Wednesday, September 3, 2008

NA NO MA MA TA TA?


Mamata Bannerjee is on the verge of destroying her political career. Having got carried away by her victory in Singur on shrill cries of ‘na’ and ‘no’ for the much awaited Rs1 lakh Nano, the dream car of India’s lower middle class, she has managed to push Ratan Tata to the verge of saying 'ta ta' to West Bengal and re-locating the Nano plant to another state.

If the Nano project does move out of Singur, Mamata will find herself holding an explosive balloon re-filled with the anger and curses of the very people of Singur who are now supporting her. When they find the Nano plant gone, taking with it all direct and indirect job opportunities and the promise of unprecedented development and prosperity, the land that they are now crying for, instigated by Mamata, will mock at them and their foolishness. Only then will they realise that they were wrong in allowing Mamata to condemn them to poverty and deprivation for perhaps another millennium.

Mamata’s intransigence is not an isolated incident. India’s politicians have, over the years, perfected the art of using all possible coercive means to compel others into capitulating to their demands, no matter how damaging that may prove to society or even the country. India’s commies have always been in the vanguard of making use of such tactics to ensure that India keeps suffering sub standard goods and services produced by the state even as corrupt bureaucrats and politicians continue to enrich themselves. Not surprisingly, their influence is limited to a small part of India where that they have been getting away by fooling people with a globally discredited and discarded ideology that refuses to recognise hard realities.

Ironically, for the first time, Mamata has done to the commies of West Bengal what they have been doing to the state and the country for decades. And that has hurt them so badly that CM Buddhadev Bhattacharya has gone or record to say that bandhs are not justified as no one has a right to stop others from pursuing their jobs! If only this enlightenment had come before the shoe started biting the commie foot, India’s economic growth would perhaps have been a percentage point or more higher than it is.

The fallout of the Tatas saying ta ta to West Bengal may well deal a devastating blow to the state. Mamata, not satiated by what she has ‘achieved’ in Singur, has already sounded the bugle against the plans of Reliance Retail on the plea that organised retail will adversely affect the interests of small traders. The DLF group, which plans to invest a whopping Rs100,000 crores over the next seven years, is already threatening to cancel its plans. Once the Nano goes, others will follow in a flood and no new projects will come in for a long time. But to Mamata and many other myopic and petty Indian politicians, the larger picture just does not matter. It is the votes for the next elections that determinate all political response.

Any change inevitably benefits some and has an adverse effect on others. No change can be painless. If the benefits outweigh the pain, as is usually clear pretty early on, then the responsibility of real leaders is to ensure that the losses and hardships of those adversely effected are reduced as much as possible for the larger benefit of others. The building of a road bridge over a river, for example, is a death blow to the boatmen who have been ferrying people across for thousands of years. But for those few hundred people, others cannot be deprived the benefit of that bridge.

The 400 acres of land in Singur that Mamata is crying about will create difficulties for the few hundred who owned that land. The issue has no doubt been handled carelessly and arrogantly by the commies who thought they could do another Nandigram in Singur with their brute, insensitive power. But, is that justification enough for Mamata to adopt an uncompromising stance and demand the return of that land, when she knows that ancillaries have already come up there and that shifting them to another location will not be cost effective besides leading to a delay in rolling out the Nano? Would she not have been better off demanding a more attractive alternative package for those whose land has been acquired?

Unfortunately, Mamata has taken her agitation so far that she now does not know how to get off the tiger that her intransigence has made her mount. With Mukesh Ambani, Narayanamurthy and now Saurav Ganguly also coming out in open support of the Tatas, her position must begin to look untenable even to her. But, having come so far and having succeeded in getting the Nano plant to shut down through her pressure tactics, it is perhaps too late for her to admit that.

Shifting of the plant to another location will cost the Tatas Rs500 crores, a huge sum of money. But Ratan Tata is not the kind who will back out if his employees are not safe and he is not welcome in West Bengal. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the Tatas do not give bribes and Mamata does not take them, making a shady settlement, the kind that makes most other politicians salivate, impossible.

Mamata is apparently still under the impression that the Tatas are posturing and are not going to leave Singur. She just might be making the biggest mistake of her life. Ratan Tata had said earlier in an interview that if someone holds a gun to his head, he has to pull the trigger. He is not going to give in to her blackmail, no matter what the cost. She better understand that fast or else she will wind up committing hara kiri, because the Nano will go from West Bengal.

What a big project the billion dollar Nano is and what it can do to the area where it is located is clear to all except Mamata. A number of states are already falling over each other to get the project. The red carpet is being rolled out by them while Mamata mindlessly waves the red flag. That flag is about to consume her politically, but she does not know that yet.

It would in the best interest of all if the Nano remains in Singur. At the same time, if the Tatas move out, it will send an unequivocal message to irresponsible politicians who can’t see beyond petty political gain, that there is a line which they can no longer cross and get away without paying an unacceptable political price.

In the larger interest of the country, perhaps the time for the latter has come. If Mamata refuses to relent, then, no matter what the monetary cost, the Tatas must move Nano out of her firing line and say ta ta to Singur. If he does that, Ratan Tata will set one more shining example that will prove to be a beacon to industrialists and politicians in future.