Singur: Voters differ on aborted Tata factory but soaring fuel prices and falling rates for locally grown potatoes unite them

"Modi has made our life miserable by an unprecedented and ever-increasing price of domestic gas as well as petrol-diesel. He is so insensitive that he does not spare the poor dependent on kerosene. Priced at Rs 45 per litre, our regular customers are not able to buy it"

Singur: Elderly Kakoli Manna and Sameer Kumar Das, neighbours at Mallickpur, a few kilometres away from the ‘Tatar Math’ felt that the Nano car factory could have provided jobs to some unemployed youth including locals. But they admitted that they were not farmers who had sold their land voluntarily or lost it during the hasty and coercive acquisition drive by the Left Front government in 2006.

“We need a balance between industry and agriculture. Unfortunately, this is not happening,” Das, a retired government employee, said. He indicated his earlier preference for the Lefts while being soft on the BJP now. Many CPM loyals had voted for the Hindutva party in the last few polls because of TMC’s corruption and highhanded manner, he said.

“Every party indulges in mandir-masjid politics. I think that Modi is the most courageous prime minister after Indira Gandhi. Some of my friends still prefer BJP in 2021. Others would have voted for the Left-Congress but their alliance with Abbas Siddiqui has made my friends hesitant. Lefts should have waited till 2026 for a comeback on its strength rather than depending on a conservative and upstart Pirzada,” Das said, revealing the dilemma of the LF Hindu voters.

singur voters bengal elections fuel prices potatoes rate farmers
Kakoli Manna | Courtesy: Dalit Camera

Manna, a housewife who runs a grocery shop with her husband, immediately contradicted her neighbour. “It matters little whether Modi is courageous in other fronts or not. But he has made our life miserable by an unprecedented and ever-increasing price of domestic gas as well as petrol-diesel. It has snowballed into an overall price rise. Modi is so insensitive that he does not spare the poor dependent on kerosene. Priced at Rs 45 per litre, our regular customers are not able to buy it. So the kerosene stock at our shop is still unsold making it a bad investment for us,” Manna said.

Das readily agreed but criticised TMC supremo and chief minister Mamata Banerjee for not being ‘vocal enough’ against the price hike. Manna, however, made it clear that she would vote for Mamata. “We have many complaints about civic amenities. But I will still go for her. She has provided food to the poor during the lockdown months. Young students and girls have got cycles and stipends from the government,” she reasoned.

Courtesy: Dalit Camera

Nayantara Dhara and Purnima Adhikari, both from Gopal Nagar close to ‘Tatar Math’ tried to make a balance between the past and present. “We did not sell our land for the factory. But we would have welcomed it if there was a negotiation with farmers first before the takeover,” elderly Dhara said. Both the women listed better roads and security for women as well as financial assistance to girl students as well as pensions to widows and old persons among the reasons for their support to Mamata.

Not everybody is fortunate enough to sail through the ruling party hierarchy to get the government’s benevolence as the tradition of clientele politics continues in Bengal. Sukhi Malik and her sister-in-law Sushmita from Purushottampur were going to attend the TMC-facilitated farmers’ meeting at Ratanpur as the party leaders had told them. They hoped to get financial assistance to build a home under Indira Awas Yojana by underlining their allegiance to the ruling party.

“We are very poor and can’t afford a latrine at our present place. My mother-in-law does not like my presence in political rallies. However, my father-in-law was a CPM supporter. He knows how things work. So he asks me to attend if it helps to get us the early sanction,” Sakhi said. Her two school-going sons have got cycles under a scheme. They know Modi too runs some schemes for the poor. “We know he often speaks on TV. But we don’t have a TV,” Susmita added.

Potatoes farmers and business worry over the falling price

Singur is part of South Bengal’s potato-producing belt. Farmers and businessmen here are greatly dependent on the state government’s procurement, though there is no proper Mandi system in Bengal. Both local and Calcutta businessmen purchase potatoes from small farmers and store the bags in cold storage to make a better profit after the harvest season is over. But overproduction and falling purchase prices from the government’s end have led to a double whammy for them this year.

Abdul Kadir, a manager of MA Tara cold storage in Singur explained the situation. According to him, bumper production also in UP has made their marketing outside Bengal more difficult. The state government had purchased a 50 kgs bag at the rate of Rs 680 last year. Farmers get half of the price only. Nevertheless, last year’s rate encouraged them and they invested more in potato cultivation this time. The increasing fuel prices and electricity charges have already made paddy farming non-remunerative. But the state government has halved the price this time. Now businessmen are not interested in purchasing from farmers.

Does it not fit into prime minister Modi’s arguments in favour of new farm laws which will allow corporate companies, a la Adani and Ambani groups to buy from farmers directly because of the volatile market situation? Kadir felt otherwise. “In a big country like India, we cannot wish away the army of intermediaries to make room for big corporates. What is the guarantee that the latter will not exploit the farmers more in the name of ensuring a market? Farmers can be helped more if the central and state governments ensure MSP for all major food crops. It will also help common consumers,” he reasoned. This is what the farmers are asking for.

Biswajit Roy

is Consultant Editor with eNewsroom India. He reports on major news developments as well as writes political pieces on national and Bengal politics and social-cultural issues.

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