Friday, October 3, 2008

NANO QUITS SINGUR


Not very long back, Ratan Tata had said in an interview with Barkha Dutt "if someone holds a gun to my head, he has to pull the trigger or move the gun away because I am not going to move my head." As this post is being typed, Ratan Tata speaking at a press conference in Kolkata, has just repeated that statement and said that Mamata Bannerjee has pulled the trigger.

It is official now. The Tatas are finally moving the Nano plant out of West Bengal. Ratan Tata has made it clear that it is not possible to run a plant when its boundary walls are being broken, when its employees are being attacked and when all kinds of slogans are being raised against the project.

That the agreement between Mamata Bannerjee and the West Bengal government was dead even before the ink dried on it was clear when Mamata asked for return of 300 acres from within the plant and the Tatas said that no more than 47 acres could be made available. Mamata then thought that Ratan Tata would blink, considering that the price of staring back was Rs 500 crore. She had obviously not heard about his aforementioned statement and had not studied the man closely either. That is why she was sure that Tatas would not move out of the state and that all such talk was nothing but 'posturing'. That is why she remained adamant and refused to accept a much improved compensation package in lieu of land that the government offered.

She wanted 300 acres. She has got 997. Should she and the farmers of Singur who allowed themselves to be mislead by her be celebrating, now that not even one acre of agricultural land will now be taken away? This is what I had written a day after the failed agreement with Mamata had been signed, when it had become clear that things were going to come to a head:

Has Mamata really achieved her objective or has she condemned herself to political obscurity and the people of Singur to poverty and deprivation? She may have succeeded in pushing the hapless Chief Minister into a political surrender and achieved a pyrrhic personal victory. Will that be enough to make Ratan Tata also surrender to her, under pressure from the CM and many others in the larger interest of West Bengal?

This is the one political battle that will reverberate across India and influence similar disputes that are bound to arise as more and more land is acquired for setting up industries in an India making the transition from a developing to a developed nation. That is why, it is important that a sharp lesson is taught to irresponsible politicians that they cannot keep getting away with impossible demands. The surrender of the state government to Mamata clearly indicates that it is not going to be easy for other politicians to show the much needed spine.

That unpleasant task has, therefore, to be taken on by the industry which is putting its money on the ground. Although Bengal will suffer very heavily if the Nano project moves to another state, for the sake of India and Indian industry, Ratan Tata should swallow that bitter pill once and tell Mamata that what she has achieved is not a victory but an inglorious defeat from which she will not recover.

Mamata Bannerjee has pulled the trigger and Ratan Tata has shown exceptional courage, integrity and resolve by biting the bullet. This is something that is going to shock her as nothing as till now. Soon, the people of Singur who have been supporting her will realise that she has achieved nothing more than ruining not only their future but perhaps the future of their whole state. Her politics of brinkmanship had to one one day bring her to the edge of an abyss. If she is able to still recover from here and remain a political force in West Bengal, then the collective intelligence and wisdom of that state will need to be seriously questioned.

The only irony about what has happened is that it is the communists of Bengal who tried desperately to keep a capitalist in their state and it was a former Congress leader who drove him out. That is what the communists themselves had done in the sixties when they forced many industrialists to leave the state in droves to relocate in Pune, Faridabad and other places.

Ratan Tata deserves the collective support of the whole nation and the industry for taking a bold and badly needed step which is bound to lead to a paradigm shift in the manner that politicians create and fan agitations irreconcilably and irresponsibly in the hope of garnering popular support. It is not going to be easy for anyone in future to repeat a Singur without deeply considering the greater cost to the society and the state. It is for the people of West Bengal to send this loud message when it is time for them to say what needs to be said through the ballot box.

The Nano has quit Singur. But this long awaited dream of millions of Indians waiting to own a car that they can afford, will roll out for them from a new home. Perhaps it is befitting that the world's first $2500 car should roll out from a home where it is welcome and wanted. And when it drives into Singur from its new home, the people of the town will be left in no doubt that by letting Mamata Bannerjee throw it out from its original home, they lost a defining opportunity that knocks but once in life.

This post was also published by Reuters.com and in 'Bloggers' Park' of Mumbai Mirror.