West Bengal Assembly polls | After Nandigram, the electoral contest heats up Singur

Agriculture and industry have come full circle in a battle of prestige over what was once a site of resistance

After the polling at Nandigram, one of the most important Assembly seats going to polls in West Bengal is Singur in Hooghly. Singur, which has great symbolic and political value in the State’s politics, is going to election in the fourth phase of polling on April 10. The Trinamool Congress government and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee have described the return of land to farmers unwilling to have it acquired as one of the biggest achievements of her government.

Addressing a public meeting at Haripal in Hooghly district, in the constituency bordering Singur, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday accused the Trinamool Congress (TMC) of using Singur for its political gains and then leaving its people in a lurch.

“People are aware more than me what kind of deceit was done at Singur… Today, there is no industry at Singur, no jobs at Singur and the farmers are troubled by land sharks,” Mr. Modi said, addressing a public rally at Haripal.

Days before the PM raised the issue of Singur, Ms. Banerjee on March 31 held a public rally at Singur after the campaign for Nandigram drew to a close. The CM had also said that she had given thought to contesting from Singur because of its history of struggle, like in Nandigram, against land acquisition.

At Singur, TMC Minister Becharam Manna is contesting against four-time MLA Rabindranath Bhattacharya, formerly of the TMC, who joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) days before his candidature from the saffron party was announced. Though the local BJP had objected to the 89-year-old-veteran, who is known as “mastermoshai” (teacher), Mr. Bhattacharya said it was a fight for his prestige. “I was disowned by the party,” he said, expressing strong reservation over the nomination of Becharam Manna as the TMC candidate from the seat. The “mastermoshai” remains a respected figure but many people are unable to reconcile his change of political affiliations. The BJP had a lead at Singur in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls but it’s the State’s ruling party that may be helped by the last-minute defection, feel political experts.

“I cannot understand how mastermoshai can contest from Singur as a BJP candidate. I respect his age. We had got him elected four times from here,” the Trinamool Congress chairperson has said. Ms. Banerjee recounted her 26-day strike against forcible land acquisition at Singur, and also the police atrocities and excesses at the Block Development Office during the Left front regime.

The Supreme Court in 2016 had turned down the land acquisition at Singur during the Left front regime, and in September same year, Ms. Banerjee returned the land to the farmers. The 997-acre plot at Singur that was at the heart of the debate over industry and agriculture has changed significantly since 2006 and many farmers have complained that they could not even identify their plots. After removing concrete from the land for three to four years, farmers like Vivekananda Das have managed a satisfactory yield of potato this season. But the farmers claim that they have to spend a large sum of money to make their land tillable again.

It was the resistance at Singur that enabled Ms. Banerjee to make a remarkable political comeback and assume power in the State in 2011. Sensing unease among the people, the TMC government and Ms. Banerjee are promising to bring industry to Singur, which has been the BJP’s poll plank. On Saturday, the party was quick to react to Mr. Modi’s barb by asking why the Tata Motors’ car factory at Sanand in Gujarat had been closed.

The Left parties are also hoping to recapture lost ground by fielding 27-year-old Srijan Bhattacharya who, unlike the earlier Left candidates, is not riding a Nano car to campaign in the constituency but at times gives a hand to potato farmers working in the field. Like Nandigram, which witnessed a high pitched electoral contest, Singur, which has seen life come full circle from industry to agriculture and then back to industry, is once poised for a prestige battle.

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