Singur: Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee said on Sunday that her party did not want Tata Motors Ltd to pull out of West Bengal, but insisted on the return of 400 acres of land seized from farmers who had not been willing to sell it for the company’s small car factory.
“If you smile, let others also smile,” Banerjee said in Singur, where the Trinamool organized a a peaceful rally to protest the seizure of farmland for the project
The party brought together about 50,000 people for the rally, but, even before Banerjee rose to speak from a makeshift platform, most of her supporters had dispersed.
What the state administration had feared could be the beginning of an indefinite siege of the factory turned out to be just another protest rally, albeit one of the biggest in recent years in eastern India.
Waving flags and shouting slogans, thousands of activists from neighbouring districts started arriving in Singur, an hour’s drive from Kolkata, beginning around midday. By the time Banerjee rose to spoke in the evening, only about 10,000 were left to hear her.
Though she reiterated that her party wouldn’t budge from the demand for the return of farmland, Banerjee said she was hopeful that the West Bengal government would come up with a solution.
Earlier, West Bengal’s ruling Left Front chairman Biman Bose appealed to the Trinamool Congress to engage in talks with the government to resolve the issue.
Concerned that protestors could attack the factory, the administration had deployed more than 2,500 policemen, almost all unarmed.
Water cannons were on standby, but Banerjee urged her supporters not to engage in violence.
“Don’t even look at the walls of the Tata Motors factory,” she told her supporters. “We believe in people’s movement. No agitation can be launched by demolishing walls. If anybody tries to demolish walls, we will not have anything to do with them.”
Trinamool Congress volunteers even formed a human chain near the main gate of the Tata Motors plant to prevent anyone from approaching it.
Banerjee was joined in the rally by Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh and social activist Medha Patkar.
Describing Banerjee as the champion of farmers, Singh said his party would take her fight to Parliament. “Builders are grabbing farmers’ land under the Mayawati regime in Uttar Pradesh. We will launch a pan-Indian movement against farmland acquisition,” he said.
Tata Motors chairman Ratan Tata on Friday threatened to pull out of West Bengal if attacks on the factory and workers did not stop. Tata Motors, he said, had already invested Rs1,500 crore, but that wouldn’t keep the company tied to the state.
Enthusiasm for the Rs1 lakh snub-nosed “people’s car” that Tata Motors is building in Singur has been dampened by months of protests by farmers refusing to give their land for the project, now hobbled by cost overruns. The planned October launch of the car, named Nano, is also threatened.
“We have gathered today to get back our land. Money cannot compensate our loss,” said Kajal Das, wife of a farmer who lost land to the project.
West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said on Saturday that the government was working on an “alternative rehabilitation package” for those who lost land. But in Singur, where the communists were routed in village council polls in May, anger boils over. Protesters occasionally try to stop work at the factory and fight with workers.
The crisis has drawn leading Indian social activists to Singur who say they want to show solidarity with the villagers.
“The Tatas should bow down before people’s power and return the land,” social activist Patkar said.
Reuters and PTI contributed to this story.