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The Tata Nano Singur Controversy History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Singur is a town in Hooghly District, West Bengal, India. This place was practically unheard of and gained international media attention after Tata Motors proposed the idea of setting a factory to manufacture the world’s cheapest car- The Tata Nano. It was supposed to be priced at Rs 1, 00,000 and the car was scheduled to be rolled out by 2008.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) had just come to power at that time, (May 18, 2006). The State Government had allowed Tata to take over 997 acres of farmland in Singur to build its factory. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal, wanted Tata to go ahead with the Tata Nano project in his state citing reasons of industrialisation and State development. West Bengal was viewed as an anti- industrialised state and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee wanted to reform that image. However, this act was received with much opposition from the activists, the displaced land owners and the opposition parties in Bengal. (Singur Tata Nano Controversy, 2012)

The government had acquired 1200 acres of land which included 997 acres from 13000 ‘unwilling’ farmers. These 997 acres of land was leased to the Tata Motors to set up the Nano plant. The government had offered a price which was better than that in Nandigram and also provided compensation which had included the sharecroppers also.

There were six sites offered by the state government to Tata Motors. The company had selected Singur as the chosen site. Singur is the most fertile belt in that region. Almost whole of the entire local population there was dependant on agriculture with approximately 15000 earning their livelihood from it. The number of jobs to be provided then was in 1000s which was clearly insufficient and this had threatened the local inmates there.

Also, the dependants on these land holdings, like the artisans or landless labourers could not be compensated nor were they promised jobs in the upcoming factory. Looking at all this, the opposition party, Trinamool Congress Party headed by Mamata Banerjee also jumped into the scene then and started an opposition against this. She went on a hunger strike and started a mass movement. She even made sure some of the locals did not take the compensation to show that people haven’t got their compensation.

The poor village masses and even the urban middle class were dragged into this.

Maoists, SUCI (Socialist Unity Centre of India) and some Ultra lefts who were traditionally with the Left also had switched sides seeing the public support Trinamool got. Also leaders of other political parties joined the movement for their political motives.

Use of Marxist ideologies and also artists and activists created a buzz in favour of the movement. Various groups such as Civil rights and human rights groups, legal bodies and social activists like Medha Patkar and Anuradha Talwar had extended their widespread support towards this movement. Other dignitaries who voiced their opinion for this movement were: Arundhati Roy (Booker prize-winning author) and Mahasweta Devi (Magsaysay and Jnanpith Award-winning author). There were other intellectuals too; writers such as the poet Ruchit Shah; artists like Suvaprasanna, who had pitched in. Eminent personalities from theatre and film industry like Saonli Mitra, Aparna Sen etc. were also not left far behind. The Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen had expressed his ideas and views about industrialisation and he being in favour of setting up factories, however, he was not seen to support the opposed acquisition of land by force (Sahoo, 2012).

Due to severe unrest in the region of Singur, police force was used which had ended up in violence and riots leaving the people of Singur stirred up against this forcible acquisition. All this unrest had practically sealed the fate of the Tata Nano factory in Singur and any form of project work to be carried out seemed impossible. It was during this time that various other states such as Haryana and Maharashtra approached Tata to set up the Nano Factory at their states. Finally, Tata Motors had to take the decision of relocating the Nano plant from Singur to Sanand in Gujarat and the Tata Nano project in West Bengal was terminated forever.

Media Portrayal in the whole case:

The Indian Media has portrayed this whole episode as “Gujarat’s gain” and “Bengal’s loss”. This has been seconded by quite a many members of the elite class as well as the common middle class. The whole turn of events of the Tata Nano factory first being set up and then relocated to Sanand is seen as huge image tarnish for the Government of West Bengal and the then chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Also, the readiness with which Tata Motors relocated the factory to Sanand can be viewed as a feather in the cap of Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the political party of BJP. West Bengal which has been ruled since 1977 by the leftist parties’ alliance now bears an impression of a state that is not pro capitalist industrialization and this notion has been strengthened by the Singur issue. For Gujarat this was a win-win situation as not only they established the Nano factory, but this event made Gujarat emerge as an auto hub and gave way for several other car manufacturers to set up factories there.

