Saturday, March 24, 2012

Anti-Women Atrocities on Rise in Bengal

The Leaders of West Bengal Democratic Mahila Samiti visit in the house of raped and dead victim Munia Das at Baranagar in North 24 Parganas District ----Avijit Bose

ON March 19 a delegation of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) met the chairperson of the National Commission for Women (NCW) at New Delhi and submitted to her a memorandum about the spate of attacks on women that have occurred in West Bengal in the last seven to eight months. They also expressed concern over the attitude of the state government towards these attacks, Even the West Bengal chief minister has been making statements questioning the veracity of the victims’ statements, the delegation pointed out.

Describing these attacks as cases of political vendetta, the delegation of the All India Democratic Women's Association said these incidents of atrocities against women are on the rise. So far, 23 women have been raped, 513 women molested and 757 women physically assaulted in the state by anti-socials allegedly associated with the ruling Trinamul Congress (TMC) party. In addition to this, there is an exponential increase in cases of rape and molestation of women having no political association whatsoever. Unfortunately, the AIDWA memorandum said, “their complaints have been discredited even before any investigation could be conducted, by people in positions of authority who have alleged that these reports were fabricated and were part of a conspiracy to denigrate the government.”

The memorandum quoted some examples of this trend. On February 5, 2012, a woman was gangraped in Kolkata, in a car. When she was able to overcome her trauma and fear, she went to lodge a police complaint on February 9 but was humiliated by the policemen present. When she approached the senior police officials and an enquiry was ordered by the Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime), the chief minister, the police commissioner and a cabinet minister publicly stated that her story was fabricated and politically motivated. This was despite the fact that the police found prima facie evidence in support of her allegations. Such statements do not augur well as far as justice for the victim is concerned, the AIDWA said.

In another incident that took place on February 25, 2012, a gang armed with choppers and firearms looted the passengers of a train at Admadpur Katwa in Bardhman. A woman who resisted was dragged out of the train and raped. Once again the chief minister, however, accused the woman victim of concocting a story for political motives. The chief minister even went to the extent of saying that the victim’s husband was from the CPI(M). But the truth is that she is a widow whose husband died 11 years ago, and neither of them had had any political affiliations. In this case too, investigations have corroborated her complaint, but earlier fears of inaction have been strengthened.

The AIDWA memorandum quoted some more cases. These included the rape of a deaf and dumb girl at Bankura government hospital by a junior doctor on February 27, 2012;  the rape of a five year old girl child on February 29, 2012 by a TMC worker Sudhanshu Mondol in Namkhana Block of South 24 Paraganas; the rape of an Adivasi agricultural labourer by anti-socials near Seuri in Birbhum on February 27, 2012; the rape and murder of Munia Devi Das of Howrah Bally on February 24, 2012; the rape of an Adivasi daily wage earner at Chandrakona in Jangalmahal on March 10, 2012 etc. The AIDWA pointed out that “This spate of atrocities has created conditions of insecurity for women in the state.”

The organisation further said that after the assembly elections, workers of the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) have been facing brutal attacks by TMC goons. Many centres are being forcibly closed down. Anganwadi workers are being forcibly prevented from attending the centre, and many have been forced to leave their villages. Those who do no evacuate are being penalised with fines ranging from Rs 20,000 to Rs 2,00,000. Those who have bravely opened the centres despite the threat have been molested and assaulted. In North 24 Parganas, an Anganwadi Sahayika, Bakuli Sardar, was shot dead by TMC miscreants. Attacks are occurring most frequently in the districts of Bankura, Bardhman, West Midnapore, East Midnapore, and North 24 Parganas.

The AIDWA memorandum said, “A general deterioration in the law and order situation is only too apparent. When these attacks are accompanied by comments made by those at the highest level of political and police administration casting aspersions on complainants for hatching a conspiracy against the government, these anti-socials are likely to be emboldened and the course of justice subverted. No woman will dare to lodge a complaint in these circumstances.”  

In view of such a fast deteriorating situation, the AIDWA urged the NCW to send a team to West Bengal to investigate the cases and to make your recommendations to the highest authorities in the interest of justice for the women of West Bengal, as early as possible.

The delegation comprised AIDWA president Shyamali Gupta, vice president Subhashini Ali, general secretary Sudha Sundararaman and treasurer Banani Biswas.

The NCW chairperson, Smt Mamta Sharma, gave the delegation a patient and sympathetic hearing and assured the members that the commission would send an enquiry committee to West Bengal before the end of the month.

