Politics stokes an NRC census panic in the state
Anew epidemic has gripped Bengal, a fear of the NRC (National Register of Citizens)—and it has already claimed 11 lives, as per the state government’s claims. In the past few weeks, the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) has tried to pin the blame for a number of unnatural deaths on the threat of the controversial census.
The death of Mantu Sarkar, 52, of Balurghat in South Dinajpur, started the rumours. He died of a cardiac arrest while standing in a queue for the verification of his digital ration card. Then came the story of Annada Ray, 38, of Jalpaiguri, who committed suicide, apparently due to NRC stress. “We said in our police complaint that he took his life as he was in a panic over the NRC. He was searching for his land documents the past few days,” says Annada’s brother Dakshada.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee lost no time ratcheting up the issue. “We’ll pay Rs 2 lakh compensation because they died worrying about the NRC,” she declared. What actually killed the above people and the others is unclear, but the NRC is being used as a convenient excuse by all political parties. Blaming Mamata for the mess, state BJP president Dilip Ghosh said, “The chief minister herself has said that there was no question of NRC in Bengal, then why is she talking so much about ‘NRC deaths’ and announcing compensation?” Dubbing the compensation ‘bribes’ for more families to report deaths as ‘NRC related’, he commented that “even dengue deaths will now be linked with the NRC panic since the government doesn’t want to take responsibility for that either”.
That said, there are currently multiple parallel registration exercises—electoral roll verification, census enumeration, national population register and digital ration cards—on in the state. With the Assam NRC issue looming large, rumors naturally abound. And such is the mad scramble that offices of the block development officer (BDO) and the district magistrates are witnessing serpentine queues from early morning onwards. A BDO office at Habra in North 24 Parganas was forced to stay open beyond regular hours to serve the crowds that had come for digital ration cards.
“The NRC is now an issue and the TMC wants to keep it alive as it appears to have cornered the BJP for the moment,” says Prasanta Ray, professor emeritus at Presidency University.
GAME ON CM Mamata Banerjee leads an anti-NRC padayatra in Kolkata