Why Singur And Nandigram That Catapulted Mamata Banerjee To Power Can Prove To Be Her Undoing In 2021

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Nov 3, 2020 01:22 PM +05:30 IST
Why Singur And Nandigram That Catapulted Mamata Banerjee To Power Can Prove To Be Her Undoing In 2021West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
  • Mamata Banerjee’s mercurial and industry-unfriendly image, her betrayal of farmers who thought she would work magic after the anti-Tata agitation, lack of employment opportunities in Bengal, and her alienation of the powerful Adhikari satraps are slow but sure steps towards her political decimation.

    Here’s a detailed look at her missteps, one by one.

The fierce agitation that Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee launched against the then Left Front government’s forcible acquisition of land at Singur and Nandigram had propelled her to power in Bengal in 2011.

But both these pockets in south Bengal, where the Trinamool withstood the saffron wave in last year’s Lok Sabha polls, can prove to be her undoing. Albeit for different reasons.

While Singur stands out as a prime example of her lack of governance skills and a vision for the future, Nandigram is a textbook case of Mamata Banerjee’s political mismanagement and a pushback to the prevailing culture of sycophancy in her party.

Banerjee had promised the moon to the 9,117 families whose lands, mostly farmlands, spread over 997 acres were acquired by the Left Front government for a Tata Motors manufacturing unit at Singur.

When the auto major abandoned the project in September 2008, Mamata Banerjee announced that all lands would be returned to the landowners. After coming to power, her government symbolically bulldozed the abandoned buildings and other facilities at the site.

The Bengal government’s misplaced efforts to recultivate the land where buildings for the Tata Motors plant had been erected have failed for obvious reasons and the factory site is now a small jungle overgrown with shrubs, bushes and trees.

Most of the farmers now survive on the small monthly doles that the state government hands out to them.

“We survive on odd jobs as labourers and many young men and women have migrated to other states in search of jobs,” Tapan Koley, who had wholeheartedly supported Mamata Banerjee even in the last Assembly elections in 2016, told Swarajya.

Koley, whose 2.4 acres of land is uncultivable, now regrets having supported Banerjee.

“That was a disastrous mistake we all made. We believed her promise of making our lands cultivable again. We believed her promise of improving our plight and providing job opportunities for our children,” Koley, whose two sons work as masons in Haryana, bitterly complained.

Cattle roam in front of a factory shed at the Tata Motors factory complex at Singur. (DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY/AFP/Getty Images)
Cattle roam in front of a factory shed at the Tata Motors factory complex at Singur. (DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY/AFP/Getty Images)

The 9,117 landowners of Singur got back their land, but most of it is of no use now. No new industries have come up in Singur, and thus there are no jobs.

“Agriculture is no longer productive for most farmers in Bengal due to the small size of their farmlands. It (agriculture) yields subsistence earnings and, hence, jobs in the service and manufacturing sectors are the only way out,” said economist Rudra Sanyal.

Koley and other landowners in Singur now regret not accepting the enhanced compensation for their farmlands that was offered by the Tatas after they agitated against the forcible acquisition.

The Tatas had also promised jobs for the children of land-losers and had even trained many of them in various vocations.

Also, a number of ancillary units would have come up in Singur, which would also then have attracted other auto companies and would have become a manufacturing hub providing employment to tens of thousands of locals.

Quite like Sanand in Gujarat, where the Tata Motors plant was relocated.

But Mamata Banerjee prevented the land-losers of Singur from accepting the enhanced compensation and forced the Tatas to leave.

That has cost Bengal very dearly and investors have, since then, given the stage a wide berth.

A notice pasted by the Tatas after the company was thrown out of Singur. DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/GettyImages)
A notice pasted by the Tatas after the company was thrown out of Singur. DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/GettyImages)

“A number of other auto manufacturers would have come to Singur after Tata Motors and Singur could have emerged as the industrial powerhouse in Bengal. It could have engineered a turnaround in the state’s finances. But that was not to be,” said Sanyal.

Koley and many others like him in Singur now realise that believing Banerjee was a grave mistake.

“She misled us and while she became the chief minister, we became paupers,” said Supriyo Mullick, a sharecropper who now works as a daily wage earner.

Singur, which is a part of the Hooghly Lok Sabha constituency, voted overwhelmingly for the BJP’s Locket Chatterjee in 2019.

