The tables have turned on Mamata Banerjee.
In 2008, when the agitation led by the Trinamool Congress supremo against the Nano project at Singur was at its peak, the Left government was compelled to provide police protection to the almost-ready plant. Today, 18 months in the seat of the power, the Chief Minister has had to seek refuge of an elaborate security arrangement to avoid dissenting voices among the unwilling farmers, who played a catalytic role in her political career.
All efforts were made to keep the Chief Minister's Singur programme entirely indoors. According to the original plan, Banerjee was supposed to address the locals after her administrative meeting at the Singur BDO (block development officer) office. But after ground reports from Singur reached Writers' Building the programme was cancelled last minute.
“A stage was made inside the BDO office premises. We were told Didi will address the public and distribute bicycles among girl students. Two matadors of bicycles in fact made their way to the office last night, but in the morning we did not find the stage or the matadors,” Nazimul Huq, who runs an embroidary shop outside the Singur BDO office, said.
Not stopping at that, the chief minister, who is known to be approachable, did not even step out from her protected zone to interact with the people. She even laid the foundation stone of a proposed a degree college from the portico of the BDO office.
Small wonder that the administration had to deploy about 450 police personnel for Banerjee's Singur visit today. The number is strangely close the deployment at the Tata Motors’ site in 2008.
Government sources said, the arrangement was not normal given that there was no public rally. Normally, 150-200 police personnel are deployed on district visits, which include those manning the highway.
“The kind of precaution they have taken reflects the mood in Singur. Mamata Banerjee is now scared of facing the Singur farmers. Those who believed her and have not collected their compensation cheque for the land acquired for the Nano project now feel cheated. She did not keep her promise of returning land,” says Debasis Adhikary of neighbouring Anandapur village.
The rebellion of former state agriculture minister and Singur MLA Rabindranath Bhattacharjee, who refused to accept his ministerial reassignment, may have brought the spotlight back on Singur, but the erstwhile site for the Nano has been seething for a while.
Banerjee, however, refreshed her promise of returning land to the unwilling farmers, after her administrative meeting. She chose to convey it through the media, though. "The land is with us and once the court case is resolved, we will return the land," Banerjee said.
The state government has filed an appeal against the verdict of the Calcutta High Court's division bench which held that the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act was not valid and unconstitutional. The Act--to take back the entire land lying with Tata Motors and its vendors at Singur--was passed in the West Bengal assembly soon after Banerjee slipped into her role as Chief Minister of Bengal.
In a bid to placate the farmers, Banerjee announced yet another sop. The state government will offer Rs 8,000 as subsidy for power connection as an alternative to diesel pumps for 31,000 farmers. She even said that the monthly stipend of Rs 2,000 and 16kg of rice at Rs 2 a kg for the 3,600 unwilling farmers will be regularised.
She, however, refrained from responding to questions about Rabindranath Bhattacharjee, who expectedly skipped today's administrative meeting on his home turf and later in the day, told the media, about his willingness to quit politics. Bhattacharjee was one of the prominent faces in the agitation against Nano.