The Singur verdict has undoubtedly capped Mamata Banerjee’s week of woes.
The man, whose rise to the presidency, she was hellbent on stopping, seems to be marching towards Raisina Hill. Pranab Mukherjee is scheduled to come to Kolkata this weekend, his last visit as the finance minister. He plans to visit his ancestral home in Birbhum, a sort of early victory lap before the presidential election.
The CPI(M), Mamata’s enemy number 1, has overcome its internal differences and agreed to back Pranab Mukherjee, bowing to the demands of its Bengal chapter, basically admitting writes The Telegraph that “the party’s Bengal brand was its most important asset.” Mamata might be forced to abstain from the voting to prevent allying with a BJP-backed candidate and preventing any of her MPs from crossing over to vote for Pranab Mukherjee.
Now the Kolkata High Court has overturned the crown jewel of Mamata’s chief ministership — her Singur Act to reclaim nearly 1,000 acres at the now-abandoned Tata Motors factory. It’s been ruled unconstitutional and void. It’s a huge slap in the face for the Maa Maati Manush government. Singur was where her campaign to unseat the Left caught fire. This was the first decision passed by her cabinet after her election.
Her lawyers have been quick to shield their Didi from the fallout. “The fault, if any, is ours, not Mamata Banerjee’s,” said Ashok Kumar Bandyapadhyay, the government’s counsel after losing the case. “The government makes laws for the people’s well-being. Mamata Banerjee made the law to help the oppressed people. If there was any fault, I am accepting that with bowed head.”
The villagers in Singur, glued to the television all day, were defiant. “I am not worried, Didi is with us,” one farmer told ABP Ananda. “We believe the Supreme Court will rule in our favour,” said another. “We cannot forget the sacrifices Didi has done for us.”
That was the only consolation for Trinamool leaders trying to put a brave face on their defeat.
Partha Chatterjee, the Trinamool industries minister, reminded reporters that Mamata had put her body on the line for the farmers of Singur.
“We are committed to the farmers who were unwilling to give up their land,” he told the media. “That was why Mamata went on a 26-day fast. We are bound by our promise to the farmers. And we want to reassure them we were beside them then, we are beside them now and will be beside them in the future.”
Actually Mamata often fights the best when her back is to the wall. Her critics don’t see the Singur setback as knocking her off her game. But it casts huge question marks over her style of governance.
Why was something as fundamental as getting the president’s signature on a bill about land acquisition not done? “This is about haste, ego and obstinacy,” said state opposition leader Surya Kanta Mishra. “She is always in a rush to show she is afraid of no one because she has a majority in the house.”
“The chief minister is not scared,” retorted Partha Chatterjee denying the government was on the backfoot. “ When the hills were on fire, Buddhadeb (Bhattacharjee) did not go to the hills. Mamata Banerjee did.”
But even some of her supporters are critical. While defending her good intentions, they are perplexed why the chief minister behaves as if she has come to power for five months not five years. Her breathless rush to “solve” every vexing issue in the state from Gorkhaland to Jangal Mahal to Singur in her first year has already left many of her supporters wondering if producing a Mission Accomplished checklist is more important than creating lasting solutions that will hold up in court.
Mamata has refused to comment on the verdict. She has just said the law would take its course. In a brief statement posted on her Facebook page she said "Throughout my life, I have struggled for the cause of the farmers, working class, poor and under-privileged. Our commitment to be with them will remain, whether I am in power or not. I will continue to fight for this cause. Finally, the people’s choice in democracy will prevail."
She, and her Trinamool colleagues are trying to keep the focus on the farmers in Singur, waiting for some resolution for over five years, rather than on themselves.
But while national Congress leaders are being gracious to Mamata after out-manoeuvering her on the Pranab issue, local Congress leaders are smelling blood again. “She came to power in exchange for the tears of those farmers,” Abdul Mannan told a television channel. “She knew the law was unconstitutional. Now the farmers are suffering the consequences of her stubbornness.”
Trinamool leaders trying to make the best of the situation pointed to an earlier verdict in their favour to say the score was really 1:1. Lawyer and Congress leader Arunabha Ghosh dismissed that in a television interview. “That’s like saying if you win the quarterfinal but lose in the semifinal, it’s 1:1. That’s not 1:1.”
The final, in this case, will happen in the Supreme Court. And Mamata Banerjee will have to learn to play the game in court rather the places where she is most comfortable — press conferences, public rallies and street corners.