21 December 2006

Sorry, trade secrets!

The Marxist government, which always boasts of being the “most democratic and transparent one”, actually behaves in a different way when “unpalatable” questions are put before them.
The matter came to a head when the general secretary of the State Government Employees’ Federation, Mr Partha Chatterjee, sought some information regarding the terms and conditions of the deal between the government and Tata Motors for the latter’s proposed small car factory at Singur from the commerce and industry department under the Right to Information Act, 2004.
Mr Panchanan Banerjee, public information officer of the commerce and industry department, in his reply said there were certain information which could not be passed on to Mr Chatterjee.
He said information regarding stamp duty exemption given by the state government to the Tatas could not be divulged. Also, nothing could be mentioned on the exemption of water tax, vat and other duties imposed on the Tatas.
No information was provided on the MoU signed between the state government and the Tatas. Also, the state government declined to say anything on the steps it is going to take against the Tatas if the proposed project gets delayed.
Mr Banerjee stated that the government was unable to say the exact amount of money which the Tatas had paid to the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) for the land at Singur.
However, the total amount of money the state government was paying to farmers for acquiring the land at Singur was readily made available to Mr Chatterjee.

20 December 2006

Defy the weak

That was a screaming 72-point headline.

If they ever have the balls to say that on the eve of a CITU bandh, their office next day will come close to looking like the Hampi ruins, in terms of diaster level, not magnificence, that is.

On most Trinamul Bandhs, people are not scared to go out. People who want to work are not stopped. This is taken to be a sign of the Trinamul's ineffectiveness or lack of popularity(!).

A couple of days ago, the body of a young girl of 18, Tapasi Malik, was found in a ditch in the fenced-off area for the car factory. When Medha Patkar finally reached the village yesterday, she found none of the fiery angst amongst the villagers. They were now clearly scared.

Just five minutes ago, my colleagues were busy deriding Mamata and her fast. In fact, they have done so for quite some days now. What surprises and shocks me is that they didnt have a word to say about what is happening to the farmers in Singur or about Tapasi's murder.

Forget what Mamata says, or any other politician says. Cant they see for themselves on TV? When I went home on Nov 28 and watched the 40-minute footage on Tara Bangla or ETV Bangla (cant remember which one), I felt so terribly helpless and small. Still feel that.

Police went after people and beat them up. They went into houses, climbed on to the terraces and hit a protestor shouting slogans, they hit women too. Mind you, the TV anchor kept telling us that the footage was not clips being repeated again and again. They recorded and broadcasted the entire 40 minutes, lathi blow by lathi blow.

I have to friggin work for a living, but how I wish I didnt have dependents, so I could take to the streets myself. A rage builds up inside me, and I look like a fool when all these people around me seem to have taken it in their stride. Everything I do, then, seems like it's no point.

And I wonder like I have wondered many a time before: is there something wrong with me or is it okay to feel this rage? Does every experience have to be personal for you to take a stand, for you to feel anything at all? Also, if something's a 'political' issue, do you shut off that part of the brain that handles emotions? I know, it's unfashionable to be 'political' or 'emotional' nowadays. Corporate slick is in.

When we complain about a work day lost because of a bandh (which is a fair enough complaint), do we even think once about those people who have lost their livelihood forever? What about their lost work days?

Even if I were a die-hard Leftist, when Singur happened I would stop for a moment and re-think my allegiances. Like my friend Finny did. She read and saw for herself what I had explained over chat, and she went with me to Esplanade where Mamata is fasting for two days, and showed her support.

Because, she was moved.
I think that's what gets lost in all this government propaganda about development. Your capacity to feel.

Of course, the other question is: I do feel for the farmers. But what can I do? Not everyone of us can go on fasts, or take to the streets. But there is one thing you can do: remember. Till the next elections.

15 December 2006

Take a stand

Not that this is 'the' time to take a stand... it's been so for quite some time now. But how much longer will it take for people to understand what the powers-that-be mean by 'development'.

I paste below an article from The Statesman (link here). I wonder if the ABP group would ever carry anything close to this:

Jabberwocky: Singur thoughts
Samantak Das

IF Singur does not bother you, you can safely avoid reading this piece. What is happening there right now is a matter of considerable concern for substantial numbers of people and I do not intend to add to the debates raging around the acquisition of land, the lies and obfuscations, state repression, police brutality, the claims of the one-lakh-car versus the people’s right to their land, the fairness or otherwise of the compensation paid (or not), and so forth and so on.
But it might be possible to consider Singur in the light of some larger changes that have been taking place in India (much of it outside public scrutiny and off the pages of newspapers), which seem to spell a sea change in the way our elected leaders (irrespective of where they are located in the political spectrum) are looking at the single largest occupational group in our country — the unsung and ignored farmers who comprise (by conservative estimates) some 65 per cent of all Indians.
First, our netas appear to have come to the conclusion that the only way to ensure the future of our farmers and, by extension, of our production of and security regarding food, is by gradually withdrawing the state and its support from the farm sector. (In witness whereof one can cite the proposed Seeds Act, 2004, and the Draft National Policy for Farmers of April 2006, both of which speak favourably of a reduced role of the state in farming.)
Second, the vacuum created by the withdrawal of the state is sought to be filled by the private sector (which includes transnational corporations). The two documents alluded to above both speak of a much increased role of the private sector and “public-private partnership” in increasing the quality and quantity of farm inputs, outputs and incomes derived from agriculture.
Third, industrialisation is seen as an unmitigated good to be pursued, even at the cost of food and (perhaps more importantly) water security.
Fourth, only lip service is paid to issues of ecologically safe and sustainable practices, especially when it comes to agriculture.
Fifth, in all of this, little or no effort is being made to seek the views of those likely to be most directly, and drastically, affected by these proposed changes, namely, the farmers themselves.
If all of these changes come into being, as seems very likely to be the case, their net result will be a severe compromising of our national food and water security, an increased dependence on (patented, hence costly) technology, a further impoverishment of farmers and a severe deepening of the rural vs urban, agriculture vs industry, rich vs poor divisions.
What is happening in Singur is not only about repressive state machinery swaying to industrial capital’s siren song, nor is it about the future of a “resurgent”, industrialised West Bengal. It is really about the name and nature and future of “development” itself.
Singur is not an isolated incident and if, by some quirk (such as the Tatas’ withdrawing their offer), the status quo (prior to land acquisition) were to be restored, things would not revert to “normal”. It is a symptom of a much larger malaise — one which, if left unaddressed, not just by political parties, but by civil society, by ordinary citizens like you and me (who might not have a direct stake in what is happening there), could well spell the end of a way of life we take for granted. The question each one of us needs to ask herself or himself, at this critical juncture of our country’s history, is — which side am I on?