People's Democracy, March 25, 2012

Thursday, March 15, 2012

State Finances: Misleading Statements by TMC-Congress-led Govt

By Dr. Asim K Dasgupta

MISLEADING statements are often being made by the TMC-Congress-led state government in West Bengal regarding state finances, particularly relating to (a) debt of the state government and (b) low availability of funds for Plan expenditure in the state. According to these maligning allegations, these two financial problems have arisen due to the wrong policies of the Left Front government in West Bengal. These allegations have already been refuted several times by facts and analysis, and the refutations have also been duly published in most of the local print and also in some of the national newspapers. The allegations have been rebutted through some news channels also. It may be useful to restate the correct facts with analysis. 


Misleading Statement:  The Left Front government in West Bengal has left a debt of Rs 2.04 lakh crore. 

Facts:  It is well known that in terms of Constitutional provisions and existing centre-state relations, all state governments are entitled to raise revenues from certain taxes and non-tax items; get share of central taxes and central grants and they are also entitled to borrow with approval of the central government.  The total borrowed amount of the state governments usually consists of market borrowing (raised in terms of state government bonds generally subscribed by banks and insurance companies), central loans, loans imposed on the states related to small savings, General Provident Fund (GPF) of employees kept with the state governments etc. 

In terms of these Constitutional provisions, all the state governments have certain accumulated or outstanding debt, and similarly the central government also has an amount of outstanding debt. The outstanding debt of the government of West Bengal as on May 18, 2011 (the last date before the TMC-Congress-led state government assumed power) was Rs 1.91 lakh crore, and not 2.04 lakh crore as wrongly alleged.  As per the latest data on State-wise debt position (as on March 31, 2011) published by the Reserve Bank of India (State Finances, 2010-11, RBI, p. 152), the highest outstanding debt among the states is that of Maharashtra (Rs 2.36 lakh crore), followed by UP (Rs 2.35 lakh crore), then West Bengal (Rs 1.91 lakh crore as on May 18, 2011, as already mentioned), Andhra Pradesh (Rs 1.37 lakh crore), Gujarat (Rs 1.36 lakh crore), Tamilnadu (Rs 1.09 lakh crore) etc.  The debt figures of all these other states will, of course, be higher on the later date of May 18, 2011, but for that date only the figure for West Bengal is readily available as has already been presented.  The outstanding debt of the government of India is, of course, very high at Rs 39.44 lakh crore as on March 31, 2011. The debt position of the states is usually compared by the Reserve Bank of India by expressing outstanding debts of the states in terms of ratios of debts to corresponding Gross State Domestic Products (GSDP) of the states, and that of government of India as ratio of debt to the corresponding GDP.  In terms of this proper measure of comparison, the debt position of government of West Bengal has been 11th among the states with the debt-GSDP ratio at 40.8 per cent in 2010-11 (State Finances, 2010-11, RBI, p. 153).  It may further be noted that due to the policies followed by the Left Front government in West Bengal, this debt-GSDP ratio has systematically fallen from 49.9 per cent in 2005-06 to 40.8 per cent in 2010-11.  However, the debt-GDP ratio of the government of India has still remained high at 50.1 per cent in 2010-11 (Economic Survey, Government of India, 2010-11, p. 59).  It is by now well known that debt-GDP ratio of the US has recently increased to reach 100 per cent and that of the several European countries has crossed 100 per cent. 

A distinguishing feature of the debt of West Bengal is that the most significant component (nearly Rs 75,000 crore) of this total debt has been caused by small savings related debt burden imposed by the centre on the state government.  The Small Savings programme implemented primarily through post offices across the country is a good national level programme.  However, according to the unilateral decision of the government of India, if in any financial year, there is a certain amount of net small savings collection in the post offices in a state by the people of that state (i.e. after allowing for withdrawals), then 80 per cent of that amount of net small saving collection would be compulsorily imposed as debt on the state government with high rate of interest, without the state government having any say in the matter. Since people of West Bengal have over the years decided, for reasons of financial security and returns, to keep their hard-earned savings significantly in the small saving schemes, and West Bengal has occupied the first position among the states in this important national programme, the government of West Bengal has, in effect, been paradoxically penalised in terms of the most significant incidence of the small savings related debt component in the total debt of the state.  The Left Front government of West Bengal has repeatedly argued before the government of India that if net small savings collection in a state is a positive surplus, then after allowing for a deduction for interest payment, that net surplus of small savings collection should be shared between the centre and the state as grants, and that this surplus should not be unilaterally imposed only on the state as loan.  But, the government of India has not listened to this argument, presumably because of the fact that if net small savings collection is imposed as central loan to the states, that will, through loan repayment, add to extra earnings for the centre.  This unjust decision of the centre has specially increased (because of the highest position of West Bengal in small savings collection) the debt of the government of West Bengal. 

