Looking across the bare walls of the aborted 997-acre Tata Motors car plant, it is easy to see why Banerjee is not keen to talk about the subject. The once-fertile tract is now unsuitable for cultivation but no industry is keen to build anything at the site.
So both the ruling CPI(M) and opposition Trinamool Congress speak the same language at Singur. Current chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya told an election rally just outside the walls that his party will build the states biggest factory at the site, but steered clear of particulars. Banerjee on her part has said she will start her developmental work from the project site, whatever that means.
The farmers movement against land acquisition, which Banerjee appropriated, led to the exit of the Tata group from Singur with their small-car project, but she has been unable to fulfil most of the farmers demands neither has she kept her promise to return the land, nor has she been able to set up a project on the undisputed 600 acres the Tatas had to vacate.
Around 1,500 people are yet to collect compensation and the Trinamool Congress had promised to return their land, which is easier said than done. All along, the Trinamool Congress has been saying that it will return land to unwilling farmers, and set up an industry on the other 600 acres. During her campaign, Banerjee has spoken of a wagon factory at Singur, but with the three announced at Kanchrapara, Andal and Dankuni yet to take off, the people of Singur arent exactly hopeful. Banerjee even hasnt had time to visit the constituency yet. She came 48 times during the agitation, she doesnt need to come here, says the Trinamool Congress camp.
But theres a sense of disquiet in the villages. At Joymolla village, bordering the Singur site, a retired teacher says: Trinamool is saying they will give back land to those who have not collected their cheques. But agriculture is no more possible in that land, what will they do with it
Local MLA Rabindranath Bhattacharjee, a three-time Trinamool Congress MLA, has his own explanation. When the Buddha-Mamata agreement on Singur was signed in the presence of the governor, there was no mention of the area of the land that was supposed to be returned, he says. The land character has changed and agriculture wouldnt be possible on most of the 327 acres that we identified later as the area belonging to unwilling farmers.
But he adds, We will return whatever we can from the site, and compensate the rest from elsewhere. When the Left had suggested this, the Trinamool Congress had rejected the idea.
At Singur villages, green now with paddy crop, a section of farmers say the character of the landscape would have changed for the better if the Tatas had been allowed to set up the factory. But most are still upset with the manner of acquisition. The government took away our land without even bothering to discuss with us. Suddenly we found that our three-cropping land has been surrounded by a boundary wall. We were asked to collect cheques from the district magistrates office in Chinsurah. Though many collected it unwillingly, many did not with the hope that they would get back their land, says Dhirendranath Pakhira, a senior citizen of Joymolla.
It may be just off a fine expressway, but Singurs roads are yet to be metalled, there are issues of water and power, and a lack of hospitals. If the Left has bypassed Singur, the Trinamool Congress, which has nurtured the constituency for 15 years, hasnt done much better.
People do tell me about difficulties of water, power, etc, but those are issues we can solve only when we come to power in the state, says Bhattacharjee.
While leaving Singur, we come across a big hoarding: Badla noy badal chai (not revenge but change). But will change come soon to Singur