The Left Democratic Front government took seven months to realize that landless Adivasis and Dalits agitating for land deserve to be called for talks. After a date was set for talks, the Front erected a hurdle in the way of peaceful resolution by denouncing the agitation. This is quite enough to determine how Left and how democratic the Left Democratic Front is.
When the Sadhujana Vimochana Samyuktavedi (the name translates as united front for liberation of poor people) started the agitation there were a few thousand Adivasis and Dalits, including women and children, at the Harrison Malayalam estate at Chengara. Their fighting spirit attracted more landless to the place. Some 20,000 people are said to be in the arena now. What started as a Dalit-Adivasi agitation has now become a wider struggle of the landless.
Some have quit the battlefront. Among them is Thattayil Saraswati who resigned as general secretary following differences with Samyuktavedi president Laha Gopalan. It is not known whether outside forces played any part in the split. After all, the ‘divide and rule’ principle was used by the ruling elite here long before the whites arrived. They still use it. Without realizing it, the ruled get enslaved.
Kerala has witnessed many land agitations in the past 50 years. There were some led by the Communists. There were some led by forest encroachers to escape eviction. The CPI (M)’s support to one such made it a permanent protector of encroachers. The Adivasi agitations led by C. K. Janu were a different experience. They were waged without the support of any political party or caste of religious group.
Following Janu’s squatting stir in Thiruvananthapuram, Chief Minister A.K. Antony promised to grant land to all landless Adivasis. That promise was not kept. Antony sent the police to suppress the agitation at Muthanga to secure the land they were promised. The Chengara agitation also is for fulfilment of that promise. To that extent, it is a continuation of Muthanga. But it claims a longer lineage: that of the struggles B. R. Ambedkar and Ayyankali.
The state of the landless camping at Chengara exposes the superficial nature of the romantic revolution spread through popular drama songs. At the time of Janu’s agitation, Dalit writer Chandrabhan Prasad, quoting 1991 Census figures, pointed out that landlessness among farm workers in Kerala, where there had been land reform, was more than in Uttar Pradesh. These are the figures:
Landlessless farm workers (percentage)
Kerala UP India
Scheduled Castes 53.79 38.76 49.06
Scheduled Tribes 55.47 .. .. 32.99
Others 20.78 13.03 19.66
(UP’s ST population is only 0.1% of the total. Hence its omission)
Despite the pathetic state of the depressed classes, the fronts that have been alternating in power have never evinced as much interest in distributing land among them as they have shown in trying to legitimize forest encroachments.
In the beginning the Chengara agitators had to contend only with local hostility from the owners and workers of the estate. The owners approached the High Court complaining that the agitators have trespassed on the estate. The court orders that the trespassers be evicted. At the same time it said bloodshed must be avoided.
Recently the attitude of the CPI (M) underwent a major change. The party’s State leadership came forward to assume leadership of the campaign against the agitation. They alleged that the agitators have encroached upon private property, that there are landowners among them etc. Even if there is truth in these allegations, it does not take away the legitimacy of the landless people’s agitation for land.
The court’s order to avoid bloodshed precludes the possibility of the government re-enacting Muthanga or the party re-enacting Nandigram. But the door for discussions remains open before the government. Only it must approach the problems with sincerity. If there are landowners among the agitators the government can identify and exclude them.
Instead of choosing the path of prudence, the leadership deployed the media to vilify the agitators and those supporting them. Deshabhimani started playing the old tune about CIA funding. Kairali TV tried a new number with a hidden camera. The dirty tricks department at AKG Centre is working overtime to break the agitation.
It is difficult to believe that this is an idea that originated in Pinarayi Vijayan’s mind. Such ideas can germinate only in minds laden with remnants of feudalism. Borrowing words which Pinarayi Vijayan recently used, one may say someone whispered the idea into his ears. Such devious tactics can only help widen the distance between the party and the depressed sections.
Based on column “Nerkkazhcha” appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated March 20, 2008