Peace is an ambiguous description in Singur. Instead of an auto manufacturing hub and the Nano factory, there is “Only peace,” and the abandoned 997 acres in Singur.
It symbolises the Trinamool Congress’s incredible triumph in 2011, when Pariborton or political transformation swept through West Bengal and decisively ousted the Communist Party of India Marxist led Left Front government from power after 34 uninterrupted years in power.
In 2016, it is no longer the emotionally charged battle ground it was in 2008, when Tata Motors shutdown and left. After five years of peace, there is an anti-incumbency sentiment. It is silent. This could be ominous for the Trinamool Congress and it could be disappointing for the new and unthinkable alliance.
The Trinamool Congress exercises an invisible control in the constituency. Even curiosity is muted by the constraints of the remaining politically correct. The woman who declared that peace prevails in Singur and was cautious in her questions about the flyover collapse in Kolkata. She asked: Why did it happen? How did it happen? instead of directly wanting to know who was responsible for what had happened.
Living on the far side of the factory evacuated by Tata Motors when it shifted Nano production lines to Sanand in Gujarat, the lady refused to give her name; asked why she was candid: “who knows how they will react if they get to know.”
In 10 years, Singur has been turned upside down, twice over, which means that it is almost back to being the way it was in 2006. Once a small town, it is still a small town in Hooghly, surrounded by fields growing vegetables, rice, oil seeds, potatoes and jute.
Briefly, between 2006 and 2008, it faced the prospect of leading a metamorphosis, epitomising CPM’s ambitions for West Bengal’s re-industrialisation.It then faced Mamata Banerjee’s offensive, from the 25-day-long fast unto death in Kolkata, to the dramatic blockade of the National Highway, and the mysterious death of Tapasi Malik, a girl who was raped and burnt for joining the resistance.
From 2008 to 2011, it became the symbol of Mamata Banerjee’s idyllic Sonar Bangla, that is, Golden Bengal, where Ma, Mati, Manush lived in placid co-existence. After 2011, it has sunk back into obscurity.
In 2016, Singur does not seem like a place where any definitive judgments on incumbency will be delivered. It is not going to be a test of either the Trinamool Congress’s vision of transformation (Paribortan) or the Congress-Left’s novel alliance that promises restoration of the Rule of Law and democracy as well as a future in which economic revival figures as a priority.
Expectations have died. Instead of zooming towards a metamorphosis, the constituency and the pocket of militant resistance in Joymollah, Khasherbheri, Beraberi, Bajemelia are locked down in a trough of low potential. These villages and panchayats are stuck in the past, with one section living off 16 kilos of rice per week and a handout of Rs 2000 per family for their ‘heroism’ in rejecting the Left Front government’s plans for industrial rejuvenation, while other families have quietly joined the rest of Singur and moved on.
Connected by the suburban railway system to Kolkata, Singur’s families have cut their losses. The arrival of Tata Motors and its departure was a moment of enlightenment for Singur. It realised its locational advantage; on the National Highway, connected by the suburban railway network, it is ideally situated to feed the gig economy in Kolkata and elsewhere. Almost every household has sent off its young people to work outside the area and outside West Bengal even, with some travelling overseas.
Remittances have boosted consumption and construction of new houses or make overs of old semi-pukka village homes. The landless peasant's situation is as bad as it was, but families with even small parcels of land are doing well, having switched to growing vegetables for the metropolitan markets.
The Trinamool Congress is complacent that it will win Singur, where out of the 16 gram panchayats it controls 15. Having imposed “peace” after 2011, the Trinamool Congress has been careful about allowing no party other than itself to cause any disturbance. The ruling party’s control over the constituency has been such that the CPM has not been able to take advantage of the faction fights within the Trinamool Congress to revive its own organisation.
The “party” as the Trinamool Congress is called is therefore sanguine that the retiring former school teacher and currently a minister, Rabindranath Bhattacharjee will win.
Singur ought to have been a test of the entirely new politics of alliance in West Bengal between the CPM and the Congress, because in this part of Hooghly, the Congress has always had a vote bank among the land owning, affluent and educated rural middle class.
The promise of restoration of law and order, the end of rent collection by the Trinamool Congress’s musclemen, the prospect of new investments should have jerked the voters out of their “peace” in Singur. Instead, the Congress-CPM Left Front alliance candidate Rabin Deb, best known for his energetic role as mediator of the seat adjustment, is trying hard but has not succeeded as yet in injecting momentum into the campaign.
The problem for the opposition is that the CPM’s once famous and formidable organisation is weak and powerless and the Congress has no organisation at all. The alliance is not strong enough, as yet, to reassure the disgruntled that it represents a likely alternative.
The locals who have invested in building their relationships with the Trinamool Congress to live in “peace” need more than an idea or a possibility to make new investments in what could be a risky venture.