Bengaluru steel flyover may be people's victory, but public pressure can lead to disastrous results too

Shubham Ghosh
Bengaluru steel flyover may be people's victory, but public pressure can lead to disastrous results too

The government of Karnataka eventually decided not to go ahead with the controversial steel flyover project in Bengaluru. It is a big victory for the civil society – the citizens as well as the green activists. The massive structure would not only have been a waste of money but also environmentally disastrous. The decision to scrap it has sent across the message that people's will is still a formidable force to tame the State.

Compare it with Singur and Nanidgram protests in West Bengal

But not all instances of the State's retreat in the face of a strong civil society are ideal. Almost a decade ago in West Bengal, a couple of much-required industrial clusters – in Singur and Nandigram – could not come through because the civil society rose in protest. Grassroots leaders like Mamata Banerjee had ultimately toppled the Left Front from the seat of power riding the massive anti-incumbency waves that were generated as a reaction against the failed attempts of industrialisation by the communists.

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But it was the civil society that had played a prominent role in turning things around. Bengal's sentiments were not content, unlike Karnataka, since the State's retreat there in the face of popular resistance gave a body blow to its economic prospects.

Singur & Nandigram are just political symbols today

Singur and Nandigram have been reduced to political symbols today and the ruling Trinamool Congress and its supremo Mamata Banerjee, who had made every possible effort to ensure that the plan for industrialisation did not succeed, plays it both ways to reap the benefits. One the one hand, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee defends the farmers' rights to their land and has made it a policy that her government would not repeat what its predecessor had done in the mid 2000s, on the other, she also invites investors, including the same Tata who was forced to retreat from Singur, to set up projects in her state. This way, while she shows to her constituencies that she is for industrialisation, she also conveys the message that she is more leftist than the communists, her arch-rivals. 

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Banerjee might be playing it both ways today so that her opposition can not steal the show but the end result has been zero for Bengal's overall gain. In fact, the Singur and Nandigram incidents have permanently damaged the prospects of industrialisation in Bengal.

Hence, one will make a right conclusion to say that the two episodes at two corners of the country, spanning a decade apart, prove that a popular movement is not necessarily a positive one, especially if politicians take over it at some point of time to prove their worth.

The apolitical won the battle in Bengaluru

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The Bengaluru flyover controversy episode has showed how an apolitical resistance movement can make even powerful political forces retreat, especially when elections are not very far off. The Congress knew very well that persisting with the project in the face of allegations of corruption and opposition on grounds of environmental degradation would only endanger its chances further in the next Assembly polls due in 2018. With just one big state remaining in its kitty, there was very little option for the Congress but to give up the nonviable project. The BJP in the Opposition had its chances to criticise the government but at the end of the day, it was the common man's will that made the government bow.

The political moves made people's cause a lost one in Singur and Nandigram

The Singur or Nandigram episodes in Bengal began with the common man's rights, which was the focal point in the beginning but soon after, the political devoured the apolitical. The common man's interest lost its significance and 'power' began to speak, making everything else trivial. The eposide, which the political in the state describes as something historic today, even saw deaths.

Mamata Banerjee, who was an enthusiastic opponent to the industrial plans then, still continues to milk the sentiments around Singur and Nandigram for the safety of her party's vote-bank while the hope for the revival of the state's economy was left shattered with no alternative plan to cater to what matters the most in a democracy – people's interest.

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