The sorry tales from Singur, and Banerjee’s betrayal of the people of Singur, are now spreading swiftly to other parts of south Bengal.

With agriculture yielding diminishing returns and the Trinamool government’s failure to help farmers get better prices for their produce, Singur’s anger is finding resonance in other parts of Bengal.

Lack of gainful employment opportunities in the state due to Mamata Banerjee’s failure to attract major investments in the manufacturing sector, has only accentuated this anger.

Singur, which cradled Mamata Banerjee’s rise to power in Bengal, is a wasteland today of lost opportunities, broken promises and shattered dreams.

And the spreading of Singur’s sad story across Bengal heralds trouble for Mamata Banerjee.

Nandigram, which also drove the Trinamool to power, reflects Singur’s story, and more.

Though no structures came up on the farmlands that were sought to be acquired for setting up a chemical hub at Nandigram, Banerjee’s promise of generating jobs and enhancing farm incomes through improvement in logistics and supply chains has remained unfulfilled.

Along with all that, Banerjee is also having to contend with what looks like an imminent desertion of transport minister Subhendu Adhikari from her party.

Subhendu Adhikari.
Subhendu Adhikari.

Adhikari, who belongs to a politically powerful family of Midnapore — his father Sisir and brother Dibyendu are both Lok Sabha MPs — has been smarting from his marginalisation by Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek within the party’s power structures.

“The story of Subhendu Adhikari and his deep grouse is also the story of the culture of sycophancy in Trinamool, its Mamata-centric politics and the nepotism that she promotes,” said a former Trinamool leader who has joined the BJP.

The Adhikari family extended vital support to Mamata Banerjee in her Nandigram agitation and it was because of them that she could achieve success there.

Subhendu Adhikari, elected to the Lok Sabha from Tamluk constituency in East Midnapore in 2009 and 2014, was drafted into the state council of ministers in 2016 and given charge of the transport portfolio.

His brother won Tamluk in the 2016 bypolls and the 2019 general elections.

Subhendu was also entrusted with major responsibilities in other districts, including North Bengal.

He ensured the victories of the party’s candidates from the districts he was put in charge of in the 2016 Assembly polls.

But his growing clout and popularity within the Trianmool, especially among the youth, made Mamata Banerjee suspicious.

She felt that Subhendu could soon eclipse her anointed heir and nephew Abhishek Banerjee.

She also feared that the Adhikaris, who had become powerful satraps in the (East & West) Midnapore-Bankura-Purulia-Jhargram belt of south Bengal, would eventually challenge her authority and could pose a political challenge to her.

Due to her fears arising out of her deep sense of insecurity, Mamata Banerjee started encouraging her loyalists (read: sycophants) to challenge the Adhikaris on their turf.

She started encouraging dissidence against the Adhikaris and whisper campaigns against them.

At the same time, she started sidelining Subhendu within the ministry and took away a lot of his organisational responsibilities.

She also started encouraging her sycophants to swear allegiance to Abhishek and project him as a leader taller than Subhendu even in the Adhikaris’ turf.

Subhendu started distancing himself from the Trinamool a few months ago and has not attended office (as a minister) since then.

He also absented himself from party programmes.

Recently, Subhendu (he will be 51 next month) started dropping broad hints about launching his own party.

His followers — and they are a legion in the Midnapore-Jhargram-Purulia-Bankura belt — have started calling themselves Dadar Anugami (followers of ‘dada’, meaning Subhendu).

That has brought them into direct conflict with Mamata loyalists who call themselves Didir Anugami (followers of ‘Didi’).

Till now, the faceoffs between the two camps have been quite sedate with Banerjee’s sycophants confining themselves to tearing off posters featuring Subhendu.

But the conflicts between the two camps could get ugly soon.

If Mamata Banerjee fails to placate Subhendu and he breaks away from the Trinamool, it will deal a body blow to Banerjee and her hopes of retaining power in Bengal.

The Adhikaris, especially Subhendu, are too powerful in the two Midnapore districts and large parts of the neighbouring three districts of Purulia, Bankura and Jhargram.

They command the loyalty of lakhs of people and Mamata Banejee’s minions in that part of Bengal count for nothing.

Singur and Nandigram could, thus, become the reasons for Mamata Banerjee’s political downfall.

All thanks to her short-sighted policies and politics.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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