Singur divides Hooghly voters along industry and agriculture lines

Written by Rohit Khanna | ROHIT KHANNA | Singur | Updated: Apr 22 2009, 05:05am hrs
Hooghly is a red bastion, has been for the past three decades, but Singur, which falls under this parliamentary constituency, is a Trinamool Congress stronghold. With the great debate over whether industry should take centrestage in the state, not agriculture, dividing the people like never before, both parties are claiming gains in voteshare this time.

We expect 2-3% increase in the Left Front vote this year, said Rupchand Pal, MP for six consecutive terms. Although the constituency has almost 60% people attached to agriculture, Pal feels the land acquisition debate will not be a hindrance.

The CPI(M) has won the Hooghly parliamentary election since 1977, only to lose to Congress Indumati Bhattacharya in 1984. Bhattacharya defeated CPMs Pal by less than 2% votes. Since then, Pal has managed to win the parliamentary constituency for six terms.

This is a myth that Singur has pushed people away from the Left Front. If you think that 13,000 farmers who surrendered their land for the project do not have any knowledge of the reality, you are mistaken, he said.

Singur has been with the Trinamool Congress for the last eight years. Despite this, almost 10,862 farmers surrendered their land for the Tata Motors Nano plant, and less than 2,000 refused to accept compensation announced by the state government. The area, which has seen opposition dominance since 2001, got support from the majority of the population when it came to industralisation.

Singur branches of the State Bank of India and the United Bank of India received 30 applications, and almost four times of queries for the Nano on the very first day of booking. Jiarul Haque, a farmer who sold 13 cuttahs of fertile land for the Tatas small car project, booked a standard version of Nano. Arun Das, another farmer who sold 18 bighas for the project, booked a luxury model of the car.

But then, theres anxiety in rural Bengal over land acquisition for industrialisation and perhaps thats the reason why the Left Front has dropped industrialisation and references to Singur and Nayachar from its election manifesto. According to party insiders, it was done following objections from some of its allies over the capitalist agenda of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee-led government in West Bengal.In Hooghly, the CPM managed 53.56% vote in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections, defeating the Congress candidate by almost 9% votes. Its votes came down to 49% in 1991, picking up by a minor 0.3% in 1996.

But the party managed a 7% jump from 1999s 47.94% votes to get 53.71% share in 2004.

Then what makes the Trinamool Congress expect a 7-8% swing in its favour The Singur movement has shown that they have faith in Mamata Banerjees policies. We never spoke against industry. It is the farmers who are afraid to lose multi-cropping land, said TMC candidate Ratna Dey Nag. Moreover, closure of the Dunlop factory has aggravated the anger within the urban population, she said.

At Singur, the farmers who refused to sell out are in a bind. Their lands are inside the factory walls and they have received nothing. Even then we will fight. We dont oppose industrialisation but we want a fair deal, said Dudhkumar Dhara, panchayat pradhan of Beraberi gram panchayat.

According to Dibakar Das, convener of Left-backed Singur Pragatishil Jami Bikreta Shilpa Sthapan O Nagoronnayan Committee, Tata Motors exit from Singur has given rise to the negative sentiment among people. Even the farmers are feeling the pinch because if the factory came up, they would have got jobs at the factory or at several ancillary units that would have sprung up around Singur. Das expects the voteshare of the LF candidate in Hooghly to increase to 55%.

The whole issue was politicised. The common man is hoping an automobile company will come and set up base here, said Pal. It could be Chinese FAW Motors, it could be even Tata Motors, he said. TMC leader Becharam Manna feels the Muslim vote will swing in favour of the TMC-Congress combine due to Nandigram and the Rizwanur episode. Tribal votes will also swing in favour of the anti-Left combine after the LF government-tribal rift in Lalgarh.

We have won students elections in schools in Banshberia and Sreerampore. We have won college elections in Chandernagore. Everything happened in last three months, clearly indicating the youths sentiments in favour of the TMC-Congress combine, he said.