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Nano Finds A Home

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The press conference enabled Modi to exhibit his industry-friendliness and concern for Gujarat’s prosperity, and left behind his image as a Muslim hater and dirty fighter. He waxed eloquent about his plans for Gujarat, which did not stop at industrialising it, but reached towards making it a transport hub, with smooth, broad highways and bustling seaports. He saw the Nano plant as a step in Gujarat’s reaching for the $3-trillion world car market.
Ratan Tata was no less ambitious. He aimed, starting at 100,000 cars, to take the output of the Sanand plant to half a million. Nano, he claimed, had rewritten the rules of the game. He would go on to make electric and hybrid cars. Nano would change the way Indians travelled, and was a step towards making India a small car hub of the world. He promised to fund research in agriculture and marine biology.
That is what Gujarat gained — it is what Bengal lost. The loss must rankle. State Industry Minister Nirupam Sen gave expression to his hurt; but the greatest blow was to the chief minister of West Bengal, who worked so hard to make Singur happen. He was defeated by a fellow Bengali, who should have West Bengal’s interests as much at heart as he. It is impossible to imagine a Gujarati working to sabotage an industrial project, however opposed he may be to Narendra Modi. That is what Mamata Banerjee did; and she triumphed. For her, it was a cause for celebration. But she chose what came more naturally to her — anger. She accused Buddhadev Bhattacharjee and Ratan Tata of having conspired to sabotage the Singur project and to bring her into disrepute. This is stuff of riveting fiction; she should take leave from politics for a while and write a novel on the theme. She might get some royalty from the book; it might lead her to appreciate the joy of earning one’s living with one’s own sweat, instead of from others’ blood and tears.
For all the actors in this drama there is life after Singur; all have to take what lessons they would from it and get on. The way ahead will be the hardest for Bhattacharjee, because he came to power with an ambition that has been frustrated, first in Nandigram and now in Singur. His government is Communist; he must live with the fact. He and his colleagues are fond of repeating what a great success they have made of West Bengal’s agriculture. But they themselves are not satisfied with their success, let alone the people they rule. Industry and services have brought prosperity to the west and south of India. After having watched the changes with envy for three decades, the people of West Bengal ask: why not us? It is a question that the chief minister asks himself; it is what has driven him in his quest for development.
He may not have the complete answer, but he has at least two elements. One is that development is incompatible with demonstrations choking cities. Once his own party used to block them; now his opponents do it better. West Bengal has to find a different way of doing politics, with tolerance, forbearance and plurality. Before they can talk others into coming to Bengal, Bengalis must learn to talk to one another.
His Gujarati counterpart must already know that enterprise has no religion; he has just welcomed an industrialist whose religion originated a thousand miles northwest at least as long ago as his own. As he said in the press conference, he was concerned that the Nano project should remain within the country. He should be concerned, not just with keeping enterprise in India, but with bringing it into India. It makes no difference to a Gujarati worker whether his employer is a Muslim or a Christian, an American or a Russian; all productive activity in Gujarat creates income and employment, whoever owns or runs it. Politicians grow up in stagnant little wells of local politics, where they learn to play with parochial prejudices. The prejudices are shackles in the larger roles politicians end up in. Bhattacharjee has learnt this; Modi still has to show he has.
(Businessworld Issue 21-27 Oct 2008)

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