"Will a man become a girl? What ‘paribartan’ (change) are they talking about?” In 2007, Golok Manna, 35, was one of the 700-odd locals in Singur who received an appointment letter for a job as a security guard of the yet-to-be set up Tata Nano automobile factory. The monthly salary of Rs 2,100 was more secure and significantly better paying than the Rs 1,800-a-month contract job as a junior securityman at a local company.
Today, he sits in his cycle-rickshaw-tethered tea shack right outside the walled gates of the aborted Nano factory grounds. “I will vote.” You don’t have to be a political pundit to know which party Manna, now earning an unsteady livelihood that averages Rs 1,300 a month, will not be voting for.
Singur is to Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee what Naxalbari was to a different generation of Communists: a launchpad for reaching the heart of the political mainstage. Two days before Singur and the rest of Hooghly district go to polls, there are people like Manna who see Mamata’s successful anti-Tata agitation of 2007 as a rude, politically motivated disruption of a dream.
But what may sound strange is that even many of those who had supported the anti-Tata agitation, now see it as a big mistake. “Of the 13,000-odd people who got cheques for the land they sold to the government, 11,000 have encashed the money. That doesn’t quite sound like resistance to selling, does it? It would have been a Nandigram here if people really didn’t want to sell their land for the Tata plant,” says Bikash Pakira, 33, of Singur’s Joymolla village.
In a ramshackle ‘clubhouse’ where men play carom to while away their time when there’s no contract work at hand, Pakira points out that there were quite a number of local boys hired by the Tata Nano plant who were sent for training to Pune who came back and joined the anti-Tata agitation. “Now they have neither land nor factory,” he says, adding after a pause, “Greed.”
Madhusudhan Satra, 50, was earning R 300-500 per day hauling sacks of sand when the Tata plant was being set up. Resident of Mohish Tikari village in the adjoining Haripal assembly seat, he now works part-time at the Himadri Chemicals plant as a security guard earning a fraction of his previous salary.
But the biggest irony is that the agricultural land in Singur that was ‘protected’ against the industrialisation plan never was the great economic security that it was made out to be.
Pradyut Purhel, 35, is a farmer in Singur with his own plot of land. “I heard those ‘experts’ say on TV that in Singur people do six-crop farming. Then heard Becharam Manna (Leader of the anti- Nano protest and now Trinamool candidate for the Haripal seat) say farmers in Singur earn a Rs 80,000 profit from one bigha. It’s nonsense. Most farming here is mono-crop, or at best, three-crop.”
For many in Singur, the Trinamool is not bothered about development. “Their job is done,” says Pakira, who singles out his fellowmen in Singur who drove industry and jobs out: “They went to catch a horse and got a goat instead.”