As Tata pulls out of Singur, is it a disaster for Bengal and who is to blame? Karan Thapar debated these pertinent issues on War of Words with CPI-M leader Niloptpal Basu, TMC leader Dinesh Trivedi, Chairman of Bajaj industries Rahul Bajaj and Chairman of RPG enterprises Sanjeev Goenka.
The Tata pullout is being seen as a devastating blow the state. However, Basu said while it was unfortunate that Tata had pulled put, it was overstating the situation to say that the development was devastating. "The circumstances have created an environment of awareness among people. Investors have shown confidence and there are other projects," he said.
But FICCI fears out of the nearly 200,000 crore earmarked for Bengal's industrialisation, nearly 50 per cent could be hit because of Tata pullout. But Basu said Tata pullout was an aberration.
TMC too does not want to take the blame or the responsibility. Dinesh Trivedi quoted Gandhi's principle of non-violence and said that was his party's motto. Trivedi flashed a DVD and said it had footage of the "violent means" by which farmer land was acquired. "They have killed a lady alive. Is this how you ensure industrialisation. If the audience sees this DVD, they will know what it is," he said.
But caught in the crossfire between the politicians is the 80-million strong public of Bengal which could have been deprived of jobs. Sanjeev Goenka quelled some myths and said while Tatas pulling out of Singur was sad, there was hope. "The fundamentals of Bengal as industrial investment option continue to be what they were - good. No investment decision can be made on the basis of someone else investing or not investing," he said.
But some would say it's more of an investment disincentive considering industry follows suit by example. And Tatas'is not a good one. "I can speak for my company," he said, adding, "The Rs 12.5-cr investment plan will go ahead," he assured.
Rahul Bajaj agreed and said while the industry had to look at its interest, it was also its responsibility to look at the greater good of the country, of the industry and of the farmers. "Unfortunately we have vote-bank politics all over the place. I believe while Tata leaving was unfortunate, this doesn't go against Bengal as a state," he said, adding the present state government under Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee looked very positive towards industry.
At the core of this problem lies the problem of land acquisition. The critcis of the CPI-M say the party went about land allocation and acquisition without the consent of farmers, without worrying about the product. Some even say the party almost bullied Tatas into going to Singur when they could have gone anywhere in the state. But Basu said the picture was just the opposite. "Tatas decided at the last minute and in the current neo-liberal circumstances, industry decides the conditions for investment. The state has very little role to play in it," he said.
Basu said if it was forced, Tatas should have gone elsewhere.
But it's also true that it was only a marginal section of farmers who were protesting against the project. Is it fair that only 15 per cent should hold the rest of the state to ransom? Dinesh Trivedi said there was a difference between democracy and dictatorship. "Ratan Tata thought and behaved as if he was the state's CM and the state's CM thought and behaved like the CEO of Tata Motors. That's the problem," he said.
Should the Tatas have given the displaced farmers a stake in their project so as to quell dissatisfaction? Bajaj said it was tough to say but Tata was dependent on state government. "The state govt was perhaps overconfident. But you can't fault Tatas ," he said.
The choice of the project destination was also a controversy. Many feel the government should have gone ahead with Kharagpur - its original choice for the Nano plant - to virtually bending to Tata's request.
Goenka said when over 80 per cent farmers agreed to the project, there was no harm in getting the project moving wherever. "How would have Tata compensated in one division of his company I wonder," he said when asked about compensation for farmers.
In the current scenario, TMC does look a guilty party. Instead of protesting against the project, they could have worked out an employment deal with Tatas which would have ensured the farmers jobs for lifetime. Trivedi said it was easier said than done and farmers had the right to keep what they owned. Basu countered the argument by saying nearly 80 pc farmers agreed to the project idea.
What message does Singur send to foreign investors. "The message is two-fold. As far as Singur goes, there should be a lesson for us that in future we can't afford what happened to Bengal, Tatas, farmers or even Mamata Banerjee's party," Bajaj said, saying it was a bad chapter that needed to be forgotten after having taken lessons.
But considering the global economic meltdown, India should ideally have encouraged investors. But the message from the Tata story seems just the opposite. Goenka agreed with Bajaj and said it had to be projected as an aberration. "This is not the India story, this is not Bengal's story," he said.
Basu said investors will still come to the state because of the large reservoir of man-power, a good attitude towards industrialisation, agriculture scenario is resurgent. "The only problem is that projects are being held up. People of Bengal will revolt against it," he said.
Point. Considering Trinamool would arguably be remembered as the banana skin on which India slipped, tripped and fell. Trivedi said it was more about farmer rights than anything else, even economy. "Tatas behaved like East India Company and the government like many provinces did under the Raj," he said.
But Goenka maintained the policies followed by Bengal government were convincing and it was important to carry on with them. Bajaj agreed too but said the problem of land acquisition needed to be solved.
Basu said the 970 acres acquired could not be returned to the original owners. "That's for government to decide," he said.
So what is the solution? Should industry not deal with government and go directly to the people? Nanda said the government should just speed up investment. Bajaj had another view. "Industry should buy land directly from the people," he said.
Many also argue it was Mamata who's responsible for the current state of affairs in the state. A member of the audience alleged she was being selfish. While CPM's Basu refused to indulge in "personal accusations", Trivedi said it was noteworthy and appreciable of a woman to stand up to the cause of the farmers and be counted.
So has the state government failed, as suggested by another member of the audience? Goenka said he has had a good experience with the state government. "I am very happy with the treatment I have received," he said.
Basu said to blame the state government was preposterous and the priority was to rehabilitate farmers with compassion. "Except Singur, everything's fine," he said.
While pulling out from Bengal, Ratan Tata also hinted at sabotage. Could the rivals - which include the Bajaj - have funded Mamata's protests - as a member of audience asked? Bajaj denied this outright and said it was false and baseless. "I am bringing out a small car myself after three years. This is all a result of people's imagination running wild," he said.
Goenka refused to talk about it but said Rahul Bajaj can and shall never do something of the sort.
The heated debate ended with all parties agreeing Tata pullout was unfortunate but citing different reasons for it.
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