Despite this injustice, the Left Front government had succeeded, as mentioned earlier, in reducing the debt-GSDP ratio systematically in recent years.  This was made possible by higher collection of state tax revenue, and availing lesser market borrowings than even what was approved by the government of India.  In the 2010-11, the last financial year of the Left Front government, the total market borrowing approved by the government of India was Rs 15,056 crore.  But the actual borrowing taken by the Left Front government in the entire year 2010-11, was much less - only Rs 9,500 crore. In the sphere of market borrowing, the position of government ofWest Bengal was sixth among the major states.  However, after TMC-Congress-led government came to power on May 19, 2011, over a period of only nine months, this new government has already taken recourse to market borrowing of an alarming amount Rs 17,500 crore and has become the highest market borrower among all the state governments. 


Misleading Statement:  Payment of salary and pension of employees, teachers and others and payment of interest and principal of loans take away 94 per cent of total budget, and only 6 per cent is available, which is too low for Plan expenditure etc. 

Facts : The Left Front government of West Bengal has given effect to pay revision of not only state government employees, but also of teachers, employees of panchayats, municipalities, undertakings etc., and has during its tenure already borne the entire financial burden of current revision from 2009-10, and two-thirds of arrear payments. At the same time, with introduction of comprehensive Value Added Tax, and strict measures at tax compliance, there has been a significant growth of state tax revenue, of about 25 per cent in the last financial year. In consequence of these measures and other factors, the space of state budgetary resource available for Plan expenditure after payment of salary, pension and interest and principal of loan is now significantly much wider than 6 per cent. 

According to the Budget Publication No. 9 (pages 4, 5, 6, 7 and 20), presented by the TMC-Congress-led government itself in West Bengal state assembly in June, 2011, the estimated total receipts of the state government in the financial year (2011-12) is at Rs 87,643 crore.  On the other hand, the sum total of payment on account of salary, pension, interest and principal of loan is Rs 54,930 crore which is 63 per cent (and not 94 per cent as misleadingly stated), and therefore 37 per cent (and not 6 per cent) of total budgetary resource, i.e. more than Rs 32,000 crore is available for Plan expenditure and other essential expenditure. 

Both the allegations relating to the debt of the state government and availability of funds for Plan expenditure in the state have thus been once again factually refuted. 
(The writer was finance minister in the Left Front government of West Bengal) 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Farmers’ Suicides in West Bengal: A Preliminary Analysis

By Subhanil Chowdhury, Newsclick, March 6, 2012

Over the last 15 years more than 2 lakh farmers have committed suicide in the country due to debt related problem and an acute agrarian crisis.

This phenomenon was outside the lived experience of the people of West Bengal and came only as news from distant places. But with the Trinamool Congress led government coming to power in West Bengal, a significant change has happened in West Bengal countryside, where the phenomenon of farmer suicides have now become a part of rural life in the state. In the last 8 months 34 farmers have committed suicide in the state due to debt related problems and non-remunerative prices of the crop. The question is what explains this sudden acute problem of farmers in the state. In order to comprehend the problem, it is important to understand the overall national context of the agrarian situation in the country. Therefore, we start with a discussion on this aspect before going into the particularities of West Bengal. 

Neo-liberalism and Agrarian Crisis in India

Agriculture in India has been the worst sufferer in the aftermath of pursuing neo-liberal policies. With the new policy regime imposed on the people in 1991, the government reduced its role in the agriculture sector. This was done in myriad ways. Firstly, the total gross capital formation in agriculture as a proportion of total gross capital formation in the country has declined. This ratio was 15.4% in 1980-81, subsequently declined to 9.9% in 1990-91 and declined to 7.7% in 2009-10. This essentially shows that there has been a sharp decline in investment in agriculture. This sharp decline in agricultural investment on the other hand is led by a decline in public sector investment in agriculture. If we look at public gross capital formation in agriculture as a proportion of total gross capital formation in the economy, then it has declined from 17.7% in 1980-81 to 7.1% in 1990-91 and further declined to 5.9% in 2008-09. This decline in public investment in agriculture is also manifested from the fact that out of the total plan outlay only 4.9% was allocated for agriculture and allied sector in the IX Plan, which declined to 3.9% in the X plan and further reduced to 3.7% in the XI plan.[1] Such an all-round decline in public investment in agriculture was not matched by commensurate increase in private investment resulting in an overall decline in agricultural investment in the country. 

