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Auto hubs in India grow and West Bengal is a no show. Do you know why

It’s true that West Bengal was once the industrial capital of our democracy with manufacturing being serious business, and trade unions being proper. That spirit of the hard working Bengali who was willing to be a factory worker has long been broken with manufacturing being a thing of the past. And while there was one big chance in the form of the Tata Motors Singur plant, we know what happened to that one.

Not that the Nano has been a game changer for Tata Motors as in the case of the XUV500 SUV for Mahindra(M&M) and Ertiga LUV for Maruti Suzuki, but it certainly would have added a much needed boost to manufacturing in West Bengal. The three aforementioned auto makers being the biggest home grown names, it would have worked wonders had the Tata Nano plant come into being in Bengal.

Instead, there was rioting. Quite an unheard of solution especially since it was happeing in nondescript villages in Bengal. Bengal didn’t riot when Ayodhya burned, and Bengal didn’t riot when the Left called for strikes and lockouts. In fact, Bengal didn’t even riot when scores of factories and mills were shutting down. So, what caused this unheard of violence in a matter that didn’t warrant the hooligan to step up?

The aftermath has left the state in a continual state of penury because no one’s coming to rescue those in need of jobs. On the other hand, Gujarat has developed into quite a noteworthy auto hub where the government is going out of their way to acquire land for car makers rather than snatch away land as was the case with Tata Motors.

Since the agenda was better compensation for farmers irrespective of how many lost life and limb, or livelihood, it’s no surprise that the farmers today are in no better state than they were back then. And o course, they yet don’t have a job, land value hasn’t appreciated, and they’re still pretty much the emancipated nameless folk who populate rural stretches.

The worst outcome being, Tata, a brand that folk back home can identify with even if it’s attributed to salt, didn’t survive in WB. Being a homegrown name it becomes an interesting case study. If we have such apathy for our own, the ausländer isn’t even going to venture in this direction. And we all know that’s what has happened.

And in this vile display of attitude, an important aspect has been undermined. Through all oddities, Hindustan Motors Ltd survived in West Bengal. HMIL wallowed in grandeur before Maruti took off. Indian got it’s very own Morris Oxford spinoff, the Ambassador, and just outside of Calcutta, grew a progressive township, HindMotor. Their partnership with General Motors saw the Opel Astra take Indian roads by surprise, and yes almost everyone loved the Astra.
The greatest boxy car on Indian roads from yesteryears, the Contessa was powered by Hindustan engines. Just before the turn of the century, HMIL went into a JV with Mitsubishi. Their growth story has seen many ups and downs. Tata Motors over the years has grown from strength to strength, and acquired Land Rover and Jaguar from Ford in 2008. The company has been continuously increasing manufacturing in the country to cater to automobile demand in the Indian auto market, as well as globally.

One would have to be blind by choice to not see that the Tata Motors Singur plant was a missed golden opportunity. While all efforts now seem to be channelized to the Golden Quadrilateral roadwork, we’re not quite sure why Bengal needs to be on that network. It’s not like the state is going to be transporting cars any time soon.


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