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Mamata’s slogan may crash-land

india Updated: Sep 14, 2009 23:38 IST
Avijit Ghosal
Avijit Ghosal
Hindustan Times
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She found a slogan to express her solidarity with farmers in a 37-year-old folk opera, Ma, Mati, Manush (Mother, Earth, Man). Because she needed to connect with her audience in Singur.

* He wants the farmer to defy the bond of the land and embrace the machine. Because land doesn’t expand, while the number of mouths to feed keeps rising.

The debate between Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, 56, and West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, 65, is still unresolved. But Banerjee will soon find the very opera that she had chosen to send out her message has come back in a new avatar.

The original play was written by Bhairav Gangopadhyay in the early seventies and had an unbroken run from 1974 to 1977 in rural Bengal.

It tried to sensitise people to the designs of landlords and demanded security for the farmer.

The lie of the land

* The total landmass of West Bengal is 88,752 sq km. Of this, only 1 per cent is fallow land, ready for industrialisation against 17 per cent nationally.

* West Bengal accounts for 3 per cent of India's landmass, but houses 9 per cent of the country's population and accounts for 8 per cent of total food output.

* The population per sq km in West Bengal is 904 against 238 in Gujarat, 275 in Karnataka, 314 in Maharashtra and 277 in Andhra Pradesh.

* Small and marginal farmers hold more than 68 per cent of the total landmass of West Bengal.

This time, the opera has been rewritten by original playwright Bhairav Gangopadhyay’s son 48-year-old Meghdoot, who said, “I believe our future lies in industry, while improving the productivity of the land.”

So, will Banerjee’s catch-penny phrase — later converted into a war-cry — lose its shine?

In Singur in Hoogly district, about 34 km northwest of Kolkata, Banerjee’s slogan hit the bull’s eye in 2007. Because the popular perception was that the state was forcibly taking away land to accommodate the Tatas’ small car factory.

The Tatas had to finally leave Singur last October even after building the factory shade, resulting in a loss, according to Tata group chief Ratan Tata, of Rs 1,500 crore (Rs 15 billion).

Later, in Nandigram in East Midnapore district, about 70 km southwest of Kolkata, the same sentiment spoiled the party for the state. This time, the issue was land acquisition for setting up a special economic zone for the industrial conglomerate Salim Group of Indonesia.

But folk history is taking a fresh turn, with Bhairav Opera going back to the rural hinterland with the same drama but a new message. And, to Banerjee’s chagrin, the first show is on September 26 during Durga Puja in Nandigram, which till recently had been the main battlefield between ruling the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress.

Meghdoot said, “Though the perception is that our message would be identical to that of Mamata Banerjee’s, we haven’t followed any party line.” He, however, started rewriting the script a few days after the Tatas left Singur last October.

In 2007 at the peak of the battle for land at Singur and Nandigram, Bhattacharjee told the annual general meeting of the Bengal National Chamber in 2007: “Only 23 per cent of land in the state is left for urbanisation and industry, but we can’t stop.”

Of the total landmass of West Bengal — 88,752 sq km — 62 per cent is devoted to agriculture and 13 per cent kept for forests. While Bengal has only one per cent fallow land, the national figure is 17 per cent.

Bhattacharjee said, “Agriculture alone won’t suffice.” The reason: Bengal has three per cent of the country’s total land mass, but houses 9 per cent of the country's population.

The West Bengal government, especially Industry Minister Nirupam Sen and the chief minister, have been arguing that the population per sq km in Bengal is 904 against industrially advanced states like Gujarat (238), Karnataka (275),
Maharashtra (314), Andhra Pradesh (277).

Therefore, it is impossible to obtain land for industry without disturbing agriculture and human settlements.

They said as Bengal accounted for 8 per cent of India’s total food output with only 3 per cent of the country’s total landmass, there was not much scope for increasing food production. So, it’s industry that can come to the rescue of the state.

The 210-minute opera represents this tussle between “traditionalists” and “modernists”. It’s the story of two brothers
from a Bengal village. The elder brother, 40-year-old Shivthakur, wants to cling to farming and wants to tie his brother down to the family land.

But the 25-year-old younger brother, Indranath, unemployed for two years after post-graduation, is a vociferous supporter of industrialisation.

Forty-six-year-old Kumar Nawab, who is supposed to play the role of Indranath, had worked for 12 years as a computer-aided design professional in the steel industry in Germany and India. He said, “I feel the need for industry.”