Kolkata: West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the rise of Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee as a threat to the 34-year, uninterrupted rule of the Left Front was “partly” because Tata group chairman Ratan Tata abandoned the Nano project at Singur too soon.
From being routed in the assembly election five years ago, Banerjee, Union rail minister and the state’s main opposition leader, is now widely seen as the chief minister in waiting.
“When Tata finally left that area (Singur), it went against us,” Bhattacharjee said in an interview with the CNN-IBN news channel. “Had they completed the project and started production, things would have taken a different shape.”
He was referring to Tata Motors Ltd’s decision in October 2008 to abort its small car project at Singur, 35km from Kolkata, in the wake of violent protests against it spearheaded by the Trinamool Congress.
“I tried to persuade Tata to wait (for) another one or two months…but he left that area (ignoring promises to sort things out),” he said. “It was a serious mistake.”
Other factors that have led to the current anti-incumbency wave “were not so serious”, Bhattacharjee added.
The Tata Motors spokesperson was unavailable for comment, its public relations company said.
Incidentally, the small car factory had come to West Bengal following Bhattacharjee’s landslide victory in the 2006 assembly election. The first thing he did after taking the oath as chief minister was sign an agreement with Tata for the project.
The chief minister, however, admitted that there had been mistakes in the state’s policies on industrialization, and that they had created consternation even among staunch Left supporters. “But we have rectified our mistakes,” he said.
Left-leaning economist and former finance minister of the state, Ashok Mitra, said at a public meeting on Sunday that the state government’s approach to industrialization was one of the key reasons for its alienation from the people.
Many in the Left Front had acted like “landlords”, Mitra said, adding that decisions on land acquisition shouldn’t have been taken unilaterally by bureaucrats.
“It is meaningless to blame Tata for what happened,” said Abhirup Sarkar, professor of economics at Kolkata’s Indian Statistical Institute. “The company had invested money and wouldn’t have abandoned the project unless it was forced to do so.”
The state government had completely ignored the “sentiments of the local people” when it decided to allot land for the small car project at Singur. “The political agitation that it sparked off was certainly very important.”
The anti-incumbency wave began manifesting itself from the 2008 panchayat, or village council, elections in the state. When Tata Motors pulled the plug on the Singur project later that year, Left leaders said Banerjee was demonizing industry and that her opposition to land acquisition would cost the state tens of thousands of jobs.
Though a section of Left leaders said Singur would, in the long run, benefit the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and its allies, it worked the other way. The anti-incumbency wave gained strength after the Singur project was called off and the Left parties received a drubbing in the elections in 2009 and 2010.
First phase of polls sees 74% turnout
The first phase of assembly elections, held in five districts of West Bengal on Monday, ended “peacefully” with a 74% voter turnout. At least 7.23 million people voted for 54 assembly seats, according to the state’s chief electoral officer Sunil Gupta. The ruling Left Front had in 2006 won 39 of the 54 seats for which polling was held on Monday. The next phase of election in the state is to be held on Saturday.