Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Indian Express

Some Singur slips


Saubhik Chakrabarti

They came marching, banners and kurtas flapping. The legends on the banners were disappointing, though. “Farm land for farmers, not Tatas” — come on guys, you can do better, Bengal has a wonderful tradition of intelligent political invective. The police met the marchers. A cop addressed them via a PA system that demonstrated some equipment upgrades have happened in the West Bengal police. Shortly, there were songs, synchronized clapping, and a properly scuffed and sturdy Spanish guitar providing musical value addition. Enter Arundhati Roy, as always self-assured, clear, and when she felt necessary, caustic — made-for-television radical commentary, although of course her stage is bigger. Cut to a CPM meeting, Jyoti Basu looking phlegmatic — has he ever looked anything else? — the Karats at ease and Buddhadev Bhattacharjee animated. Cut to Bhattacharjee and Ratan Tata, smiling and nodding.

I liked CNN-IBN’s montage. Singur’s national profile is set to get bigger; Ms Roy’s visit is an indication. Which is why it would be entirely to television news channels’ advantage if they allow the cool breeze of reason to fan brows rendered warm by the demands of dramatic reportage.

CNN-IBN said the gherao of the CPM’s national HQ over Singur would bring the party a bad name — protestors called the CPM “bourgeois”. Believe me, CPM leaders who matter are not shaken at the prospect of being called bourgeois. They are cleverer than that — you have to understand that to understand how they will react as the Singur story develops.

NDTV, reporting on a Naxalite-sponsored ransacking of a Tata auto showroom in Kolkata - remember, private property is the root of all evil - said the violent protest was symbolic of the furious opposition in the state to the Tata plant. “Furious opposition” is a big claim. Some wayward children of Marxism plus Mamata Banerjee plus professional protestors do not a furious opposition make. Is general public opinion in Bengal demonstrably divided and are Singur skeptics in a majority? Till you know that, adjectival moderation is desirable.

NDTV again, analysing the protest, saying if one strips away all the layers, Singur is a battle between industry and agriculture and that the war is being fought all over the country. It is? Battle or war between industry and agriculture is not a small thing. Singur and some other parts of the country are witnessing disputes over compensation and rehabilitation. These are important disputes. But if agriculture were truly battling industry, a huge majority of Singur farmers wouldn’t have accepted the compensation package. And were a countrywide hammer versus sickle war being fought, we would have heard about it - on TV.

CNN-IBN, making a relevant point about the CPM and its political relationship with the peasantry, found irony in the confrontation between the party and the farmer because sharecroppers were given ownership rights under Operation Barga. Sharecroppers were in fact given tenancy rights. This is not a quibble. In the context of agrarian reform, the difference between ownership and tenancy rights is big enough to host several car manufacturing plants.

All of the above, I realise, can be called quibbles. But Singur may become a political-economic test case for all sorts of reasons for all sorts of people. TV news will be right there. Getting it right can’t do it any harm.