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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 38

Hopeful Signs


Wednesday 10 September 2008, by SC


While the stalemate in Singur in West Bengal’s Hooghly district continues and the Tatas have threatened to pull out the Nano car project from the State in case the situation does not improve and favourable conditions are not created for resumption of work at the automobile plant, the West Bengal Governor has taken the initiative to act as a facilitator in evolving a solution to the problem. This has been welcomed by all sides and the State Government’s past distrust of Gopalkrishna Gandhi is now nowhere in sight.

What is being assiduously projected by the corporate-driven media in the State is that those opposing the Nano car project in Singur are opposed to any development in West Bengal. The fact is that those having reservations about the automobile plant coming up in that area had brought into focus (and are still doing so) the fate of the peasants who would lose their land especially because Singur happens to have one of the most fertile soils in the whole world and it was nothing but thoughtlessness on the part of the authorities to allow the installation of a car factory on such a land that enjoys four-to-five crops a year—it did not mean that the opponents of the project in Singur did not want the plant to be set up anywhere else in the State as well.

However, the issue of industrialisation of West Bengal is different—a highly industrialised State it was ‘de-industrialised’ over the years due to a conspiracy of circumstances and the most eloquent testimony to this is borne out by a series of closed factories in several districts. Has there been any attempt to study the cause of closure of these units in a bid to try and revive them? The answer is an emphatic ‘non’. So, to speak of industrialisation without such an exercise is the height of irresponsibility. What is more, the basic issue today in the State is widening the avenues of employment opportunities. For that purpose opening new industries creating more jobs could be a positive move—but for that there is no reason to destroy agriculture by such a step as installation of the plant in Singur to the detriment of the interests of the cultivators who would be evicted from the land. It is here that the movement to ensure the return of 400 acres of land (to be used for setting up ancillary industries) to the poor peasant cultivators assumes utmost significance even if one is compelled to accept the plant that has come up on 600 acres of land as a fait accompli at this stage.

Anyway a detailed study of all these problems is being undertaken, even if belatedly, by a committee of concerned citizens and experts. At the same time a group of persons are expected to help the Governor to resolve the problem on the return of 400 acres to the poor and marginal peasants, sharecroppers and agricultural labourers in the area facing the stark prospect of not merely eviction but extinction too.

Meanwhile there are hopeful signs of defusion of the crisis in J&K. There has been a perceptible move forward with an agreement hammered out between the State Government and Shri Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti (SAYSS) that has, at least for the present, doused the flames of the agitation in Jammu. Now it is for the government to concentrate on improving the situation in the Valley by helping to minimise, if not immediately remove, the sense of alienation that has gripped the people there—the real source of the massive movement that catapulted the separatist leaders to prominence once again.

It is imperative, therefore, to repeated what was underscored in these columns a week ago:

The crackdown must be immediately brought to an end, the arrested leaders of the all-encompassing mass movement released forthwith and a sustained dialogue with them initiated without any precondition. It is only through such a dialogue, conducted in an atmosphere of openness and utmost honesty and sincerity, that many cobwebs of misunderstanding and misperception can be removed so as to pave the way for a peaceful political resolution of the problem. To brand the mass movement in Kashmir as an offshoot of militant activity is to betray a jaundiced outlook that needs to be discarded at the earliest if democracy is to have any meaning for the people of the Valley.

The welcome steps taken in Jammu must embolden the authorities to help normalise the situation in the Valley with promptitude, especially when at the helm in the State is a new Governor who, being a seasoned administrator, has a clear perception of the ground situation unlike many of his illustrious predecessors.

September 3 S.C.

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