Singur--missing the point

IN Opinion | 07/01/2007
Had a Gandhian made the same point, rather than Ms Banerjee, would the matter have received different treatment?




You don`t say!

Darius Nakhoonwala



From the point of view of long term significance, the Singur issue and its resolution were very important events. So most important newspapers commented on it. But what struck me was how every newspaper opposed Mamata Banerjee who was opposing the Singur car project of the Tatas. Only one of them, The Pioneer, said that she may have had a point.


The issue, if you take away local context, is simple: should fertile land be handed over to industrialists to build their factories or should they be made to look for infertile land? Had a Gandhian made the same point, rather than Ms Banerjee, would the matter have received different treatment?


The Hindu said, quite rightly but almost in a whisper, that "A sensitive, data-based, and forward-looking land use policy is necessary to balance the needs of industrialisation with those of agricultural intensification and modernisation." But that was about it. While not actually pouring scorn on Ms Banerjee, it was clear where its sympathies lay.


I thought The Telegraph would be different. But alas that was not to be. It called Ms Banerjee`s fast " utterly meaningless" and made the fatuous point that "there is only one victim... the hapless state of West Bengal."

Then, just as The Hindu defended the chief minister, it attacked him. "Mr Bhattacharjee should always think about what is best for the state. He cannot allow his judgement to be clouded by petty political considerations. The dignity of the chair he occupies demands that he acts always in a manner befitting a chief minister, and not as a leader of the Communist party of India (Marxist)."

Notice, neither mentioned the issue of fertile land.


The Pioneer which is dominated by a set of Bengali editors who like the BJP, got a better handle on the issue. "By ending her hunger strike… Mamata Banerjee has done the right thing." But it did show a lot of sympathy for her point of view. "Ms Banerjee, through her unique and remarkable protest, has… forced political parties across the spectrum to take a fresh look at the issue of acquiring farmland for industrial projects."


It should have gone on with this aspect but instead went off into party politics and the NDA and CPM-bashing. "The Trinamool Congress is the main Opposition in West Bengal and its views cannot be just brushed away as inconsequential. On her part, Ms Banerjee should accept the Chief Minister`s offer and discuss the host of issues raised by her with an open mind." The edit thus lost its meaning.


The Indian Express went off at a tangent in only the way it can. It talked about "off-market intrigues" by corporates in the context of Ratan Tat`s interview to NDTV where he alleged that some competitors were behind Ms Banerjee`s protest. To me at least, the edit made no sense at all.


The Deccan Herald also asked an inane question, namely, " why is the Manmohan Singh government not making serious efforts to secure an early end the Trinamool Congress leader`s protest hunger strike when it had gone out of its way some months back to persuade Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar in a similar situation?"


It then went on to say, "the state government should lay on the table details of the farm land acquisition which is the core issue." Wrong. The core issue is whether it is fertile or infertile land, not just farmland.


It is extraordinary how leader writers uniformly chose to focus on the immediate politics of the issue rather than on the aspect that will come up time and again in the future. Extremely fertile land is disappearing all over the country under urban expansion and factories. This is a matter of serious concern but no one in the edit-writing fraternity seems to think so.  



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