(Samantak Das knows just which side he is on, but isn’t sure it’ll do anyone any good.)
And what a find!

Oh and yes, how can we not talk about yesterday's bandh. Total and successful. The CPI-M was beaming inside, of course, but dared not say as much. The transport minister very generously said that people who wished to go to work could walk it. You know, reclaim the street and all.

Was watching Aajtak with Finny in the evening and man, was I bowled over by the choicest words the anchor had for the CITU and their political fathers.

Around my street corner near the bidi shop, about 50 crows held a meeting in a circle for over an hour. So earnestly, that perhaps the shop guy got a lil anxious and said, "Meetinger pore micchil hote pare (There'll probably be a procession after the meeting)." Oh, in case you were wondering, the bidi shop was open just for an hour.

But anyways, Babus, I think all of us got the message loud and clear: You are all-powerful, and we shudder in fear. Who else could bring this great chaotic city to clam up like you did? Truly, impressed.

10 December 2006

And while there was peace………

My mom called a couple of days ago and asked me how the situation was in Kolkata. Was about to brief her on the developments since last week, when she cut me short with, “I heard some people created trouble at the Tata showroom.”

I don’t blame the news editors of the Kannada paper my mom read. It wasn’t their fault that the national media and the English-language newspapers in Kolkata did a good job of mellowing down the Singur protest. They were only rivalled by a very impotent Congress in their phenomenal ignoring of the issue. Delhi, after all, is the bigger picture/pocket.

By last Monday, most of the media here were quite sure that the gift was ready to be delivered, wrapped with shiny barbed wire and all.

Never mind that fear-stricken farmers were fleeing their home and their land. Never mind that even as I key this in, Section 144 still remains clamped on ‘normal’ Singur. Also, never mind that Medha Patkar was prevented from entering Presidency College to address a gathering of students day before yesterday, forget Singur and the farmers yaar.

Oh, and by the way there was no mention at all in the TOI/The Telegraph/The Statesman of the huge rally that Patkar addressed in Haldia. Don’t know about the rest.

All for cars. Cars for all? I wonder if the Rs 1 lakh cars made this way will be distributed via the PDS. Because, I hear, on each car Tata will make a loss of Rs 16,000.

And yes, please pick up a copy of this week’s Business World if you can. I excerpt the last two paragraphs from a column a guy writes under a pseudo name Emcee. He’s usually good, but this week, he’s even better:

OK, for those of you who are really dull and have no regard for Marxist theory, here’s a simple reason why we want to locate the Tata plant in Singur: the local MLA is from the Opposition, so it doesn’t really matter if we lose votes there.
And of course, we want industries to come and set up shop in the state. Why would you want a communist party for that? You have a point there, so let me tell you a secret — we will soon change our party’s name to the Capitalist Party of India (Miltonfriedmanist). But don’t worry — it will still be the CPI(M).

Lal salaam to Comrade Tata

03 December 2006

Fenced in

Land owners in Singur refusing to budge were chased from their land, dragged out of their houses and beaten on live TV, for more than half an hour. Oh yeah, the police were 'provoked' by an acid bulb, and a random stone. The Babus make the police sound like a bunch of criminals who cant be reined in once on the rampage. I guess they are right.

Media was forced to shut their mouths about the Trinamul 'hooliganism' in the Assembly and talk, for once, about broken bones, and not broken furniture.

We shall do whatever is required for industrialisation, said Buddha.

A couple of days ago, I was talking to a very close friend about Singur. The guy's high up in the news business in Delhi. I was trying to convince him about the importance of the protest, about how this was not a 'routine' event even by WB standards. He began by telling me that such land grabs have happened all over the country, and that how the Assembly event was shameful, etc. I gritted my teeth and listened. Then told him that in none of the other states, attempts have been made to seal off the entire village, not even allowing the Leader of the Opposition, or the media (does it matter if such a thing has already happened? Must we get shocked only at a new act of cruelty?.) This conversation was before yesterday's police brutality, else it would have strengthened my argument.

Finally, he was out with it: news is no longer a profession: it's a business. South India, and the metros form our viewership base. (His is an English-language news channel.) West Bengal is not a market.

I was just hoping... there'd be a chance.