If the ongoing episode in West Bengal is any reckoner, the ‘industrialisation of India’ debate has entered the wrong furrow. The very fact that it has become an issue of ‘industrialisation versus agriculture’, rather than ‘industrialisation and agriculture’, has triggered much hand-wringing. The Prime Minister has already talked about reviewing rehabilitation and compensation packages, so that setting up Special Economic Zones (SEZs) or any other industrial projects are not mistaken — or be forced to resemble — as ‘land grabs’.
The Singur episode has shown how people on both sides of the fence — those in favour of the acquisition of farmland for the setting up of the Tata Motors project as well as those crying ‘government conspiracy’ — have got it wrong so far. The state government, on its part, seems to have misunderstood its social contract with the farmers and has bungled by hoping that land would be acquired without a murmur. As a result, corners were cut, outdated records were used, and a perfect possibility of bringing in the agricultural labour force as a partner to industrialisation was momentarily lost. Once again, starting construction on the Singur land without the real issue being resolved seems to be an attempt to close one’s eyes and drive through the problem anyway. The opposition groups, on their part, have piggybacked the genuine concern of farmers and have been banging their own drum. While political parties like the Trinamool Congress insist that they are not anti-industrialisation, and that they have an issue with arable, multi-crop farmland being cordoned off and used for factories, other entities are picking up the grouse and turning it into something different, something more fundamental and volatile: saying no to industrialisation per se.
There have been states in which industrialisation and land acquisition have not witnessed the clash of ideologies — political egos, if you will — as it has in West Bengal. But to ensure that industry and agriculture move symbiotically, governments should be more sensitive towards farmers’ concerns and less willing to take the proverbial masses for granted. The State should convince Indians, farmers included, that industry is not only necessary for India, but also for Indians.