June 24, 2021
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So you wondered why Mamata di wanted her candidate in Rashtrapati Bhawan? As the Calcutta HC pointed out today, her Singur Land Act could not be considered constitutional as the President’s assent had not been taken.

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Calcutta Corner

The Presidential Consent
“There was still a glimmer of home. Now that too has been extinguished,” Md. Abdul, member of an “unwilling” family of farmers who lost land in Singur told Outlook. He was reacting to today’s verdict by the Calcutta High Court on a case in which Tata Motors challenged the Bengal government’s move to pass legislature that enabled the latter to re-acquire the land which the company had taken on lease in Singur to construct its small car factory during the time of the Left regime. To recap history, the then Bengal government gave 997 acres of land to Tata Motors at the time of Bengal’s big industrialization drive initiated by former CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee between 2000 and 2006 to set up the Nano plant. There were those who parted with their land and accepted the compensation paid by the government. They were called the “willing farmers.”

A large group of farmers however were unwilling because the land was multi-crop and cultivation of that land was their only source of income. There would be others who been badly hit by the Tata’s acquisition of land and those were the landless sharecroppers who cultivated others’ lands. Their source of income would be completely wiped out since not possessing land, they wouldn’t even be entitled to compensation. The government’s move was deemed as a betrayal by the people of Singur who had brought the Marxists back to power year after year for 34 years because they felt safe with the Left’s earlier land policy.

Now, Mamata Banerjee, who had been looking for a way to make inroads into the Left vote bank pounced on this opportunity to swing the popular mood in her favour. She organized the Singur agitation, fasting there against acquisition of land. The Left government imposed Section 144 of the IPC which prevented large numbers of people to gather in Singur and forcefully acquired the land. At this time were allegations against Left activists of rape and murder of protestors including that of a teenager named Tapasi Malik who was raped and burnt alive on her farmland which became a part of the Singur factory. Though the factory was formed, Mamata vowed to the unwilling farmers that she would come to power and return the land to them. After coming to power, last year, the new TMC government passed the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011 which empowered it to get the land back from Tata Motors. Tata Motor of course said nothing doing and challenged the move. The initial euphoria of the farmers, who had voted Didi to power, quickly died down. If you visited Singur at this time, the mood was anger and resignation. “We have lost our faith in Didi,” they said. “What’s the use of passing a law that doesn’t work?”

Today’s verdict, rendering the new TMC legislation unconstitutional and therefore null and void, was the final nail in the coffin and a big setback for the West Bengal government at a time when it is besieged with trouble from all directions, not the least of which is its tug-of-war with allies at the Centre over a range of issues including the choice of President. There was some questions as to what could be the reason for Mamata Banerjee to be so keen to have her own choice of President instituted at Raisina Hills considering that the CMs of states rarely has business to do with the President of the country. A possible clue lies in the verdict pronounced by the division bench of the Calcutta High Court on the Singur case today.

The division bench of Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghosh and Mrinal Kanti Chaudhury pointed out that the Act could not be considered constitutional as the President’s assent had not been taken.

There you go.

Left, Right, Left
In a surprising move, the CPIM general secretary Prakash Karat decided to back UPA’s presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee. It was Karat who was behind the final decision to withdraw support to the UPA-I government. And even more surprising considering that other than the Politburo members from Bengal (with the exception of Sitaram Yechury who is not Bengali), key members, including his wife Brinda Karat— who is Bengali— are against Pranab’s candidacy. So what could be Karat’s compulsions for supporting Mukherjee?

In Bengal, it is Karat who is held responsible for thwarting former Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu’s chances of becoming Prime Minister in 1996 and Bengal never quite forgave him. Again, it was he who was behind the expulsion of former speaker Somnath Chatterjee— another Bengali— from the CPIM in 2008 for refusing to step down from the Speaker’s post during the UPA-CPIM standoff over the Indo-US nuclear deal issue. The CPIM’s rout in Bengal in the Parliamentary as well as Assembly elections of 2009 and 2011 respectively was attributed in large measure to Karat’s politics at the centre. He had quite simply lost Bengal’s trust. Backing the candidacy of another Bengali therefore seemed like a chance at redemption. However, what has not gone unnoticed in Bengal is that it is one thing to support a move to propel a Bengali to the post of Prime Minster and quite another to do so for the post of President. It is one thing to expel a veteran member of the party from the post of Speaker and quite another to do so for the post of President, which is more or less a ceremonial post.

The other possible reason for Karat’s support of Mukherjee could be that what with the strained UPA-Mamata relationship, he wants to keep the options of a future with the UPA alive. After all, the Left’s rout in Bengal after 34 years was possible only because of the UPA-Mamata alliance both at the Centre and in Bengal. And that, let us not forget, was made possible by the Left’s withdrawing support of the UPA. And who was behind that? Karat, of course. It is unlikely that Karat does not have that on his conscience.

Another possible reason could be this: Remember how Mamata Banerjee came up with the name of Somnath Chatterjee as one of her choices of President last week? Well, that would not have gone down too well with Karat, who expelled Chatterjee and the two never saw eye to eye after that. Somnath in fact, congratulated Mamata after she defeated the Left. Mamata was well aware of all this, when she suggested his name. By supporting Pranab Mukherjee, whose nomination was bitterly opposed by Mamata, he is returning the snub.

Greatest Indian After Gandhi...
The Reserve Bank of India has revealed that it wants to print currency notes featuring other prominent leaders of the country. Since 1997 all notes carry the embossed image of Mahatma Gandhi. Earlier it was the Ashoka pillar, with only the 500-ruppee notes featuring Gandhi. The RBI has reportedly invited eminent citizens of the country from various fields to suggest names. In Bengal, three names that have come up for consideration are those of Rabindranath Tagore, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Satyajit Ray. In fact, a Calcutta newspaper quotes actor Shabana Azmi saying she wants to see currency notes feature, “Satyajit Ray, because he is counted among the 10 best directors in the world and brought great honour to the country…It is only fitting that an iconic filmmaker should feature in this.” Adman Suhel Seth advocated Netaji saying, “Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose would be the best choice because he stood for values above all else and swam against the tide.”

Enterprising Calcutta
In Calcutta, the onslaught of multiplex shopping malls has still not been able to completely wipe out the small street vendors who hawk everything from fruits and flowers to garments and groceries. They pass by with their unique fares, calling out to you in their own individual styles, stopping occasionally in front of a gate or under a balcony to check if anyone is interested. People usually call out to them by the item they are selling, not even bothering to add a ‘wallah’ or something in the end. Like, “Ei je, aloo, edikey esho (Hey, potato, come here.)” A man who sells fish from one Calcutta neighborhood to another early in the mornings has a strange style. Instead of calling it “maachh” he draws your attention with a somewhat high-pitched whisper saying, “fish, fish” which actually means whisper in Bengali. He knows a few other English words. And likes to use them: “Water. Paper.” Last week, I noticed that another kind of fare has entered the street-hawkers’ market. On Sunday afternoon, a man went about our neighbourhood selling “purono computer, purono washing machine, purono AC, purono refrigerator ” and a host of other modern gadgets. He wasn’t carrying those of course, but he was like a middle man who would take buyers of second-hand goods and gadgets to sellers. Calcutta has a reputation for not been enterprising in terms of business. If this isn’t enterprising, don’t know what is.

Calcutta Wall graffiti:
Tumi bolcho tumi theek
Ami bolchi ami
Shotti je ke theek sheta
Janen Ontorjami
(You say you are right
I say, "No, me"
What the truth really is
Only God knows)

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