Saturday, August 30, 2008

Day 5 of Mamata's dharna

Desperate & dangerous
Leash off, Trinamul threatens to lay siege to factory gates

Singur, Aug. 28: The siege of Singur has turned ugly, betraying a sense of desperation in the Trinamul Congress and putting the Tatas on high alert.

Mamata Banerjee’s supporters waylaid this evening busloads of people associated with the Nano project, capping a day marked by repeated intimidation of workers and little work inside the factory.

The Tatas are viewing today’s blockade with extreme seriousness, according to sources.

“The next 48 hours are critical. If matters spin out of control, the first steps of pullout could be activated. The core team as well as big contractors have been put on alert,” a source said.

However, Tata Motors declined to comment.

Among the victims of the three-and-a-half-hour blockade was a Japanese team that has been visiting the factory to provide technical expertise. Japanese companies have considerable investments in Bengal.

At 8.20pm amid pouring rain, the workers and Tata employees were allowed to leave with a warning that they should not return to the project site again. While the blockade was on, an employee returning home on his motorcycle was beaten up, adding to the list of people slapped, heckled or chased away since yesterday.

The threat of more strong-arm tactics hung heavy with the siege supporters announcing a sit-in outside all factory gates from 8am tomorrow to block the entry of employees.

“We will not allow the workers to enter tomorrow,” said Singur’s Save Farmland Committee convener Becharam Manna even though Mamata had earlier told her supporters to not “even look at” the factory.

Police today stood between the buses inside the factory and the squatters who blocked Durgapur Expressway but refused to use force and gift Mamata’s supporters an excuse for more violence. Police have promised to escort the workers tomorrow, “if asked”.

Through the day, Mamata showed increasing signs of desperation, having failed so far to provoke the government into escalating the situation. The Trinamul leader railed against the media, including the ABP Group, the publishers of The Telegraph.

She is also learnt to have rejected a fresh offer, passed on through informal channels, from the government for a dialogue. The blockade of the buses was another manifestation of the taut nerves.

“I am fighting for the farmers despite the occasional chest pain I suffer,” Mamata said today without making it clear whether the discomfort warrants hospitalisation — an avenue that usually helps politicians wriggle out of tricky situations.

Work was severely affected at the factory today as most of the casual workers did not turn up out of fear. Not a single vehicle carrying raw materials entered the premises because of the traffic gridlock cause by the siege. Apart from one gate, others remained closed.

As Mamata delivered a speech from a platform nearby, underscoring the need for keeping the agitation “peaceful”, her supporters hurled abuses and threatened workers.

Unlike the erratic turnout on other days, the dharna venue was packed today because thousands of Trinamul Chhatra Parishad supporters turned up to celebrate the student wing’s foundation day.

Some Trinamul leaders blamed the blockade on the “overzealous” young supporters but others said the protesters were working according to a plan born out of desperation to “jolt” the government.

Tension flared around 5pm when 30 to 35 supporters of Trinamul and other allied outfits noticed two buses carrying Tata employees approaching the vendor park gate. The protesters squatted on Durgapur Expressway.

The police said that behind the two buses were 14 similar carriages and 20 to 25 small cars ferrying Tata employees, officials and labour contractors. The convoy stood still till the blockade was lifted.

With inputs from our Calcutta bureau