With such decline in agricultural investment, the growth rate of production in agriculture is bound to take a hit. The following table shows the growth rate of agriculture in the various plan periods in the country.

Table 1: Growth rate of agriculture in various plan periods
Plan Period
Growth Rate
8th Plan (1992-97)
9th Plan (1997-2002)
10th Plan (2002-07)
11th Plan (2007-12)
Source: Planning Commission
Note: The growth rate for the 11th Plan is the expected growth rate

This slowdown in growth rate of agriculture has resulted in a situation where the share of this sector in the GDP was only 14.6% in 2009-10.[2] However, this sector employs 67.6% of the labour force in rural areas and 7.5% in urban areas in 2009-10.[3] This essentially means that even with a high growth rate of GDP and slowdown in agriculture, the growth process has failed to absorb labour in the non-agricultural sector. Therefore the agriculture sector continues to be a repository of low income and poverty. 

While there has been a substantial slowdown in agricultural production in the country, the central government has liberalized agricultural trade by cutting down tariffs on agricultural commodities and allowing imports of agricultural products. This has resulted in a situation in which the farmers of India have been exposed to the price volatility of the global commodity market. This is more so in the case of cash crops. In fact, a major proportion of farmers who have committed suicide in Kerala or Maharashtra are cash crop farmers cultivating vanilla, coffee etc in the case of Kerala and mostly cotton in the case of Maharashtra. With a drastic fall in the global prices of these commodities in the beginning of 2000s, the return on farming for these sections of the farmers collapsed driving many of them into suicide. If these farmers were not exposed to the global price movements then a significant number of farmers would not have been pushed towards suicide. 

On the other hand, there has been a substantial reduction in subsidies provided to the agriculture sector, in particular the subsidies for fertilizers have been reduced drastically. In 2009-10, Rs 61264.29 crore was provided as fertilizer subsidy. However, in 2011-12, only Rs 49997.67 crore is being provided.[4] Moreover, prices of certain fertilizers have been decontrolled, which creates another upward pressure on the prices of this essential agricultural input. Additionally, the government has reduced agricultural extension services, which again adversely affects the farmers.  

All this has resulted in an increase in cost of cultivation. The real cost of production for rice and wheat are shown in the following table 

Table 2: Growth Rate of Real Cost of Production for Rice and Wheat
1981-82 to 1992-93
1994-95 to 2006-07
Source: Agricultural Price Policy, Farm Profitability and Food Security: An Analysis of Rice and Wheat, S Mahendra Dev, _ Chandrasekhara Rao, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP)
Note: Cost is calculated as Cost of Production per Quintal of rice/wheat 

From the above it is clear that with the advent of the policies of liberalization, the cost of production for the two major crops in India has increased. This increase in cost of production is primarily because of an increase in input prices. According to the reply of the government to a question posed in Lok Sabha on 23-08-2011,

“The prices of major agricultural inputs and implements during 2005-06 to 2011-12 (till July, 2011) have increased by 22.2% for fertilizers, 10.7% for pesticides, 32.0% for diesel, 29.8% for tractors and 32.3% for pumps & assembly in terms of Wholesale Price Index (WPI). As per the available data, the prices of seeds of various crops have increased from about 13.5% to 55.5% during 2005-06 to 2010-11.”[5] 

This massive increase in the prices of inputs is a direct result of the policies pursued by the central government entailing a cut back on crucial subsidies and deregulating prices of inputs like fertilizers. On the face of such an increase in cost of cultivation, the only way to keep farming viable is to increase the Minimum Support Price (MSP). But the MSP is given for a selected number of commodities and not all commodities. Therefore, such an all-round increase in the input costs of cultivation is bound to adversely affect the lives and livelihoods of millions of farmers in the country.  

It is in this backdrop that the agriculture sector in West Bengal is operating. However, it must be noted that while all the above mentioned factors were operating in India, West Bengal did not witness any farmer suicide during the period when thousands of farmers have committed suicide in the country. The crucial issue that needs to be analysed is what has changed in the last 7-8 months that farmers are suddenly committing suicide in large numbers in the state. We now turn to discuss the case of West Bengal in greater details. 

Agrarian Situation in West Bengal

Since October 2011, 34 farmers have committed suicide in the state of West Bengal. Most of these 34 farmers are poor or marginal peasants and some of them are poor agricultural labourers. Most of these farmers are paddy and potato farmers who took loans to cultivate their land. But they did not get any remunerative price for the product which left them indebted without any prospect of repaying these loans. Driven to desperation and social embarrassment, they took their own lives.  

