The flavor of the season in the media today is 'Suicide Tourism'.
So much so that Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh felt obliged to follow the trend of VVIP visits to disaster zones. The entire print and electronic media world is focused on the suicides by farmers across central India, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka etc. but it is Maharashtra that is in the news, perhaps because the union agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar is from that state and not a congressman but an NCP ally of the ruling coalition.
And in keeping with the usual trend, Dr. Singh too felt obliged to announce a package deal for each affected district. The coming weeks will tell India whether the package deal has been broken down to basic elements, or that it was just an announcement which must wait for babudom to work out the rules and regulations of actual disbursal.
The first question that arises is that when Vidharbha has been a drought prone region for ever so long, why did the authorities have to wait for Death to come a visiting, en masse, before any action was taken? It was only when the figure went past the three digit figure that everyone sat up to take notice. Why not earlier?
And now that the Prime Ministerial visit and its accompanying bumper lottery is over, will those suicides now be conveniently be swept under the carpet as has happened in the case of the hunger deaths of Orissa some years ago?
Is the Congress party, which had appointed the real estate oriented chief minister, going to take any action against that person for not knowing what was going on outside the confines of his favorite Mumbai hunting grounds?
While much column inch space and sound bytes have been devoted to the farmer suicides and their official statistics, not much has been devoted to the background to these suicides.
Does a normal Indian farmer, usually a family man with responsibilities, just get up and commit suicide, knowing that he is leaving behind a bereaved family, widow, son, possibly unmarried daughters under a burden of debt which he, being THE MAN OF THE FAMILY, was not able to cope with. Do those guys never give a thought to how their wives would cope with that mountain of debt if they themselves could not?
That is really hard to gulp.
Therefore, it is perhaps upto sociologists to join hands with local activists and authorities to examine the suicide case and verify the actual cause, whether it was on account of agriculture or for some other social reason, which has been placed under the convenient of a series of failed crops.
Even those found to be genuine farmer suicides, by men who did not give a damn about how their families would cope with that mountain of debt, the question arises:
How did that mountain of debt rise? Why did all those crops fail?
Unfortunately, we have equated development not with developing our indigenous strengths, but with imported ones, even those that have already been proven to have negative results.
Instead of planning those massive dams which take forever to build, where are those ngo-led programs for farm tanks, village check dams and other traditional forms of irrigation which were the backbone of Ancient India's legendary prosperity?
Imported hybrid seeds, always suspect in soil deterioration, demanding overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides which lead to mounting costs which cannot be recovered in a normal crop, leave alone a deficient one, are being overly popularized.
What are all those so-called Village Agricultural Workers doing, apart perhaps from pocketing advances from the concerned companies, selling everything from hybrid seeds, to fertilizers, pesticides and brand new equipment?
Credit cards for farmers were announced with great fanfare. But in all the hoopla, nobody remembered to warn the farmers that credit cards carry interest rates every bit as crippling as the evil moneylender of Mother India who wanted to buy out either her land or her chastity.
And what role have the cooperatives played in the whole disaster? Why are the water cooperatives not in place yet, decades after the idea was generated.
Instead, Maharashtra's age-old system of division of the waters of existing wells appears to have fallen victim of modern development, so fields remain parched, except perhaps the water-guzzling sugar cane ones.
Our Agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar is a power to reckon with in the cooperative sector having masterminded the spectacular rise of the cooperatives in the sugar industry which have many records and standards.
How did he overlook what was happening, until it was too late? Or is this all part of some political game that will soon come to light, given that he is a congress ally and was earlier reckoned Prime Minister material too?
Finally the Big question:
whether such VVIP visits to disaster zones serve any purpose at all, apart from diverting the attention of the civic authorities from relief to VVIP management and HLD (translate that into High Level Diplomacy with each major or minor babu trying to make an impression to the visiting VVIP).
VVIP visits are known to be quite worthless. Perhaps one of the worst examples was when the former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee allowed himself to be persuaded by his colleague, L K Advani and his lieutenant, Gujarat Chief `minister Narendra Modi to fly down to Gandhinagar because the terrorists had been cornered and killed in the Akshardham Swaminaryan temple.
What was the purpose of that visit? Did the bereaved families get their loved ones back merely because some politicians took it upon themselves to visit them instead of sending condolences via post, or may be video conferencing; and allow the local administration to get on with the job of dealing with the aftermath of the crisis.
Video conferencing is a good idea. Instead of flying out VVIPs and wasting so much good and expensive aircraft fuel, why not video conferencing? Besides saving on the costs, just think how much the common man would be saved from the inconvenience caused by the entourage of the VVIPs and the massive traffic jams they cause.
This is apart from the fact that the so-called beneficiaries of VVIP visits are usually handpicked by local leaders and not always the most deserving or most bereaved, as the case may be.