Debating India


Shown up by Singur

Monday 4 December 2006

The Tatas’ auto manufacturing project in Singur, Bengal, should start on schedule. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s administration, in what should become an exemplary effort, has completed land acquisition by compensating landholders handsomely and determinedly keeping saboteurs away. Economically, Singur can become Bengal’s tipping point.

Politically, however, it presages something disconcerting: the vanishing possibility of Bengal getting an effective opposition anytime soon. A three-decade-long dominance by one party, even if that party has found someone sensible like Bhattacharjee, is by definition politically unhealthy. Mamata Banerjee was supposed to provide that opposition, with the Congress lacking a charismatic state leader and the BJP’s initial hopes having proved illusory. But the Trinamul chief’s response to Singur has raised serious doubts whether she can ever recover the momentum.

It is the kind of politics she seems to prefer and not her extended electoral lean patch that makes Mamata Banerjee a gift to the CPM. Electoral comebacks are hardly a rarity in India. But voters mostly distrust a politician who seems determined not to have even a rough governance blueprint. States where aggressive identity politics is important do make exceptions for rough-and-tumble politicians. But even they get into trouble eventually, as Mulayam Singh Yadav is widely expected to be in, come the UP elections. Mamata, it must be said, sometimes makes Mulayam look like an administrative visionary. Her opposition to Singur has been utterly innocent of both local facts as well as the broad point of what the project means for Bengal. If she opposes land acquisition for industry, what does she propose? Or if her grouse is about the specifics of the compensation plan, what is her alternative? Has she done anything other than trying to block, obstruct and call bandhs? Since she hasn’t, why should voters weary of the CPM, for whatever reason, put their money on her? Singur has probably made irreversible the process of branding her as the eternal disrupter.

That means in the near future were the CPM in the state to be led by somebody less amenable to economic reason than Bhattacharjee - stranger things have happened in communist parties - Bengal may not have a leader of stature and sense to oppose effectively and propose constructive alternatives. The CPM as a whole is not a reformed party. That’s one of the many things Mamata Banerjee never grasped.

See online : The Indian Express

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