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How to press the auto-destruct button

india Updated: Sep 03, 2008 21:33 IST
Hindustan Times
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee

It’s turning out to be business as usual in West Bengal. Which means no business at all. As soon as Tata Motors officially announced it was suspending construction and commissioning of the Nano plant in Singur, reactions flew fast and furious. The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government blanched, with India Inc. shaking its collective head. Meanwhile, those agitating against the land acquisition deal between farmers and the government — making a theological point of difference that it wasn’t the Tatas they are against — shuffled their feet uncomfortably. Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, playing self-styled Spartacus, now insists that her people haven’t stopped work at the Tata project but that the decision to suspend work at Singur was made by the Tatas. Which is akin to saying that it’s the Tatas who are to blame for succumbing to threats.

So what happens now? At Mr Tata’s own reckoning, he is willing to cut his losses to the tune of Rs 1,500 crore if the ‘people of West Bengal’ don’t find it fit to welcome the Nano project. The Nano will roll out of some other plant in India. The real loser will be West Bengal, a state that was looking to make a screeching u-turn in its abysmal image as an investment and industry-unfriendly place. The Nano project has yet to be pulled out of Singur. But comments made by Trinamool leaders about Mr Tata playing hard to get will not help matters. All concerned parties will now have to send out a strong signal that Nano employees and contractors at Singur will not be threatened. Anything short of this won’t make sense for a company that has employee safety on top of its mind.

The suggestion made by West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi of setting up an independent panel that would look into the contested matter of land acquisition may have been late, but there’s still time. Ms Banerjee has agreed to participate in the talks with the government that she had earlier rebuffed. The Rs 1 lakh ‘people’s car’ will roll out even if it’s not from Singur. But if the Singur plant is shut down, it’s a telling statement on how agit-prop politics can continue to hold the country back.