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Revisiting revolution Inc

With the factory gone and no land returned yet, which way will the votes turn in the cradle of the anti-acquisition stir? Snigdhendu Bhattacharya reports.

india Updated: May 01, 2011 14:51 IST
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya

Five years ago, a cluster of unknown villages in Hooghly hit the headlines when farmers led an agitation against "forcible" aquisition of land for a Tata small car plant. Singur became Trinamool Congress's launch pad. With days to go before the Hooghly hamlet goes to vote, the climate has never been more politically charged. The people are extremely polarised and vocal about their political preferences - either wishing for Mamata Banerjee's victory in the assembly polls or cursing her for robbing them of opportunities.

Mother and child
Meet Krishna Bag, a homemaker in her mid-thirties. "I will never forget the monsoon of 2006. I did not eat anything for the two days and nights that I spent in jail," Krishna Bag said, helping daughter Payel (7) complete her homework at their Beraberi Purbapara house.

Payel was just two years old when her mother was jailed. She does not remember anything. But she knows the history. There is a framed photograph at the entrance of their two-room house. Payel is on her mother's lap, both garlanded. The photograph was taken soon after their release from Chandernagore jail on September 28, 2006, three days after police lathi-charged at them for taking part in the Trinamool Congress chief's gherao of the Hooghly district magistrate and SP at the Singur BDO office.

Along with other women of the village, who had flocked in hundreds to join the dharna demanding withdrawal of the land acquisition notification and scrapping of the Nano project, Krishna, too, was picked up after the police dragged Banerjee out of the dharna and forced her inside a car.

Since the police could not decide what to do with the child and Payel was reluctant to part with her mother, she too was put behind bars. "I still remember the frown on the face of a policeman when I asked for milk for my daughter. He told me I should have thought of my daughter before taking part in the agitation," Krishna Bag said.

Within a day, the child became an icon in Singur. In the times to come, she became a regular on stage at Banerjee's rallies.

Two months later, Krishna's husband, Arun, had to spend two days in hospital with multiple injuries. The reason: Police lathicharge and firing of rubber bullets and teargas shells at a crowd to take possession of the 997.9 acres on December 2.

Three months later, Arun's father, Haradhan, committed suicide at the age of 72, because of depression. The government had forcibly acquired his one-acre plot. "For three days before he finally consumed poison, he kept looking at his land which had been fenced," said Joydeb, Arun's elder brother, who earns by farming on the remaining 18 cottahs and sharecropping on others' land.

"There is no question of accepting the land compensation deal. Didi has promised us to return the land. We are waiting for it," Krishna said. "Since September 25, 2006, I have never missed a single Trinamool rally in Singur. I have travelled several kilometres to attend Didi's meetings. We'll cast our votes to avenge what happened."

Molina Malik of Bajemelia may not have been to jail or faced the police baton, but she has lived through a nightmare too. Her daughter, Tapasi, then 17, was found half burnt in a trench near the Nano factory compound on December 18, 2006.

Like other young boys and girls, Tapasi Malik had joined her parents in the save-farmland movement. She had even led a one-day hunger strike, protesting against land grab. "I want punishment for the killers of my daughter. I think Mamata will institute an inquiry when she comes to power," Molina said. "Now, all what we want is to see her in power."

The other anguish
While hundreds of CPI(M) supporters switched loyalties to Trinamool in the acquisition-affected villages of Singur, Dwarik Ghosh, 52, a fast food shopowner at Beraberi Bazaar, has a different story. He felt like chopping off his index finger when Ratan Tata announced the withdrawal of the Nano plant from Singur.

A diehard supporter of Mamata Banerjee since the 90s, Ghosh had cast his vote in favour of the Trinamool in the 2008 panchayat polls even though he had willingly given away his three-acre plot for the small car project. "I voted on the basis of political preference. I've always been a fan of Mamata and never thought of voting against her even though she was leading a movement that was against my interest."

Neighbours such as Swarup Barui and Sanatan Dhara tried to convince him not to vote for Trinamool as that would prove suicidal. He listened to them and invested parts of the compensation money to supply construction material to the Nano site.

But when Banerjee launched her dharna in front of the small car plant, Ghosh's dream of becoming a businessman from being a half-time farmer and half-time shopkeeper was dashed.

Though Ghosh knows that Didi has thousands of supporters in Singur even now and it would be tough for the Left Front to put up a challenge, his resolve is steely. "I'll vote against Mamata, come heaven or hell. Others may live in illusion if they choose to."

Krishnendu and Nabendu Chakraborty of Gopal Nagar Madhyapara are both supporters of the SFI (Students' Federation of India), the students' wing of the CPI(M). With their parents in service and uncle in business, the seven acres did not mean much to them. When the Nano project was announced, they willingly consented to acquisition.

"Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was right in gauging our sentiments. Our ancestors may have been peasants, but we don't want to follow them. Our contribution of land for the project had increased our chances of getting a job with the Tatas. But Mamata Banerjee spoiled everything," said Krishnendu, who after completing graduation is now studying MBA at a private institute.

The other split
With delimitation, one of the three acquisition-hit panchayats in Singur has been tagged to Haripal, which had traditionally been a Left stronghold. The impact of the addition of the Kamarkunru-Gopalnagar-Doluigachha panchayat, which had swung in Trinamool's favour after aquisition of land, was felt in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. In Haripal, a part of the Arambagh parliamentary seat, the Left trailed behind Trinamool.

It is therefore no surprise to see posters and cutouts of Singur MLA Rabindranath Bhattacharya and Krishi Jami Raksha Committee convener and Singur block Trinamool president Becharam Manna, contesting from Haripal, in both constituencies.

Since May 25, 2006, when Tata officials were gheraoed in front of New Ujwal Sangha Club at Bajemelia marking the beginning of the Singur movement, both leaders have been visiting the acquisition-hit villages and personally know the voters.

The Left admits a tough fight. "The addition of the panchayats to our constituency has made the fight tougher for us, but we are confident of a win," said Dulal Bhowmik, Haripal zonal committee secretary of the CPI(M).

Singur seems wholeheartedly committed to Mamata Banerjee, but is nurturing a wish list that may be too much for the Trinamool chief to fulfil. "Singur gave her everything and she has promised that Singur would be her priority once she comes to power," said Doyamoy Adak, owner of a garments shop at Singur Bazaar.

Joydeb Bera of Kamarkundu, whose sister-in-law lost six acres, wants Banerjee to announce the return of land the very day she takes oath. "That would be the right gesture."