The media had constantly projected Ratan Tata as the victim and villainized Mamata Banerjee and all those allied parties who were against the Nano factory being set up in Singur. But the media failed to project the real reasons behind why the farmers are so bounded to their lands, why they are so emotionally and sentimentally attached, why they fight for their land and why they are even ready to give up their lives for it. In the whole coverage of the Singur case, only the case facts pertaining to views of commerce and the government were over-represented.

The CPI (M) party had ruled West Bengal for quite a long time. They were seen as the party which was pro its people and supported the farmer but immediately as this Nano Singur issue came up, CPI(M) was instantly viewed as one who had become the ‘anti farmer’ and just want to symbolize the state authority. Mamata Banerjee portrayed herself as the messiah of the poor and one who was there to take up their issues. Looking at this scenario, Network 18 had quoted saying, “Marxists caught in time-warp as Mamata juggernaut rolls by” (Srivastava, 2011). Reuters had mentioned that: “Even the most backward districts of Purulia and Midnapore indicate that this fortress of poverty now looks vulnerable to the unstoppable Mamata juggernaut. Reuters” (Srivastava, 2011) . Clearly this shows that media portrayed that Mamata Banerjee was trying to capitalise on the situation that the poor farmers and the middle class were quite sentimentally attached with their land and she wanted to make this a political agenda suiting her benefits.

Even Ratan Tata was portrayed as the victim and the one who had to suffer a lot. The Hindustan times had mentioned in one of their articles that Ratan Tata had become quite emotional when he had to bid farewell to his shareholders in the Tata Nano project. He had mentioned that he was thankful to the shareholders as they were there during the times of his need. Also he wasn’t infuriated or angry about the whole Singur case but that he was quite “sad” about the fact that nothing could be done in Bengal with respect to setting up a Tata plant. He hoped that in future may be a plant is established there. (IANS, 2012)

Ratan Tata in an interview with NDTV had also mentioned that he doesn’t see this issue as just a political agenda and that he knew that some competitors were fuelling this issue for their personal motives. Once again, in the whole controversy, only the main people concerned were the Tata Company, the State Government and the opposition. There was hardly any coverage on the farmers, what they thought, they wanted and why was the land so important to them. If at all anything was covered about them, was the unrest caused in the land of Singur, the riots, the police lathi charge and the intervention and if at all any such incidents where women were physically abused or harassed.

One of the authors who write for the ‘International Herald Tribune’, Anand Giridhardas had written that the fact that whether the farmers were compensated enough or their protests were built up for political manoeuvres is not as important as the building of a Rs 1,00,000 car and definitely that was much easier than parting the peasants of their land. (Jayaraman, 2009). An excerpt in the Indian express had this reprinted as an article in September 2008.The article was named “Singur in Foreign Media”.

Starting from the day the Tata Nano project was announced, the coverage in the Indian English newspapers had no mention of the voice and opinion of the farmers. The Hindu had published three stories which did not contain even a single quote from any protesting farmer during that period (from June 27 to June 30, 2005). The Hindu had covered the whole issue negatively and had contained quite uncritical statements by the ruling party and hence sympathising with Tata. The Times of India had contained two write ups which had quoted only Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Biman Bose, Jyoti Basu and some other party representatives. They too portrayed Ratan Tata as a victim, and that the state had committed a huge blunder. The Telegraph had ignored some 1,000 villagers, by its own discretion, shouting, “We’ll give blood not land,” as “a small incident”. The Telegraph however did quote, and had continued doing so for quite some time, the farmers. But again, these were few of the many who had welcomed the project and were willing to give up their land willingly hoping that they would be compensated and would receive jobs and upward mobility.

On contrary, the articles that were carried in The Statesman (about three out of four) had not only just interviewed the farmers but also treated them sensitively, and had highlighted the issue of sharecroppers and landless labourers. (Jayaraman, 2009)

Hence, we see that a lot of the buzz created around this whole issue had been quite elemental in forming opinions for the common mass, but clearly an inside aspect of this whole issue was overlooked. The media has the power to influence opinion of the public and in realisation of this power; it should take care to not just sensationalise news but give an inside out and a neutral perspective presenting all facts and leave the opinion forming part to the public.

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