Singur: 'I bet my life'

Last Updated: Fri, Jan 27, 2012 19:11 hrs

Mamata Banerjee’s memoir is now available in English. In the following excerpts from the book, she describes her campaign in Singur, West Bengal, against the state’s acquisition of farming land for Tata’s Nano car factory. Her Anoshan Satyagraha (Fast for Truth) Movement ran December 4-29, 2006.

When we started I had no idea it would continue this long. Nor did I realize it when we were living through those tumultuous days. [...] Just a couple of days into the fast, we realized that the mattresses laid out on the dais, on which we laid our weary selves during the fast, would catch the vibration of every car zooming down the road that ran next to the podium. Even my colleagues [...] did not expect the way things panned out. Everyone thought a fast is almost always a symbolic gesture and surely the ruling regime would react after 24 or 48 hours.

The trouble was that the perpetrators of state terror had simply lost their ability or interest to respond to anything, Those who have spent three-quarters of their lives enjoying the fruits of their power, greedily lapping up the luxury that their brutal regime earned for them, will never see, much less admit, that there is pitch darkness behind their dazzling lives. For these pleasure-seeking, power-hungry lot [sic] of megalomaniacs, life was forever springtime. [...] A spring that left far behind the red soil and dusty lanes of rural Bengal — the blood, sweat, and tears of the teeming masses who live and die there. Those busy befriending the Tatas simply had no time to think about all that. They were too wrapped up in their own arrogance, thinking that their good times would last forever. That is why those who expected some reaction from the state government, or at least some courtesy towards the leader of Opposition on a fast, were sadly mistaken. [...]

As for me, I never thought I would manage to continue with the fast for so long. But I did promise the people of Singur that I would bet my life, if need be, for them. [...] I drove myself to the very brink during the fast but not once did I feel my faith give way. In a sense, I was living off my metal strength and inner belief. As the days passed, my determination grew.

* * *

One by one the days went by. The agitation had, by then, spread to the rest of the nation. Everyone was waiting with bated breath to see when we would end our fast. On 21 December, the prime minister visited the state. I expected some decision to be taken during his visit but not only did nothing happen, he did not even bother to enquire after us or even make a courtesy phone call. I was stunned by this behaviour — is this what our democracy had descended to? I have been a parliamentarian for decades. I have been part of the central cabinet thrice. We were the main Opposition party in West Bengal. Yet, after seventeen days of fasting the PM came to Kolkata and went back without doing anything about it. [...] The CPM government seemed to have zipped his mouth with sticking plaster. [...] Along with me, the people of Singur had also hoped that the prime minister’s visit would bring some kind of justice. But their hopes were dashed in the muddy muck of those village roads. That made us renew our vows to continue the fast with greater conviction and strength.

From 21 December onwards, my health had started deteriorating considerably. I did not want anyone to know because I was afraid it would give the CPM regime in the state and the UPA government in the Centre, an excuse to force me to end the fast. For the next eight days, I battled nagging headaches, stomach cramps, and breathing problem [sic]. I was physically so weak I could not bring myself to focus on anything. I just could not concentrate on anything. As it is, I have spent a lifetime getting battered by CPM goons so my body has been subjected to enough physical abuse in all these years. That is why I stick to my yoga and exercise regimen no matter what. Even during the fast, I continued my yoga routine for an hour every morning, from 4-5. But by the time I entered the last phase of the fast, I was so weak I did not feel like doing anything, not even yoga. I even stopped enjoying the company and conversation of my colleagues which kept me going all through the fast. [...]

[B]y 24 December, my breathing problem became acute. [...] Earlier that year, my lungs were damaged after the police thrashed us on 25 September. That caused haemorrhage in the lungs. I had disregarded that health hazard completely by fasting out on the road — in the dust and pollution — for so many days. But I could now read the warning signs. When the chest pain became intolerable, I asked for the oxygen cylinder and turned it on. The doctors checked my heart beat, pulse rate, and read the blood test report. They were genuinely worried about my health. By then I could not even speak very much.

Excerpted with permission from Roli

Author: Mamata Banerjee
Translator: Nandini Sengupta
Publisher: Roli
Pages: 192
Price: Rs 250

More from Sify: