By Ashis Biswas
In West Bengal, the controversy over how many farmers have committed suicide in recent times is a settled issue. Despite strenuous efforts made by the state Government of late that no distressed farmer ever killed himself during the Trinamool Congress’s (TMC) tenure, it is common knowledge that such claims fly in the face of established facts.
The phenomenon is by no means exceptional. It is merely an indication of how issues considered awkward for the administration are handled in the state. In this context, it needs stressing that during the past decade or so, there has been a growing tendency on part of the west Bengal Government to play down all negative socio\economic trends, incidents and events .Just as the state Government adopts a confusing stance on the question of farmers’ suicides, it tries to suppress the number of people suffering or dying from dengue fever, malaria and other seasonal diseases.
Its ham-handed efforts to keep the number of Covid 19 pandemic deaths to only 3 while the disease was raging for over three weeks a year ago, created a scandal in the medical profession as well as among highest administrative circles in the country. The Government stuck to its figure even as many hospitals and clinics were reporting many more deaths !
The reason: West Bengal wanted to claim that its record in dealing with the corona pandemic and its aftermath, was the best in India! State Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, also Minister for health, personally shot down suggestions from senior officials regarding the dangerous spread, mounting deaths and public fears over the raging Corona pandemic.
It mattered little that the state’s version of the disease as reported to public and referred to the centre seriously understated the damage caused by the pandemic, with many deaths going unreported! Worse, as the centre sent emergency medical supplies and other assorted help on the basis of state reports received, common people suffered woefully from a lack of short supplies of essential medicines!
At present, seasonal dengue fever has broken out in a major way, claiming some lives in Bengal already. There have been complaints from patients /common people that medical clinics run in Behala in South West Kolkata, as well official hospitals in south Kolkata are somehow avoiding the mention of dengue in their reports on patients!
To return to the farmers’ suicides: Recent records indicate there have been suicides among poorer Bengal peasants since 2011, the very year the TMC was elected to power. Such suicides have continued thereafter during its 10 year-plus tenure. Unknown apparently to the serving state Government officers,, there are official figures to confirm this.
Their repeated assertion to the contrary is amazing in its brazenness, in that the present claims denying the fact of poor farmers’ suicides belie past admissions by their predecessor officers/leaders during the TMC’s tenure!
As a senior scribe explains, it is common for most ruling party apologists to rewrite history to suit their political ends. ‘But pro-administration propagandists here have now begun to rewrite (falsify?) even history no more than a decade old, which must be a new low even for contemporary spin doctors’, he said.
There is nothing shocking about the fact that in only one West Bengal district, West Midnapore, at least 122 farmers committed suicide in 2021. Further, the dreaded march of death continues: this year so far, 34 more people have killed themselves, in the same district. So there were 100-plus suicides last year and these will be followed by more cases in 2022. Going by the stats on farmers’ suicides in other states, the figures for Midnapore are not surprising.
So much for the West Bengal Government’s claim that no farmer in the state has committed suicide!
The Midnapore figures incidentally, were not released by the health department, any Government agency or district officials. They became available only in response to a question put forward through the RTI mechanism. Earlier, mediapersons probing the issue for years were repeatedly fobbed off by stony-faced officials at various levels, who denied knowledge about any farmer in economic distress killing himself.
By implication, the narrative was, West Bengal was a happy rural economic oasis within the larger Indian wasteland for farmers. In other major states thousands of peasants were reportedly committing suicide annually!
Media reports highlighting the negative RTI figures naturally put the proverbial raiding cat among the Nabanna-based state Secretariat pigeons (officials) in this instance. Reacting angrily, officials questioned the source of the RTI figures.
However, they fell silent when they learnt that official RTI-related staff had put on the job police personnel of 23 thanas in the West Midnapore district, seeking details about the farmers’ deaths. . The final figure was worked out on the basis of inputs officially provided by the police personnel themselves. Surely, one cannot get more official than that?
But even as a section of red faced officials kept quiet, their political masters proved to be a tougher breed. Political leaders are never out even when seen to be down. So the fight was continued at the political level by the most senior TMC leader of the district, the veteran Mr Akhil Giri.
‘How could the police know about these deaths? Do they know more about the farmers than us, grassroot level leaders? I reject the RTI figures. It is all a part of the larger political conspiracy to malign the TMC, the only party that really fights and beats the ruling party at the centre, the BJP. ….’ said Mr Giri.
So far no one has contradicted MrGiri, said to be something of a law in his home district. None dared point out that in the instant case, he was not exactly fighting the BJP or other political opponents, but only rubbishing the efforts of the TMC-controlled state police force. Again, the state Home Minister was none other than the Chief Minister Banerjee herself!
So whom was Mr Giri really targeting? There has been no answer yet. (IPA Service)