Although the pattern of the farmer suicides in West Bengal, in terms of indebtedness and non-remunerative prices generally follow the pattern of such suicides in other states, there is a crucial difference. This difference lies in the fact that most of these farmers are food crop farmers like rice and potato. Being food crop farmers, they are largely insulated from the volatility of global commodity prices, which spelt doom for thousands of cotton or coffee growing farmers in the country. Secondly, for paddy growers, the central government has instituted the MSP, which theoretically at least is supposed to not only cover the cost of production but also give some profit margin to the farmers. However, the fact that the paddy growing farmers are committing suicide in the state points towards an acute governmental and policy failure. As far as the potato farmers are concerned, a bumper crop of potato has the potential of crashing the market price. But government intervention in the past did not allow such a situation to arise. The fact that potato growing farmers are committing suicide points again towards governmental and policy failure to deal with the eventuality of any such crash in prices. 

The Issue of MSP

As has been the case in rest of the country, the cost of cultivation of paddy has increased in West Bengal too. In the year 2007-08, the total cost of cultivation of paddy per hectare of land was Rs 28141 which increased to Rs 33046 in 2008-09. The CACP projects that for the year 2011-12, the cost of cultivation of paddy per hectare has increased to Rs 38868.[6] Therefore according to the data of the competent authority itself, the cost of cultivation of paddy will witness a substantial increase in West Bengal. If we convert this cost in per quintal terms, then for the year 2011-12, the figure comes to Rs 896 per quintal of paddy.[7] Given these facts, there are some glaring problems with the way in which the problem of procurement of rice and paying MSP has been done in the state.

Let us first look at the issue of MSP. Last year the MSP announced by the Central Government for a quintal of rice was Rs 1050. The erstwhile Left Front government announced a bonus of Rs 50 per quintal so that the farmers received Rs 1100 per quintal of rice. This year the Central Government has announced an MSP of Rs 1080 per quintal. But the current TMC-led government has not announced any bonus for the farmers. As a result, the farmers are getting a price which is lower than last year’s. Therefore, prima facie, the farmers are worse off than last year in terms of prices, while their cost of cultivation has increased. This is a perfect recipe for a debt problem in the agrarian sector of any economy.  

The problem however does not end with a lower effective MSP for the farmers. The farmers will get the MSP only when the government procures from them. In this regard, the record of the current government has been abysmal. The state government till 20th January 2011, has procured 2.11 lakh metric tonnes of rice and 57355 tonnes of paddy. Last year, the total procurement by the state government was 4.55 lakh tonnes of rice and 11.76 lakh tonnes of paddy, whereby the total procurement from the state was at 13.10 lakh tonnes of rice.[8] It is obvious that compared to last year, the procurement drive of the current government has been a total failure. From certain quarters of the government, it is being propagated that the procurement has fallen because the Food Corporation of India (FCI) has procured less. This is nothing but a white lie. In the current year the FCI has procured 71996 metric tonnes of rice, while last year it had procured only 67039 metric tonnes of rice.[9] Therefore, the FCI has actually procured more rice this year; it is because of the complete failure on the part of the government that the procurement has been abysmal this year.  

It is absolutely not the case that the decline in the procurement of the government is because of a fall in the production of paddy/rice. Rather, the problem is that this year there is a bumper harvest of paddy. On the face of such huge production, the necessity of the government to buy from the farmers becomes even more since in the absence of governmental intervention, the price of paddy may collapse in the open market leading to acute distress of the farmers. But, this is where the government has completely failed by not procuring enough from the farmers. What has happened is that the government has asked certain rice mills to procure from the farmers. But these rice mills are dilly-dallying on making payments to them. In certain cases they have made payments in cheque, which has bounced. With surplus grain lying in the godown, the farmers have been forced to go for distress sale, leading to a fall in their prices and hence foreclosing the possibility of earning any return on the farmers’ investment in the crop. Some farmers with the possibility of a price crash are unable to sell their crops. While for others, with the distress sale phenomenon, they are being paid less than the MSP by the rice mills. In this situation, it is but obvious that the farmers are unable to meet their debt obligations and other expenses leading to a desperate step like suicide. 

