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A Twist in the Tale

The Singur Movement

Land Dispossession and Everyday Politics in Rural Eastern India by Kenneth Bo Nielsen, London and New York: Anthem Press, 2018; pp 221, £70, hardcover.

The book begins with a celebration. On 31 August 2016, people in Singur, a small rural town some 40 kilometres north-west of Kolkata, rejoiced as they learnt that the Supreme Court had quashed a state government-led acquisition of 997 acres farmland. In December 2006, West Bengal’s Left Front government acquired the land and handed it over to the Tatas for setting up a car factory. This triggered a large-scale popular unrest led by the Singur Krishi Jomi Raksha Committee (SKJRC). The resistance was so big, and it federated such strong an opposition, that along with resistance in Nandigram (where a special economic zone [SEZ] was proposed), enough traction was gained to finally unseat the virtually unputdownable Left Front government. This book is among the first full length studies of the Singur movement in English.

The principal thesis sets itself within a larger question of rural transformation: what happens to the agrarian land question during a massive economic turnaround involving large-scale industrial and urban expansion in a primarily rural country. In Nehru’s India, such massive changes drew legitimacy from the longing for “nation-building.” Development was state-driven, believed to be in public interest, and therefore “supra-political.” By contrast, the recent industrial extensions or urban sprawl involve a clash of a host of interests involving the state, big corporations, different agrarian classes, farm and non-farm workers, the political parties and non-governmental organ­isa­tions (NGOs), to name some. This makes it mandatory to test the legitimacy of government policies in the actual fields of political negotiations. The book is a good attempt to understand such politics in Singur.

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Updated On : 24th Nov, 2020

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