On the rusty iron gate at the entrance of the Tata Motors car factory at Singur, long abandoned, a sign reads, “Danger,11,000 volts.” Beyond the gate, shrubs and creepers have grown in abundance. In the backdrop stands a series of Tata Motors workshops.
From Singur had sprung the agitation that culminated in the fall of the Left Front in 2011. And in the current elections, Singur has sprung back into life from the “graveyard of Bengal’s industry”, as the abandoned factory has come to be known.
Eight years after the Tatas exited Singur in the face of a persistent agitation led by Mamata Banerjee, the CPM has come back to try and snatch this symbolic constituency.
It has fielded Rabin Deb, one of its most veteran campaigners, state secretariat member and an important functionary of the Left Front committee. And Deb, in turn, has revived the debate over agriculture and industry, stressing that the Left Front government’s decision to set up a factory had been right.
“The factory would not only have benefited local people but would have changed the face of Bengal,” Deb said. “We have come back to remind the farmers that they have neither got the factory nor the land.”
Singur is symbolic to Mamata too. At a rally this week, she described how Singur has become a “part of the history of land struggles across the country against forcible acquisition”. “I have not come here not for electioneering but to touch the pious land and for the blessings of the farmers,” she said.
The battle promises to be a fierce one between Deb and Rabindranath Bhattacharya, Trinamool Congress MLA renominated for the fourth time. Bhattacharjee, known as the “Master moshai” of Singur, has been winning the seat since 2001 — first on a TMC ticket, in 2006 as the Left Front candidate, and last time again on a TMC ticket. “At the age of 84 and after three consecutive terms, I have nothing to lose,” said “Master moshai”, sitting in his home in Haripal, about 5 km from Singur. Having campaigned in the early morning, he was resting before venturing out in the heat again, a long day that will last till 11 pm. “We never wanted the Tatas to leave Singur. We wanted the factory,” he stressed.
“But we were against forcible acquisition and wanted the Tatas to return 400 acres of the 1,000-acre project to farmers unwilling to part with their land. We wanted them to run the factory on 600 acres. They did not agree.”
Deb, his rival, recalls the fight he gave Mamata in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls. She had to bring in her entire machinery to save Kolkata South, he said. “I reduced her victory margin from 2.15 lakh in the previous poll to just 98,000 in 2004. But more importantly, she was pinned down in her own seat while the Left went on to grab a large number of seats elsewhere,” Deb said.
“I have visited all 275 booths in Singur, gone door to door to remind farmers how they were cheated here,” he said. “Their land was not returned as promised. In one of her meetings, the chief minister said that it might take even 50 years for the land to be returned as the matter is in court now. So, where will the farmers go now?”
Certain factors can work against both candidates. The Congress-CPM understanding did not work here and, as a result, Deb faces an additional challenge from senior Congress leader Dwijapada Bhattacharya who is contesting as an independent. Bhattacharya, on the other hand, faces infighting; powerful local leader Becharam Manna is said to be unhappy with the renomination of “Master moshai”.
What might help the Trinamool is the Rs 2-a-kg rice scheme for distressed farmers and Rs 2,000 cash to families who lost their land and did not accept compensation. We are poor, I will not lie,” said Padma Patra of Beraberi village. “My family gets 16 kg rice every month at Rs 2 a kg, which is a great relief. How can we not vote for the Trinamool?”
Of Singur’s 16 gram panchayat bodies, 13 are under the control of the Trinamool and the remaining three with the CPM.