This policy of relying on the rice mills only to procure from the farmers is in sharp contrast with the procurement policy of the Left Front government, where the government used to involve all government and semi-government agencies, rural cooperatives and the Self Help Groups to procure paddy from the farmers. This had a twin advantage. Firstly, with such decentralized procurement policy, the farmers did not have to transport their grains to long distances to sell them to the rice mills. Secondly, the social intimacy of the Self Help Groups, panchayats with the farmers in the villages enabled the government to understand the situation better. This entire approach of decentralized procurement has been done away with. Moreover, the TMC led government has made the panchayats defunct and are trying to rely on the bureaucracy for policy implementation in the villages. This has ensured that elected representatives of the people are bypassed and the bureaucracy takes over in crucial matters related to the villages, who are distant from the actual problems on the ground.  

The plight of the potato and jute farmers follows a similar story. The MSP for jute was set at Rs 1675 per quintal. While the Chief Minister wrote to the central government to increase this by Rs 400, she took no initiative to ensure that the Jute Corporation of India sets up procurement centres in the state to buy jute from the farmers. The central government did not respond to her demand and JCI did not open up procurement centres, as a result the farmers were forced to sell their crops under distress and in the process ended up making huge debts from local money lenders and banks. The plight of the potato farmers followed a similar story. With bumper harvest of potato and the state government doing nothing to resist price crash, the price of potato has decreased to 20 paisa per Kg because of which the farmers are getting zero return on their investment. 

Dismal Performance in NREGA

On the face of such problem of farmers and agricultural labourer in the state, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme would have provided some relief to the rural population. However, in this regard too, the government has been an utter failure. In the current financial year (2011-12) upto the month of December, 438.41 lakh mandays of employment have been generated, while Rs 125173.49 lakh being the total expenditure. During the same period last year (2010-11), 910.71 lakh mandays of employment was generated with a total expenditure of Rs 153816.63 lakh. On an average only 14.4 days of employment has been provided in West Bengal till date this year, while the provision is for 100 days. This is the second lowest in the country. Only Arunachal Pradesh has generated less number of average days of employment under NREGA.[10] In other words, compared to the performance of NREGA under the Left Front government, the TMC-led government has performed dismally. This has prompted the Minister of Rural Development of Government of India to write a letter to the West Bengal government pointing out that the performance of the state has been dismal under NREGA.

Political Economy of the Government’s Role in the Agrarian Problem

At this point a legitimate question can be asked as to why the government did not take any initiative to provide relief to the farmers and has gone on a denial mode saying that there has been no farmer suicide in West Bengal. In order to understand the problem one needs to look at the social class basis of the Trinamool Congress. In 2001, when the Left Front came to power the Trinamool had won 45.7% of the votes of the rich classes in West Bengal.[11] The very high vote share of the rich for the TMC at a time when the Left Front was winning elections after elections shows that the rich always supported the TMC and this is their core mass base. It is undoubtedly the case that the TMC managed to win a large chunk of the vote of the poor and lower income category (48%) in 2011 elections when it won the elections. But it has also increased its vote share to 49% amongst the rich.[12] As the interests of the rich and the poor in most of the cases are contradictory, it is impossible to keep the vote share of both the classes intact. But, the fact that the rich consolidated their support in favour of the TMC at a time when the electoral fortunes of TMC were grim shows that for the TMC, the rich class is a dependent ally. It is for this reason, that while the TMC supremo indulges in a lot of left rhetoric, when it comes to reality, the government is failing to take care of the problem of the looming agrarian crisis.  

This alliance between the rich and TMC is showing its most ugly face in the rural areas. Ever since the election results have been announced on 13th May, there have been systematic attacks on the bargadars (share-croppers) and marginal farmers in the state. The land of the tillers earned through decades of struggle has been re-captured in many places by the erstwhile landowners. According to a conservative estimate of the Kishan Sabha, over the last two and half months, land of 527 farmers amounting to 1000 acres of riot land has been snatched away. Additionally, 4700 patta-owners have been evicted from 2700 acres of land, 3710 bargadars have been evicted from 1587 acres of land while 14025 persons have been evicted from legally acquired land. In fact the police resorted to firing when farmers were resisting forceful eviction from their land at Haroa in North 24 Parganas district. The fact that the landlord and rich peasant classes in rural West Bengal could mount an attack on the peasantry to reverse the gains of land reform after the TMC came to power shows that this class feels that their time to try and recapture lost ground has come with the coming to power of the TMC government. In essence then the rural rich feel that the government will provide protection to them. 

