In many ways, Singur, the cluster of villages where the Nano was to be produced, stands at the crossroads of two Indias: one, traditional and agricultural; the other, modern and rapidly becoming a global economic power.
For Tata Motors, one of India's most successful companies, Singur is ideally located along a new national highway that heads north to New Delhi, the capital, and intersects an important east-west artery.
For farmers, Singur is ideally located on the fertile delta plains of the Ganges River, making the earth so rich and red that it yields two rice harvests a year, in addition to potatoes, cucumbers, and squash.
The standoff at the Nano plant is an example of the challenges facing India as its economy continues to grow: how to divert scarce fertile farmland to industry in a country where more than half the people still live off the land.
Poverty has dropped appreciably in 17 years of strong economic growth, and the nation has developed a sizable middle class. But 35 percent of all Indians are still below the poverty line, living on less than $1 a day; almost half of India's children are malnourished.
For India's government, the challenge is not only how to compensate peasants making way for India's industrial future, but also how to prepare them for the new globalized economy in which India is so successfully participating.
Clashes over land have dogged several major industrial projects in this crowded democracy of 1.1 billion people.
The farmers who resist most intensely are often those who know they are qualified to do little beyond eke out a living off the landalthough protests are also a way to drive up the price of their land.
The target of their anger is often the government, which usually acquires the land and turns it over to private industry. In Singur, the protesters want the government to return a third of the 997 acres that it acquired for the Tata factory, some of which was taken by force from farmers.
In September, the government announced a more generous compensation package for those who had been evicted, and offered job training for one member of each displaced family. But the anxiety that the factory has driven through Singur remains.
"We are farmers," says Tayab Ali Mandal, 52. "We know only farm work; we don't know any paper-pencil work."
Mandal gave up his land last year, but bitterly. Now he wants it back, and he rejected the government's latest offer of a job in the Tata factory. "We are disgusted by that place," he says.
The future of the Nano plant is uncertain. If Tata had to give back 300 acres of land, as the opposition demands, it would have to evict auto-parts makersand the jobs they providenear the main factory. Their proximity allows Tata to save on production costs. Those savings and a generous land and tax deal are what allow Tata to sell the Nano for so little.
Critics say the ultracheap car is being built for congested roads, under a sky already too thick with smog. They also complain that Tata took land from the poor to build cars for India's growing middle class.
Value of English
Tata disputes such arguments, saying that it has hired thousands of local workers and built medical facilities in the area.
Bidyut Kumar Santra, 30, a rare high school graduate in Singur, was among the lucky few to get a job on the assembly line. But he quickly realized how poorly equipped he was to keep up with events on the factory floor. The engineers all spoke English, to him an alien tongue.
"I feel ashamed, like what kind of education did I get?" says Santra.
His son, who is now in first grade, will likely be better prepared for India's new economy. Santra vows that the child will learn to speak English.