Saturday, August 30, 2008

When hope fades: an appraisal of the Left Democratic Front government

Rising and falling, the ministry, headed by V.S.Achuthanandan, is moving towards the half-way mark of its five-year tenure. The question that arises in many minds now is, perhaps, whether there is still need to place hope in it. For, there is widespread complaint that the government has not risen up to the people’s expectations. The statement that emerged after the Communist Party of India (Marxist) State Committee’s recent meeting indicates that the assessment of the party that leads the government is also similar. But the committee is not of the view that the government’s performance is poor. (How can it be otherwise when many committee members are also ministers?) The committee’s conclusion is that the government is doing well but there has been failure in putting the message across to the people. After the defeat in the last Assembly elections, some Congress leaders had also said the same thing. The complaints are being made by parties which run their own newspapers and television channels to inform the people! The problem that the parties face is not that the people do not know anything but that they know everything.

Achuthanandan became a candidate in the Assembly elections and the Chief Minister after the electoral triumph in circumstances with no parallel in Communist history. The CPI (M) state leadership encircled him as no party ever did to its Chief Minister earlier. From day one, the two sections in the party clashed publicly and privately in the Cabinet and outside. Finally, the central leadership, exercising its authority under the system of democratic centralism, suspended both the State Secretary and the Chief Minister from the Politburo. However, as the party congress approached it had to withdraw the action as it realized that conferences cannot be held with a secretary whose hands are tied. In the party elections, Pinarayi Vijayan established his supremacy at all levels. But the central leadership made it clear that it was as much interested in Achuthanandan’s continuance as it was in Vijayan’s continuance as Secretary. That firmed up the prevailing equation in the State.

With sectarianism raising its head again after an interval, the question naturally arises whether the equation will change. The tactics both sides employed this time was similar to that the Chinese used on India’s border. A lightning strike, followed by a lightning withdrawal -- leaving the impression that they will come again if necessary. Those waiting for the next burst of fire may be disappointed. For, this is not a mega serial with one episode each day. We are now in a theatre whose manager has the right to alter the programme at his discretion.

There are people who say the government is not doing anything. Their words need not be believed. It certainly has achievements to talk about. On the first anniversary, the signing of the Smart City agreement and the Munnar demolitions provided enough to celebrate. On the second anniversary, with nothing spectacular in view, the scene wears a frozen look. The government’s image has dimmed because its actions have not yielded the expected results. Some actually produced contrary results.

While talking of the achievements of the past two years, government spokesmen underscore the efforts to provide relief to suffering people. The farmers’ debt relief commission is an example. When we try to find out what good it has done, we see a big gap between promise and fulfillment. There are some projects on the anvil, like Vallarpadam and Vizhinjam. A power project in Orissa, in association with some other States, based on a coal mine allotted by the Centre, another project at home with private participation are also under consideration. While these are being planned, the power rates are hiked and surcharge imposed on them. The list of projects lost because of the State’s failure to submit proposals to the Centre in time also needs to be taken into account.

There were reports that the State Committee criticized the performance of Education Minister M.A.Baby and asked Cooperation Minister G. Sudhakaran to moderate his language. Since the media are no longer able to pick up pearls dropped by Sudhakaran, the reference to him appears to be correct. No Education Minister has created as much furore from school level to university level in such a short time as Baby has done. But why must the party be unhappy with him when he meets all its needs well? What distinguishes Baby and some other ministers is that they are guided not by the needs of the State and its people but the interests of the party. A minister certainly has the duty to uphold the interests of his party. The problem is that the party’s interests differ from those of the people.
Based on article appearing in India Today (Malayalam) issue dated August 28- September 3, 2008, published on August 27, 2008.

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