The attempt of the government to paralyze the panchayati raj institutions of the state, which were the prime democratic institutions in rural West Bengal is yet another example of how the government is trying to protect the interests of the rich and the powerful. Through the panchayats, democracy and empowerment was ensured for the rural masses. But now this institution is under attack. The TMC-led government has decided that they will bypass these democratic institutions and undertake rural development by bureaucratic means through the office of the BDO. This is however only the tip of the iceberg. The real reason lies in the fact that the Trinamool Congress wants to do away with the functioning of the panchayats in the state. The Chief Minister had said on record that she wants ‘non-political’ elections to the panchayats, which is essentially a euphemism for robbing the panchayats of its democratic vitality.  

The non-functioning and the denial of the government of the phenomenon of farmer suicides stems from the fact the core support base of the TMC has not been affected. It can be however argued that the TMC came to power after mobilizing people on peasant issues. So it is wrong to say that its core base is not affected. While it is true that the issues of Singur and Nandigram did play a part in the defeat of the Left Front, it is also the case that the TMC-led government till date has not announced a single policy which will benefit the farmers. The return of land in Singur will benefit a small number of farmers who will perhaps get back the land after long legal battles. But the farmers of West Bengal have gained nothing from the government in terms of any policy announcement in favour of them. Rather, the response of the government has been a denial of any problem in the agrarian sector. On the other hand, the CM has been busy with summit with the industrialists, beautification project of the riverside in Kolkata, beach festival at Digha etc. But she has not visited a single village where farmers are committing suicide. This clearly shows that the CM is happy to realize the aspirations of the middle and rich classes but not the poor. 

The total apathy shown by the government towards the plight of the farmers is only intensifying the crisis. In this situation, the only way forward is to organize the farmers and fight for their rights. Such mobilizations are happening on the ground. On 4th January, West Bengal witnessed a historic strike of the farmers against the anti-farmer policies of the central and state governments. The entire countryside came to a standstill with the farmers instead of tilling their fields organized pickets, processions and protest actions. More such actions are the call of the day. Instead of committing suicide, the farmers need to mobilize as a collective against the government. In this struggle, the solidarity of all of us is extremely important. The farmers should not feel alone and despondent. The democratic people of the state stand in solidarity with them in this struggle.

[1]All data in this paragraph is quoted from Agricultural Statistics at a Glance and Economic Survey, various issues
[2] Agricultural Statistics at a Glance
[3]“ Employment in India: What Does the Latest Data Show?”, Subhanil Chowdhury, Economic and Political Weekly, August 6, 2011
[4] Budget Document
[5]Answer to question no. 286, Lok Sabha, 23-08-2011
[6] CACP Report on Price Policy for Kharif Crops, 2011-12
[7] Same as above
[8] Food Corporation of India website
[9]Same as above
[10] All data are from
[11] Making and Unmaking of Trinamul Congress, Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya, Economic and Political Weekly, April 3-10, 2004
[12] Fifteenth Assembly Elections in West Bengal, Economic and Political Weekly, June 18, 2011

Politics of violence

FRONTLINE, Volume 29 - Issue 05 :: Mar. 10-23, 2012

West Bengal: The murder of two CPI(M) leaders in Bardhaman district points to an increase in political violence in the State.

THE brutal murder of Pradip Tah, a former legislator belonging to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or the CPI(M), and Kamal Gayen, another senior leader of the party, in broad daylight, allegedly by Trinamool Congress supporters, in West Bengal's Bardhaman district on February 22 once again points to an alarming rise in political violence in the State since May 2011, when the Trinamool assumed power. Around 90 deaths have taken place in the last nine months. While the CPI(M) has claimed that 58 of its supporters and workers (as of February 27) have been killed by Trinamool activists, the ruling party has countered that 32 of its workers have been killed by CPI(M) activists in the last nine months.

The CPI(M) attributes the latest killings to a growing insecurity in the Trinamool camp over the former's attempt to reorganise itself and re-establish contact with its support base. According to Surya Kanta Mishra, Leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal Assembly, the CPI(M)'s massive rally in the Kolkata Brigade Parade Ground on February 19 and the Left trade unions' call for a 24-hour bandh on February 28 have been cause for concern in the ruling party. “The murder of Pradip Tah and Kamal Gayen was completely premeditated and committed out of a sense of desperation by the Trinamool Congress workers. They are finding it hard to accept that we still retain a huge support base as was evident in the Brigade rally, and they are feeling threatened,” Mishra told Frontline.

Around 8:30 a.m. on February 22 in Dewangdighi, Bardhaman, CPI(M) and Trinamool workers clashed over allegations of party flags being torn down. Local CPI(M) leader Roop Kumar Gupta was injured. Tah (57) and Gayen (70) were not present when the fight took place. Later, Tah went to check on Gupta at the Bardhaman Medical College. After that he and Gayen set off for Mirzapur, adjoining Dewangdighi, to take part in a procession in support of the bandh on February 28 and condemning the attack on CPI(M) workers. In the meantime, an armed gang, allegedly belonging to the Trinamool Congress, had gone to Tah's residence. He was not there, but the gang members reportedly told his wife, Chitralekha, that they would kill him.

