She may be the latest hate figure to catch the imagination of much of the media and the chattering classes across the country, but Mamata Banerjee could not care less.
She knows that her stubborn stand — her insistence that the Tatas return 400 of the 997 acres acquired for the Nano factory in Singur from farmers who never wanted to part with their land — is bringing her a rural constituency she never had before. That too without particularly affecting her earlier middle class base, at least in West Bengal.
How can that be? How can Mamata retain her middle class supporters by standing in the way of development? Simply by the way she has put forth her arguments.
To Kolkata residents, she points out development is taking place all around them too: wider roads, flyovers and malls. How would you like it, she asks them, if you were kicked out of your ancestral home simply because the land on which it stands is needed for a factory, or lies in the path of a new road or railway track? And more so if the compensation paid to you is a fraction of the market price?
She is just as eloquently dismissive of the Tatas much articulated need to have all the Nano ancillary industries next door, so as to cut transportation costs and thereby provide the Rs 1 lakh they have promised. “You buy a plot and build a house on it, that’s okay,” she thunders. “But what right have you to say that your kirana shop has to be so close you can stretch your hand out of the window and get what you want? Why can’t you walk a short distance?”
And her tactics have worked in the past. Her Nandigram battle, forcing the government to abandon its plans of setting up a chemical hub there, did bring Trinamool Congress unexpected success in the area during the May panchayat elections.