Have Nano, will travel
The statements by three protagonists of the Left Front government’s industrialisation overdrive during the past three weeks tend to confirm the suspicion that there are wheels within wheels in the Tata Motors’ small car project at Singur that ended in a fiasco. It was believed that a full stop had been put to the venture after it was shifted to Sanand in Gujarat, but it seems the murky automobile saga is not yet over.
First, let’s examine how the three ~ chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, industries minister Nirupam Sen and principal industries secretary Sabyasachi Sen ~ by their statements sought to create an impression that they were talking at cross-purposes. But the way things unfolded during the past few days it became clear that the three were working to a meticulous plan.
It was Mr Bhattacharjee who, rounding up the debate on the Governor’s address for the Budget session, told the state Assembly that no part of the acquired land at Singur would be returned to the farmers as was being demanded by the Trinamul-led Opposition. He asserted that he couldn’t just betray the farmers of Singur by not setting up industries on the land acquired from them. He announced that the process of setting up industries on the land had started and it was likely to be completed in about a year.
The state government, he clarified, would, during this period, go through the motions of getting the land back from the Tatas who were given it on lease, while the Tatas wold move away whatever equipment they had installed there. In other words, the chief minister told the Assembly that the Tata episode at Singur was over for good.
Then came the dramatic launch of the “wonder car”, Nano, in Mumabi. Within minutes, the state industries minister called a Press conference to bemoan the loss of the Nano project. He squarely blamed the Trinamul and its allies for having brought this “misfortune” to the people of West Bengal, and asked why the LF government was accused of not being transparent in its deal with the Tatas.
He even asked “intellectuals” and social activists, who had put the state government in the dock for the deal why they were not seeking information under the Right to Information Act on the Gujarat government’s deal with the Tatas for the relocated project at Sanand.
The fact is, it was the LF government which had blocked every attempt to seek information on its deal under the RTI Act.
Nano has been turned into a major election plank for the LF with which it castigates the Trinamul Congress. The abortive venture is being projected by the LF as an example of Trinamul’s anti-development and anti-people politics. Hence, the launchng of Nano gave the LF’s Lok Sabha poll campaign the much needed extra firepower to slam Trinamul.
When one thought the remarks of the chief minister and the industries minister were merely part of poll rhetoric and a desperate attempt to turn public opinion against the Trinamul, which had already reaped huge political dividends from the Singur and Nandigram turmoil, the principal industries secretary used the safety and distance of Kuala Lumpur to announce that the Tatas are to stay at Singur and that West Bengal would be the second assembly line of Nano if only the state had been denied the pride of place of being the first stable of the small car.
For the first time, the principal industries secretary disclosed that Tata Motors had plans to produce Nano from four factories in the country. All along it had been bruited about that not an inch of the 997 acres could be returned to the agitating farmers as the project area had been conceived to be large enough to accommodate a whole automobile cluster so that Nano could be made available at the unbelievably cheap price of Rs 1 lakh.
The principal industries secretary had once even sounded grateful to the Tatas for their “sacrifice” of Rs 16,000 for each car they would produce as they would have got this money by way of sales tax exemption had they set up shop in Uttaranchal!
All these reveal that the Tatas must be regretting their decision to move out of Singur. This implies the undisclosed benefits that they were offered by the state government were too great to be thrown away. The Marxists lent their voice to Tata Motors’ inflexible demand for the entire 997 acres at Singur because conceding Trinamul’s demand for return of 400 acres would have been too big a political price for them.
Now, perhaps business is trying to get the better of politics.
Trinamul would let the Singur small car project be revived only if it comes up on 600 acres and the rest of the land is returned to the unwilling farmers from whom it had been forcibly acquired. This has been their stand from the beginning.
If the Marxists accept this stand and hope to make whatever political gain is possible from the actual production of cars in the state, Singur can be the second address of Nano as wished by the principal industries secretary.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Have Nano, will travel