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When farmers instigated by ‘activists’ protested against Suzuki plant, read how the then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi turned tide in his favour

As the story goes, when Ratan Tata announced in a press conference in Kolkata that Tata Group was leaving West Bengal, then-CM Modi sent an SMS to Ratan Tata and said, "Welcome to Gujarat" in the message.

On October 10, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid down the foundation stone and dedicated various projects worth over Rs 3,900 crores to the nation in Modhera, Mehsana in Gujarat. He also declared Modhera village the first 24×7 solar-powered village in India.

During his address at the event, PM Modi recalled when he was Chief Minister of the state, he had faced protests led by activists and NGOs in Gandhinagar against the Suzuki plant in Hansalpur. At that time, PM Modi called the agitating farmers to talk.

He said, “When we decided to bring Suzuki, then the farmers in Hansalpur started protesting. The land was such that it was difficult to grow even millet. There was a complete drought, and the agitated farmers came to Gandhinagar. They were raising slogans and burnt effigies of Modi.”

“I asked to call everyone inside. I met with them and asked them to tell me their complaints. They said they did not want the plant and did not want to give up their land. I told them it was their wish and that I would take the plant elsewhere. Around 5-7 people intelligently stood up and asked not to take away the plant. Those farmers showed intelligence, and the protests ended. Now, the SIR is famous among the industrial areas. The entire Mehsana is being developed.”

The TATA plant, a project that laid the foundation of the manufacturing hub in Gujarat

Between 2006 and 2008, Tata Motors attempted to start a manufacturing plant in West Bengal. The state government had acquired the land for the project, but the controversy over land acquisition delayed the project. At that time, CM Mamata Banerjee was the leader of the opposition. It was alleged that the state government had forcefully acquired multi-crop land from the landowners at an inadequate price.

Banerjee became the frontrunner of the protests and started a movement called “Save Farmland”. Soon, high-profile professional protestors like Medha Patkar, Arundhati Roy and Anuradha Talwar joined the protests to drive away Tata Motors from the state. Following the uproar, Tata Motors finally decided to cancel the project in West Bengal in September 2008. This was the time the then-CM of Gujarat offered Ratan Tata to build the plant in Gujarat’s Sanand.

As the story goes, when Ratan Tata announced in a press conference in Kolkata that Tata Group was leaving West Bengal, then-CM Modi sent an SMS to Ratan Tata and said, “Welcome to Gujarat” in the message.

Following the message, then-CM Modi not only assured Tata motors the land to build a massive, state-of-the-art manufacturing factory, but the Gujarat government also made sure that the plant got built and started production as soon as possible. Initially, the plant manufactured the Nano model, but later it started producing Tiago and Tigor models.

In a statement, Ratan Tata said, “I’ll never forget the way he [Modi] found solutions for companies that were looking for a home.”

During an interview with CNBC, Tata said the deal materialised only in three days. After the announcement by Tata group that they would establish the plant in Gujarat, then CM Modi said that merely a Re one SMS saying “Welcome to Gujarat” got the state the Rs 2,000 crore investment from the Tata Group.

Tata said in the interview, “What I have said publicly is [that] he invited me to move the factory to Gujarat, and I said we’d come if we had a home. He [Modi] said I’ll get you the land you want in three days. And then he delivered that on the third morning. He said, ‘Ratanji, here’s the land that I promised.” Praising PM Modi for fulfilling the promise of delivering land in just three days, Tata added, “That does not happen in India.”

Mandal Becharaji Special Investment Region (MBSIR) and its importance

Following Tata’s investment in Gujarat, several other companies showed interest in the state. One of the most notable investments came from Suzuki, which currently has four manufacturing units in the state of Gujarat in Hansalpur Becharaji village of Mandal Taluka in Ahmedabad District.

Notably, Suzuki Motor Gujarat Private Limited (SMGPL) is the only Suzuki automobile manufacturing plant in India that is wholly owned by Suzuki as a foreign company. All other plants are owned by Maruti Suzuki, a company formed in collaboration between Maruti and Suzuki.

Plant A, which started production in 2017, has the capacity to produce 250,000 units of Suzuki Baleno every year. Plant B, which started production in 2019, has the capacity to produce 250,000 units of Suzuki Swift every year. Plant C, which started production in 2021, has the capacity to produce 250,000 units of Suzuki Dzire every year. Finally, the fourth plant, the Powertrain plant, has the capacity to produce 500,000 K12 petrol engine family units and 500,000 units of 5MT and AGS transmissions every year.

All these plants are located in the Mandal Becharaji Special Investment Region (MBSIR). Mandal Becharaji region lacked industrial development prior to 2013 when the Gujarat Government proposed the development of MBSIR in the area. It is notable that the region was drought-prone, and even after water came via the Narmada project and efforts by the state government to revive the groundwater, the situation in terms of agriculture and animal husbandry did not change to the extent that it could flourish without a proper industry.

It was the efforts of the state government under the leadership of then-CM Narendra Modi that the region was chosen by Suzuki for its first-ever Suzuki-owned plant in India. Suzuki not only gave a boost of over 60,000 direct and over 1,50,000 indirect jobs in the region but also showed a route to the rivals and other industries in Gujarat state. At present, apart from Tata and Suzuki, manufacturing plants of Honda, Ford, Chinese SAIC and others are flourishing in the region.

In a 2013 report of Desh Gujarat, it was pointed out that though the Suzuki plant was just announced that year, the scale of the proposed investment started drawing the attention of other investors towards the region. It is also noteworthy that the state government did not leave the region completely in the hands of the industries but took it upon itself to develop it as a sustainable city. Otherwise, it might have ended up being like the cluttered regions like Gurugram. The vision statement of Mandal Becharaji SIR stated, “To develop a Smart Industrial City with concepts of Recycle, Reuse and Eddicient Transport Network”,

There were, as usual, protests against the Suzuki plant and the proposed MBSIR. In June 2013, a rally of villagers led by left-leaning NGOs marched to Gandhinagar to protest against MBSIR. The NGOs behind the protests included Azad Vikas Sangathan, Maldhari Rural Action Group, Kevadita Vistar Vikas Satta Mandal Virodh Manch and many others. These foreign-funded NGOs propagated that the government was planning to acquire land at a cheaper rate, an allegation dismissed by the government during a meeting with the representatives of the farmers of 44 villages. However, the protests continued, and several villages later decided to exit MBSIR, a demand that the government obliged.

This was the time when then-CM Modi told the protesters if they did not want the plant to be established in the region, he would take it somewhere else, the incident that he talked about during his address on October 9, 2022. As per a report in Desh Gujarat, PM Modi had told the representatives that the aim of MBSIR to develop the region as it lacked development in both the Agriculture and Industrial sectors. He had promised that no decision would be taken without the consent of the villagers.

Notably, in August 2019, seven of the villages that exited MBSIR in 2013, named Odhavpura, Odhav, Sadhana, Zanzerwa, Kachrol, Anandpura and Sinaj, approached the government of Gujarat and requested to reinstate the villages in the project. The government then asked the villages to pass a resolution in their gram sabhas to ensure the majority of villagers wanted to be part of the SIR. Though it was never revealed what encouraged the villagers to join MBSIR, it is believed that the villagers finally understood the benefit of the SIR and wanted the villages to flourish with industrial development in the region.

At present, the region is being developed by the state government at a fast pace. The MBSIR continues to attract investments adding new achievements to the state government’s cap.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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