In the summer of 2001, after Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee took over as the elected chief minister of Bengal for the first time, he told this correspondent that he was ready to go to “hell” to get industries in Bengal. Six years later, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is making sure Bhattacharjee finds himself in hell on the Singur issue.
In 2001, the new CM did not like it when he was compared to Chandrababu Naidu for vowing to bring information technology to Bengal. Instead, he criticised Naidu for focusing on IT while farmers in Telangana killed themselves. Six years later, Bhattacharjee faces a similar charge — of displacing farmers from Singur to set up a Tata Motors plant there.
But Buddha is not one to look back. “Things are changing fast. We have to use our agricultural supremacy to bring in an industrial revolution in Bengal,” he said.
Over the last seven years, Bhattacharjee's priorities have changed. In his first term, he wanted IT, floriculture, pisciculture, horticulture, biotechnology, and food processing to be the thrust areas. He had told HT then: “Our supremacy in agriculture has created the base for the Left Front government to embark on an agro-based industry. We will also get the software giants here to make this metro the IT capital.”
But by the time his first term ended, the CM had got over his fetish for IT majors. Because by this time, State Industries and Commerce Minister Nirupam Sen was telling him that Bengal had the potential to encourage investment in iron and steel, chemicals, petro-chemicals and heavy industries. Also, by this time, his government’s management consultants were convincing him that Bengal was ready for an industrial take-off.
So by the time Bhattacharjee won his second term in 2006, he not only wanted software but was hooked to hardware and heavy industries. “Industries have to come up and for that we have to change our politics and mindset,” he had said.
That he meant business became clear when he announced that Tata Motors was to set up a plant in Bengal. Soon after the Tatas came the Indonesia-based Salim Group with a bouquet of projects ranging from real estate to industries. Just when Bhattacharjee was desperately looking for ways to break Mamata's hunger strike, the Jindals came promising massive steel and power projects in Bengal. All this while, Bhattacharjee's business team had been talking with the Germans, Japanese and the American businesss houses.
Even if Bhattacharjee has his way with Singur, he knows that he has to be very careful in acquiring the projected 50,000 acres other industrialists have demanded to set up shop here in the next three years. Mamata has vowed to turn Bhattacharjee's other industrial destinations — Nandigram, Raichak, Bhangar, Haldia, Haripur, Barasat, Howrah and other places — into a veritable hell for the CM. And Bhattacharjee surely won’t like the idea of living in hell to get industries.