Five years ago, Singur resident Shyamali Das was so upbeat about elections in her area that she named her grandson Poriborton: A catch word signifying change coined by Mamata Banerjee urging people to vote out the 34-year-old Left Front government.
But she doesn’t call him by that name anymore.
“We had lot of dreams once. But our hopes were dashed. I don’t call him by that name anymore. Poriborton has lost its meaning,” Das tells HT, elaborating about the bigha of land her family gave up in 2006 for a Tata Nano factory that never materialised.
Located barely 40 kilometres from Kolkata, Singur is where it all began: The epicentre of massive farmer protests against the state government’s forcible acquisition of land for the Tata factory that gave Banerjee a potent issue to script a historic regime change in 2011.
But almost a decade later, the villagers who refused compensation packages are dissatisfied with Banerjee as the emotive issue of returning their land remains tangled in court.
“Didi visited Singur 38 times between 2006 and 2011. And she did not visit us for once since becoming the chief minister,” says Krishna Bag, a neighbour of Das.
Her father-in-law committed suicide when he realised he couldn’t protect his land and both Krishna and her husband – Arun Bag – went to prison.
They were accompanied in jail by their two-year-old daughter Payel, who went on to become the face of Singur’s protests.
They aren’t the only ones. Hundreds of farmers in the area felt let down by Banerjee who rode to power in 2011 on the back of a promise to return 400 of the 997.11 acres of land used in the Nano factory plot.
“Her (Banerjee’s) recent comment saying she had nothing to do even if the court took 50 years to pass a judgment has come as a rude shock to us,” Bajemelia’s Gopal Dhara says, adding, “During the days of the movement she never told us there could be legal complexities in getting our land back.”
But in spite of the complaints, Singur is ready to vote for Trinamool Congress’ Rabindranath Bhattarcharya. Local residents point to development work done by the state government and say none of the other parties – the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Congress or BJP – stood by their movement.
“It’s true that Trinamool failed on its promise to return land but the administration is helping the families of unwilling land-losers with financial and other aids. There is no other way for these people but to bank on Trinamool,” says Jaladhar Das of Beraberi, who willingly parted with his one-bigha land for the Nano plant.
Every shareholder of land belonging to a farmer who parted with their land unwillingly gets Rs 2,000 and 16 kg of rice at Rs 2 per kg every month.
For people not affected by the land acquisition or Banerjee’s movement against it, the development work Singur witnessed in the past five years is good enough reason to re-elect the Trinamool nominee.
“Roads, water supply and irrigation system have improved. Singur has got a college. People are regularly getting benefits allotted through various central and state government schemes. There is no reason why Bhattacharya should not win again, unless local Trinamool leaders play spoilsport,” Robin Ghosh of Gopalnagar tells HT.
Analysts say the development and welfare schemes is motivated by the administration’s urge to compensate farmers in view of its inability to return their land.
Singur’s roads are metalled and without potholes. The drains even inside the villages are lined with bricks and the street lights all function. Their number has also gone up, compared to a few years ago.
The culverts on canals and drains have all been refurbished. Locals have no complaint about the number of tubewells and deep tubewells.