Friday, October 3, 2008

The curious incident of Nano in these strange times.

As voiced by Mr. Ratan Tata in a press conference six weeks back, Tata motors has decided to move the “Nano small-car project” outside West Bengal. In a press conference held today in Kolkata,Mr. Tata cited his concerns for the uncertainty regarding the continued safety & welfare of his employees in the face of “aggression” from opposition politicians & their supporters in front of his factory gates. In an exercise of plain talk , Mr.Tata owned up his responsibility for the welfare of his employees in the absence of a “congenial environment” to work in Singur . Likewise he talked about his accountability to the shareholders of Tata Motors because of which he could not afford to keep the investment in a “limbo” till a solution emerged . He had already spent two years full of “trying times & disruption”, Mr. Tata said.

Analysts in the tube voiced different opinions.
Mr. Alok Mukherjee , from the industry, articulated his concerns (& rightly so ) for the deteriorating image of Bengal and the impact it will have on future investments from within & outside the country.
Kalyan Sanyal, a professor of economics from the Kolkata University ( a self-confessed ex-agitator who took to the streets protesting against the visit of Robert McNamara , World Bank chief to Kolkata, decades ago) indulged in a fine-tooth analysis to discover “mother of all marginalised people” among the affected farmers who sold land for the project . He naively thought that if their interests could be protected , the project would have been on. He forgets , in spite of his experience in this field, that agitational politics & industrial development do not go together. Farmers’ issues , like the Babri Masjid, are often merely the stepping stone for a larger political space .
Mr. Abhirup Sarkar, another economist, thought probably the society of Bengal is not ready for “industry” & farmers are not “well-informed” as to what they will do with the money they receive in exchange for the land they sold for the project.
Not ready for industry? Amusing! What are these engineering colleges doing in Bengal? For learning to sow paddy ?
What will they do with the money? Give me a break. Probably they will burn them up for some warmth during the winter or hit the hooch!!!

Quite a few of the analysts often took umbrage to their domestic maid-servants , citing their opinions as proof of the mindset of marginalised farmers. Maid servants are also Mamata Bannerjees’ favourite examples & thus an interesting symbol for the middle-class city-bred Bengali whenever they want to voice their liberal & egalitarian attitude in public. The days are not far away when the feudal Bengali society will be forced to pay higher salaries for the service (often thankless) of maid servants rather than that of the skilled engineers. And Bengal Institues for Domestic Work would mushroom in place of the engineering & technical colleges. Strange times,indeed.

Subrata Mukherjee, a politician, thought he had enough reasons to believe that Tata Motors could still run the plant if they had done A then B & C. It is a sign of the times that politicians of all hues specially the ex-toughies ,with little knowledge of technical education, can portray an image of “educating” a technocrat on how to run an industry. Politicians are supposed to bring in policies for change and a change for the better & not just blind opposition. As the saying goes , Bengal is a land of culture & agriculture. Maybe Bengal is just a land of “disagree-culture”, where people will spend sleepless nights to figure out ten ways to not to do a developmental job rather than finding one way of doing it. We are lucky that the Howrah Bridge & station, the India Railways, Airports & other mega projects have been built in earlier times . In today’s times, even a cross-country railroad project would have been opposed and alternatives of bullock-carts or cycle-vans would have been touted as viable examples of environmental-friendly , people-friendly transports.

This is 21st century and the digital age. The world is moving at a frenetic pace while reductionism rules in technology . Scientists are living on the cutting age ,reducing matter to theoretical particles & conducting experiments to discover Bosons & quarks in order to crack the mystery of the universe. VLSI circuits rule in everybody’s lives . Nano technology is already here and people are counting time in nano seconds. But in Bengal, there is a dilation of time or rather the insignificance of it. Projects here take decades before fruition. The case of Haldia Petrochemical is one such example. If only , Tata Motor had such time to waste!

Mr. Ratan Tata in his press conference today mentioned that , “Miss Mamata Bannerjee pulled the trigger. I did not move my head.”

Now that Nano gets banned from production in Bengal, it may not be long before a Mamata-inspired Bengali band called “kunritey binoshto” (meaning ‘nipped in the bud’) comes out with its own rendition of Bob Marley’s famous number

“I shot the Buddha

But I did not shoot no Mr. T , oh no…”

While Durga Puja, Bengal’s annual festival, starts in a couple of days time; one can only wonder in bewilderment whether Mamata was the Durga that exterminated Nano, the industrial Mahishashur, in the mythical tradition of good winning over evil? Or was it the evil that drove away the good?

In either way Nano's genesis & extermination will remian curious incidents in these strange times of Bengal cloaked in its self-destructive "disagree-culture".

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