By Probal Basak
Contrary to former West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s plan of making Singur an industrial hub for the state, it became a seething faultline, triggering the end of three decades of Left rule in Bengal. Now, his successor, Mamata Banerjee, might well be at the receiving end of Singur’s wrath, after the refusal of local MLA Rabindranath Bhattacharya to accept his ministerial reassignment.
His rebellion is a jolt for her Trinamool Congress (TMC), though it has earlier faced dissent from MPs Kabir Suman and Dinesh Trivedi. Bhattacharya has even accused the CM of allowing party leaders to take “cut money”.
The retired headmaster of the area’s high school, popularly known as “Mastermashai”, is a person people identify with.
Mahadeb Das, who lost 11 bighas in 2006 to the Nano project, says: “If the people of Singur stood by TMC during the movement against the Tatas (to get back the land acquired by Bhattacharjee’s government to build the Nano car factory), it was because of Mastermashai. He made us believe we could get back the land by means of protest. If people have been patient so far, it is because they have faith in Mastermashai.”
The Singur agitation had catapulted Das to Youth TMC president in the Singur block. He recently resigned from the post, for reasons he refuses to state. Das is not alone; many local TMC leaders such as panchayat samiti head Sulekha Malik and Anandanagar gram panchayat’s Prem Adhikary, who fought the battle for Banerjee on the ground in 2006, have recently been removed. They are all Mastermashai loyalists. Banerjee made him agriculture minister but then transferred him to the department of statistics and programme implementation. Bhattcharya has refused to take up his new assignment. Becharam Manna, the MLA from neighbouring Haripal and also one of the faces of the agitation, has been appointed junior minister in the agriculture department. But in Singur, Manna is considered an “outsider”.
Udayan Das, who represented the farmers who agreed to accept compensation for letting go their land for the Nano plant, and formed the Singur Shilpasthapan O Unnayan Committee, in support of the project, says: “My father, who used to be CPI(M) MLA from Singur, lost the seat in 2001 to Mastermashai. He became a TMC MLA much before the Singur movement. He has always been very respected and extremely popular as the headmaster of Singur High School.”
Bhattacharya is yet to decide whether to continue as a TMC member. “I am still the Trinamool MLA of Singur. A time comes in everybody’s life when a person needs to take a decision on some issues. I will think over these issues seriously and will see how things go before taking the final call,” he said.
For Singur, it’s a greater loss. The people feel they have lost their representative in the government who would plead the issue of fast-tracking the process of returning their land, which seems to be a distant reality, with the battle being fought in the courts. Sensing trouble, Banerjee is making efforts to ensure Singur does not slip from her grip. After all, it helped bring her to power. She has suddenly decided to visit Singur on November 30, to take stock.