So Tatas have moved on,leaving West Bengal to pick up the pieces in Singur. News is Nano may well roll out of the relocated plant in Gurarat by the end of 2008. And West Bengal may well have its growth clock set back by a decade or more. Can anyone with investment in mind be expected to opt West Bengal after seeing what the Tatas had to go through in Singur?
Mamata Banerjee, by ‘pulling the trigger’ as Ratan Tata put it, may have scored a political point. The Trinamool Congress supremo, unrepentent, and still on a protest mode, is crying ‘state-sponsored terrorism’;she has cautioned chief minister Buddhadeb Battacharjee not to ‘play with fire’.The chief minister, on his part, accuses the opposition of being ‘very, very irresponsible’. He claims his government has lost a battle, but not the war.
Not the kind of political rhetoric that inspires investor confidence, does it? The message Mamata sends out to potential investors is, no matter who is in power, those who wish to do business in West Bengal would need to do a deal with her.
Mamata and the environmental activists promoting, what Alka Sehgal terms, ‘romanticised images of rural life’ would have one believe that the Singur farmers who sold/lost thier small holdings had little to gain from the compensation package, or benefit from urbanised growth the Nano car plant would bring to their area. Ms Sehgal, writing in a web magazine Spiked , cites business columnist Gurcharan Das as saying, ‘the real question is whether Indians want to remain starving peasants or become part of an urban proletariat.’
Not a particularly inviting choice, is it, considering that one could argue equally persuasively against either option. But the immediate question that stares at Singur farmers after the Tatas pullout is, WHAT NEXT?. One farmer, who had willingly given up land for the plant, told the media: ‘Can any of the opposition leaders tell us what we do now?’ He might as well bang his head at a brick wall.
For the way we practice democracy doesn’t provide for politicians’ accountablity for the socio-economic damage they cause by agitations to further their political agenda. Law makers would do well to consider bringing in legislation banning agitations against any project that is past the ‘commitment’ stage. Such ban would however not preclude a judicial review or litigation pursued in public interest.
It is said that West Bengal’s loss is Gujarat’s gain. Neither can be said to be a winner insofar as the Nano pull-out set off an unseemly scramble among states, vying with one another to attract the Tatas. Potential investors, on their part, tend to shop for concessions and privileges in excess of the declared industrial policy of a state. The project goes to the highest bidder, not necessarily the most deserving one. Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is charged by the opposition Congress with ‘a sell-out’, and making ‘secret’ deal with the Tatas.
Politically motivated ? Sure, but such charges, even if unfounded, seek to create public suspicion and to undermine a government’s integrity. The ultimate loser is India.The circumstances that led to the relocation of Nano project doesn’t enhance the country’s image among foreign investors. They don’t help us project India as a preferred FDI destination.