Less than an hour later, around 9:45 a.m., as the procession led by Tah and Gayen was dispersing, assailants armed with axes and iron rods surrounded Tah and slashed and bludgeoned him to death. Gayen, who tried to intervene, was also savagely attacked. While Tah died on his way to the Bardhaman hospital, Gayen succumbed to his injuries while being brought to Kolkata for treatment. Four persons were arrested in connection with the case.

“It was clear the attackers had only Pradip Tah on their agenda and were waiting to get at him. Kamal Gayen was killed because he tried to intervene. Nobody else was attacked as such,” said a source who had witnessed the incident. However, according to CPI(M) Bardhaman district secretary Amal Haldar, Gayen's murder may not have been as unplanned as it appeared. “Kamalda was a very prominent leader in the district and also a witness to Pradip's murder,” Haldar told Frontline.

Government's reaction

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who was in New Delhi when the incident took place, dismissed allegations that her party workers were involved in the murders and put the blame on the CPI(M) instead. “This is a result of the CPI(M)'s internal feud. There were many cases pending against Pradip Tah. This is not murder,” she told the press in New Delhi. However, in Kolkata, her Ministers were telling a different story. State Industries Minister and Trinamool general secretary Partha Chatterjee claimed that the slain CPI(M) leaders were victims of “mob fury” when the CPI(M) “tried to recapture their lost territory”. Other Ministers, including Firhad Hakim (Urban Development) and Moloy Ghatak (Law), gave statements more or less on the same lines.

The police added to the confusion by not seeking custody of the four accused, who, instead were put in judicial custody later on. “This clearly shows that the government is trying to protect the culprits. The Chief Minister and her Cabinet colleagues' statements clearly point to the fact that they are trying to influence the process of investigation,” Mishra told Frontline.

Political vaccum

Bardhaman, which used to be a CPI(M) stronghold, returned Trinamool candidates in 16 of the 25 seats in the district in the 2011 Assembly elections. However, Pradip Tah remained a force to contend with in his constituency of Uttar Bardhaman. In the 2006 Assembly elections, he won the seat by a comfortable margin of over 60,000 votes. In 2011 he could not contest as the constituency became a reserved one, but he was a key factor in the party retaining the Assembly seat despite the enormous anti-incumbency sentiment all over the State. “Killing Pradip Tah was perhaps perceived to be a way to create a leadership vacuum in the CPI(M) in the region and thus further weaken the party,” a political source in Bardhaman told Frontline.

According to Amal Haldar, events leading to the CPI(M)'s massive rally in the Kolkata Brigade Parade Ground on February 19 may have precipitated the attack. The rally had made Trinamool workers in the region nervous. “Under Pradip Tah's leadership thousands of people from the region had gone to participate in the Brigade rally. They feared a comeback [by the CPI(M)] and reacted by killing Pradip and Kamalda – the two pillars of our party in the district,” said Haldar.

The Chief Minister's reaction to the killings drew criticism from all sections of society. Eminent artistes, scholars and social activists condemned the incident in a joint statement: “We find it especially outrageous that Ms Mamata Banerjee, the State's Chief Minister, should come out to protect the murderers…. It seems well in line with the Chief Minister's habit of denying tragedies like farmers' suicides or condoning offences like the recent shocking rape in Kolkata.” Among the signatories were Irfan Habib, Prabhat Patnaik, Indira Dev and others. Reacting to a recent rape case in Kolkata's Park Street, Mamata Banerjee had said it had been “staged” to “malign” her government. The police investigations, however, did not support this hypothesis.


The all-India industrial strike on February 28 took the character of a general strike or bandh in West Bengal. It was in preparation for this bandh that Tah and Gayen had taken part in that fatal procession in Bardhaman. Though the bandh was largely peaceful except for sporadic violence, for both the government and the opposition it was a matter far deeper than what met the eye. For the Trinamool, it had been vital that the bandh should be a failure, as it would serve to dampen the spirit of a seemingly resurgent CPI(M). “Such an effort to foil a bandh is unprecedented in the last 30 years in the State. This may indicate an uneasiness on the part of the government,” said a political source. However, though the State government triumphantly announced more than normal attendance in government offices and free movement of public transport, largely empty government-owned buses ran on largely empty streets.