People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 37

September 21 , 2008


Behind The Curtains In Singur

Debasish Chakraborty

AS Mamata Banerjee was sitting in “dharna” outside Tata project gate in Singur, more than 200 construction workers and engineers of the Tata Motors car project were stranded inside the plant on the afternoon of August 22. That triggered the shutdown of the project work. The first batch of the agitators blocking the gate were the activists of the Paschimbanga Khet Majur Samity led by “social activist” Anuradha Talwar.

Who is this “social activist”? A leader of many NGOs, semi-political organisations, Talwar is working overtime against the Left Front on many issues in West Bengal. Here is an extract from Indian Express, Kolkata edition, September 2, 2008: “…..Anuradha Talwar, 49, a graduate of Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Her husband Swapan Ganguly is secretary of the organisation.
“Talwar and Ganguly established an NGO Gana Samhati Kendra in 1984 in Badu, North 24 Parganas. Talwar says that with funding from the Ford Foundation, they ran a project on healthcare and sanitation in villages. In 1987, they established the Khet Majur Samity, a trade union body, which they claim has no political affiliation.
“The Samity monitored NREG progress in the state and exposed failures in its implementation. Today, the NGO runs an 11-acre “collective farm” and claims it is funded by collections from locals and donations. Eight acres are used for farming — which Talwar says sustains the residents — and three acres is for homestead. An estimated 115 locals live here, eating out of a mass kitchen that runs throughout the year.
“Industry is more powerful than agriculture,” says Talwar. “So agriculture and industry cannot sustain simultaneously. Industry always destroys agriculture. Industrial pollution will engulf agricultural land. So we are fighting to save agriculture from the Tata Motors plant in Singur.” Clearly, Mamata has raised no such objections but Talwar is beside her at every public function and openly claims that Mamata asks her for advice on all matters involving the Tata project.”

A close associate of Medha Patkar, Talwar is also an activist of Right to Food Campaign, an international organisation. A web of network of NGOs sponsored by foreign funding are working in tandem. A Bengali daily reported that Talwar met officers from US Consulate before she rushed to Singur. The officer, it is learnt, is Dan Biers and interestingly he is now no longer posted in India. He is assigned work in a neighbouring country, involved in not-so-diplomatic activities there.
Talwar is not alone in her journey. 

The Indian Express story says: “Why is Mamata Banerjee so inflexible in her opposition to the Tata project? If one answer lies in her playing opposition politics, another has to do with the 21 groups which have jumped onto her stage.
“Called the People’s Secular Democratic Front, this alliance, The Indian Express has found, is a group of parties with little presence in the state, NGOs and Naxalite groups with agendas that couldn’t have been more dissimilar.

“Naxalites and former Naxalites walk in and out of these NGOs both as members and supporters. Some of the“political” groups don’t even have an office, one claims the support of 700 people across the state, another got barely 100 votes in the Hind Motors union elections. These groups joined Mamata in Nandigram and scenting success there — the government abandoned its SEZ plan — they are now emboldened in Singur.
“Because they don’t have to face voters, they have taken a hard line. So much so that as there’s talk of “mediation” in the air, they have come out to say they will continue the agitation even if Mamata backs out.” 

About some of the groups, the observation of the paper on  “Samhati Udyog” needs to be noted carefully. According to the paper, “Samhati Udyog is an alliance of no less than 10 organisations, including the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), NAPM, Khet Mazdoor Samiti, Mazdoor Kranti Parishad, Nari Atyachar Virodhi Manch, Ganapratirodh Mancha and the Bandi Mukti Committee. It was its secretary Samar Das, a former Naxalite, who began the first “survey” in Singur in June 2006 on the status of landlosers. His survey forms the basis of Mamata’s arguments but she fell out with him after the state government called him for direct talks. ‘Even if Mamata Banerjee opts out of the agitation, we will continue it,’ he says. Samhati Udyog was also involved in Nandigram and claims to be working on rights of sharecroppers, minimum wage and distribution of pattas. When asked about his sources of funding, Das declined to comment.

On the Group For Rural Alternative Movement, the paper states “Barely a year old, its secretary Mintu Dey says that all members are ‘Naxal-minded persons’ from around Jadavpur University. The NGO was formed specifically to organise and support the farmers’ agitation in Singur. There is no question of a compromise regarding Singur. If Tatas leave, so be it, said Mintu Dey. Asked about his group’s funding, he said: ‘We get money from well-wishers and small collections from sympathizers’.”

For the last two years, West Bengal has witnessed a grand alliance of all shades of anti-communists and anti-CPI(M) forces. ‘Maoists’ as well as parties with theocratic ideologies are now smooth partners of Trinamul Congress.


The problems in Singur have already raised a serious question: Is corporate rivalry a factor behind the desperate agitation against the Tata project? The small car project of the Tata Motors has some competitors within the country and abroad. The race for coming first in the market is an important question. While it is difficult to specify the forces, some comments from some quarters have drawn considerable attention of the people of the state.

Rahul Bajaj, who is planning to launch a small car like the Nano, came out in strong support of Mamata Banerjee. In a quite surprising manner, rare for industrialists, he said on September 7, “Why are the ancillary units being moved now?  Who was at fault? There was insensitivity on the part of the West Bengal government... then maybe they were at fault. I am not saying if the Tatas are at fault or not. There was a problem and it was buried for too long a duration. Mamataji's party was trying to help poor farmers and calling it politics will be unfair. Maybe from one seat in the parliament she wants 10-20 seats, to that extent politics come into the is not necessarily bad.”

To be fair to him, he played a defensive stroke the next day. Times of India reported: “Bajaj - whose two-wheelers may face competition from Tata Motors' Nano - dismissed speculation that he had a role to play in the Singur agitation. “I am fed up of hearing these things. Ratan (Tata) is a dear friend of mine. And, anyone who knows me is aware that I don't pay a dime to anybody. Why should I pay anything to Mamata?" he said.

Who’s paying whom is anybody’s speculation. But as this report goes to press there is intransigence on the part of Mamata Banerjee to accept anything less than her original demand of 400 acres from within the factory premises. The buzz is she will continue resisting the project at least beyond October, the scheduled dateline of the production of the car by Tatas.