The development versus displacement debate acquired a whole new significance under Mamata Banerjee, who pounced on a landmark automobile project and turned it into a political milestone.
Between mid-2006 and October 2008, the prosperous village of Singur, about 35 km from Kolkata, came to be known not as the probable home of the world’s cheapest car, the Tata Nano, but as a cradle of farmers’ struggle to keep their land.
In 2006, Banerjee was smarting from an electoral thrashing — the Left won 235 Assembly seats, she only 30 — but she homed in on her target with precision.
Now, top CPI(M) leaders such as Gautam Deb accept that land issues in Singur and Nandigram were the most important reason for the Left Front suffering a humiliating defeat. “The people of West Bengal overwhelmingly stood by Banerjee in her fight for the right of land and farmers. Events like Singur and Nandigram should never be repeated. I accept defeat with bowed head,” Deb said.
A senior state committee leader of CPI (M) conceded, on condition of anonymity, that the Left Front is paying for its hurried industrialisation thrust that did not take into account locals’ pulse.
“Our intentions were good but the model was wrong. In the future, we will have to be careful that any such initiative is backed by greater consensus within the party, the front and the people associated with it,” he said.
The Land Acquisition Act framed by the British in 1894 gives the government a free hand in acquiring land from anybody for a project as long as it is deemed to deliver a public benefit.
Banerjee, however, asserted that the government has no right to take land away from farmers (read anybody) who are not willing to part with it.