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Nothing small about nano

If the Tatas carry out their threat to withdraw from Singur, it might cause political and social upheavals that are way beyond the wherewithal of a car factory, writes Pratik Kanjilal.

columns Updated: Oct 09, 2009, 14:33 IST
Pratik Kanjilal
Pratik Kanjilal

OK tata byebye (exclamation)

Truckers’ graffiti standing in for bumper sticker.

What used to be a child’s lisping farewell is now deadly serious business. This week, Tata’s threat to withdraw the Nano from West Bengal made as many headlines as Bihar’s sorrow and the violence in Orissa. It overshadowed the arrival of Mayawati in the Forbes list of powerful women, an event that, in less turbulent times, would have been seen as a sign of the end of civilisation as we know it. Is nothing sacred, people would have asked? Now, they just want to know what's going on in Singur. What does this incident in bucolic Bengal mean to us?

Right now, Singur looks like one long goodbye. Goodbye to the Tatas who are unlikely to invest any more in West Bengal, even if the Nano project survives. Therefore, goodbye to tens of thousands of crores in investment by industrialists who are waiting to see which way the Tatas will jump. Therefore, goodbye to the Left, which has run the longest-lived government in India and reduced the state to a hunter-gatherer economy. And therefore, goodbye to the nuisance value of Prakash Karat, their man in Delhi.

Also, a sad goodbye to India’s leading performing artiste, Mamata Banerjee. In Singur, we are seeing her without a bandage, a saline drip or a war wound of some sort. It is as unnerving as seeing a former screen goddess as a fat lady. What she is saying is equally unnerving. She is as illogically adamant as always, but there is no talk of scientific rigging or scientific rape, no melodramatic show-and-tell of bullets extracted from the breasts of her ‘boys’. No, Mamata is talking serious resettlement policy that is more convincing than the government’s. She is not her usual self. She has an eye on the chief minister’s chair, or even the prime minister’s. And maybe a mention in Forbes. Power corrupts, the lust for power corrupts absolutely. Nothing is sacred.

Well, ta-ta to all that. But the question remains: what does Singur really mean? Is it some kind of post-socialist reality version of Do Bigha Zameen? Is it a parable of progress, with the honest peasant rising against the baggy-jowled industrialist? Whatever, its cultural impact is being felt already. It's inspired reams of stirring Bengali poetry, from mainstream to samizdat. It's rumoured that Joy Goswami, one of the most powerful poets over there, lost his job with Ananda Bazaar for writing too vehemently about Singur and Nandigram. What next? The art movie, one expects.

But hang on, the Tatas now say that though the Nano will debut from Pantnagar, they're not abandoning Singur altogether. They’re signing off with Tigger's favourite parting shot, “TTFN!” Ta-ta for now.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine

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