under a peripheral development scheme, will get roads hospitals, schools and colleges which will be funded by the government through the gram panchayat which presently is with the Trinamul.

But all the compensations will be effective only if the Tata project continues from the Singur site.

After the government’s announcement, Tata Motors came out with a positive statement in support of the package, “Tata Motors appreciates and supports the recent initiatives of the government of West Bengal for the residents of Singur area where it had acquired land for the Tata Motors Nano project.”

This package has suddenly dumbfounded the Trinamul. Mamata Banerjee is in a dilemma; she neither can swallow it nor can spew it out. Deep in her mind she must be troubled to realize that after this unprecedented compensation package if the Tata’s still are compelled to abandon the project due to her agitation, her political future might be doomed by the same unwilling farmers who are flocking by her side today. Also sensing the inevitable, all her present advisers will vanish in the blue. It is not surprising that many of her Trinamul aids are praying to their guardian Bengal governor to arrange another meeting to wrap up the dispute with ‘some sort of accommodation’ of her demand.

She was possibly thinking that Tata will never move out from the project after investing 1,500 crores. But her gem of advisers like the Medha Patkars and Anuradha Talwars must have forgotten to pump the significance of a vital fact into her. The Tata’s had moved away from Gopalpur in Orissa’s Ganjam district where 4,060 acres of land were acquired for steel project in 1995. Nearly 700 families were displaced to make space for the proposed 2.5 million tones per annum steel plant which never came up due to similar political resistance. The agitation which blocked the project was led by the CPI. Till date the Tata’s has not returned there regardless of repeated requests from the state government and all political parties. Vast land is lying unutilized. Ironically, after the Singur siege the Orissa government, the CPI along with many of the displaced is inviting Tata to shift the Nano plant there. They have assured that “We will not oppose, rather we will welcome it”.

Why is Mamata Banerjee stretching the issue so long? She could have easily claimed that it is because of her agitation that the WB government was forced to come out with the compensation package. Would it not be a genuine ‘victory’ for her? Perhaps her fertile political brain is thinking that Buddhadev Bhattacharjee is so emotionally attached with the project that he will try to keep the project in Bengal at any cost. Also, her advisers must have assured her that after Nandigram the government is psychologically weak to act firmly. So why not squeeze the lemon to its optimum and obtain the maximum juice? Till 11 September, she was exactly doing the same. And who knows her better than the CPIM that the most wonderful part of her nature is that she does not know where to end.

To extract more and more political mileage she has already started squeezing out bitter juice from the lemon. Will she ever realize that this bitter juice is unpalatable to all including herself?

Image courtesy: Aajkaal