December 17, 2006

Three wrongs don’t make a right. Why the left, the tatas and mamta are all wrong...

When the Left came to power about 30 years back in West Bengal, the then Finance Minister of West Bengal Shri Ashok Mitra had said that “we will give the capitalists sleepless nights”... That may not have been the most appropriate thing to dream about but then that’s what the Left was supposed to be. At that time a sceptic who didn’t believe that the communists in India are that dedicated had written a poem stating that in this regime, capitalists will make so much money that they will obviously not be able to sleep in the nights, busy counting their money! As Budhadeb Bhattacharya goes on to say that he is the middleman of all capitalists (of course for the benefit of his people), that sceptic must be having the last laugh… So what is the issue? Well, Ratan Tata, certainly a good hearted gentleman wants to give India a Rs one lac car – against all market realities (all researches point out that such a car doesn’t have a viable demand in India). Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, our new face of Protestant Left – often going against the will of the Politburo and to its discomfort – wants to get Tatas to set up this unit in West Bengal to give the idea called Bengal a new thrust and life. For this, the government is trying to acquire land in a place called Singur about 30 km away from Kolkata. Its about a thousand acres that the Tatas want – and, the villain of peace is our ever-ready-to shout Oops! fast unto death – Mamta Didi...
So why are they all wrong? Well firstly, when we specifically talk of the Left, they are always going wrong of late aren’t they? Secondly, trying to get the Tatas is absolutely alright. But trying to give them a 1000 acres of prime land 30 km away from Kolkata is like selling themselves off. But then cheap land will never have big kick backs, will it? The land in question in Singur is cultivable 4 times a year and it defies logic why a factory needs to be so centrally located. They can easily give the Tatas land about a 150 km away from the city, and trust me, for them the cost of transporting the cars to various corners of India on the final count won’t increase, because the production is taking place a 100 km away from where they wanted it to be... and then if it does and the car is finally available at a lac plus fifty rupees, I am sure no one buying it will crib (that is in case there are enough buyers for it). And while I do understand the commitment (even patriotism) of providing a cheap car to Indians, I sure don’t understand what’s so sacrosanct about the Rs one lac figure when in any case analysts estimate the car by the time it is produced will only be Rs one lac in namesake, and the real price will be at least 20% to 30% higher.
Thirdly, the Left is wrong because as it is common practice for the Leftist dictators in the garb in West Bengal, the state controlled and manipulated police has been ruthlessly beating up farmers, their wives and daughters in Singur, in order to create a fear psychosis, so that the villagers are forced to sell the land; snatches of this have even been captured live on camera. Medha Patkar has gone on record to state that the Leftist CPM’s acts in nature, are more than similar to Capitalist America’s acts in Iraq. The fourth problem is around the concept of compensation. The government might at times need to acquire land, but the compensation has to be right. Currently itself, the government is paying less than the market price of the land to the farmers of Singur. And even if they were to pay the market price it would still have been clear exploitation of the farmers in an attempt to enrich the Tatas. Typically, in such cases, compensation has to take a few things into consideration. There is nothing called the market price of land. It varies as per demand. If Tatas were to announce that they are going to acquire 1000 acres of land in Singur, the market price would automatically go up. So what the farmers should be given is that market price of tomorrow and not yesterday, because there is always the cost of opportunity lost involved. Also, today’s market price doesn’t reflect tomorrow’s value once its developed; which in five years may go up by five times. That is why in one such case I know of, Reliance Industries not just gave the market price of land acquired but also let the farmers keep about 20% land ownership rights so that they not only get the market price for 80% of the land today, but can also reap the benefits of its future development from the remaining 20% that they don’t sell now! So the compensation being offered by the West Bengal government is far from justice and market realities, though the goal for which it is being acquired is market driven. The bigger secret is of course, how much the government is selling the land in turn to the Tatas for? Defying the Right to Information Act, the Minister for Industry, Nirupam Sen is keeping mum calling it a ‘trade secret’. Well...well...well, even the long time loyalist of CPM, Maheshwata Devi – who over years kept her eyes deliberately and pretentiously closed to all of CPM’s tyranny – has gone on record to state that the ‘Left is no more left’. The Tatas on the other hand are known for their ethical commitment to society at large are keeping mum and from time to time threatening to quit Bengal and go to some other state, thereby indirectly supporting the clear acts of wrong. They could like Reliance talk about a more market-driven cost of acquisition and solve the problem or settle for land in Purulia or Belgaon – where Mamata Didi wants them to go since land there is not fertile and those are the real backward areas of Bengal which require developmental support and industrialisation. Or are they hell-bent on recovering all costs (and future expected losses out of their venture) on the very first night itself by getting a land worth more than a 1000 crore – in the very near future at only Rs 100 crore as the grapevine goes.
And meanwhile, in an attempt to fight for a right cause, the vandalism and repeated strikes that Mamata’s party has been resorting to, is the vindication of the sheer political wilderness she is facing today. At best, she is suffering from an identity crisis as the urban Bengalis who have been her traditional supporters have completely deserted her in the recently concluded state elections, given the drubbing she got in it. That rebuff made her seek the lost space by trying to get into the bastion of the Left Front, i.e. rural Bengal. And it is anybody’s guess why they deserted her. Politics today is all about being mature with a vision for the state. She created the same problems when the Salim group visited West Bengal. Her acts are only isolating her more, making her look foul and going against the very cause that she is trying to fight for. And post the assembly vandalism, right now she is busy with her time tested drama, i.e. fast unto death.
In middle of the three wrongs, it’s the people of West Bengal who are again silently suffering for their faith in the ideology – Communism. As a Bengali, I do feel saddened.

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