Monday, May 17, 2010

LDF regime enters the last lap

Gulf Today

Kerala's Left Democratic Front government, which took office in 2006 amid infighting in the Communist Party of India-Marxist, enters the last year of its five-term term tomorrow (Tuesday), still hamstrung by lingering sectarianism.

Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, who was subdued after his demotion from the Politburo as a disciplinary measure, has lately shown readiness to lock horns again with state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan who demonstrated his total control over the party machinery at the state conference in 2008.

Last week, the party leadership asserted its authority and reiterated its choice of state committee member CP Narayanan as the chief minister's political secretary, brushing aside Achuthanandan's objections. It also disapproved of his intervention to foil Industry Minister Elamaram Kareem's plan to speed up work on a four-lane road to an industrial estate at Kinaloor, which has met with popular opposition.

The government had its finest hour on the eve of its first anniversary when it concluded a deal with Tecom of Dubai to set up the Smart City project at Kochi. The chief minister's personal standing was also high at that time, thanks to the campaign he had initiated to reclaim lands grabbed by encroachers enjoying political patronage in and around the hill station of Munnar.

On the eve of the fourth anniversary, the government's image is dull. Not a brick has been laid at the Smart City site. With Tecom and the state government locked in a dispute over land title, the project is on hold. The Munnar operation was scuttled by local leaders of the CPI-M and the CPI.

The uneasy relationship between the chief minister and the party secretary limits the government's ability to refurbish its image in the last lap.

Last year's Lok Sabha poll revealed erosion of the ground support which had enabled the CPI-M and the LDF to register spectacular victories in the previous parliamentary, local bodies and Assembly elections. It is now preparing for the local bodies elections, due later this year, which will provide the next big test.

Outwardly the party has been projecting a picture of satisfaction at the government's performance. It attributed the electoral reverse to failure to convey to the people the state government's achievements, which included expansion of welfare measures and turning of loss-making public sector units into profitable undertakings.

According to the Restructuring and Internal Audit Board, the PSUs, which had incurred an aggregate loss of Rs696 million in 2005-06, yielded a profit of Rs2.32 billion in 2009-10. The turnaround was achieved by pumping in more than Rs2 billion and tying up some units with Central PSUs.

In view of the high level of unemployment in the state, one yardstick with which to measure its performance is its record on the job front. There was only a modest increase of 30,000 in the strength of the state's work force in the organised sector in the first two years -- from 1.10 million in 2006 to 1.13 million in 2008, the last year for which figures are available. The number of registered jobseekers went up from 4.0 million in 2006 to 4.5 million in June last year.

Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac claims collection of commercial taxes has increased and the state's finances are in robust condition. He has secured financial stability by pushing up the debt burden from Rs459 billion in 2005-06 to an estimated 672 billion last year.

There are reports that Pinarayi Vijayan has voiced dissatisfaction at the performance of the government and some CPI-M ministers in a document prepared for discussion in party forums.

The government's lacklustre record must be viewed against the background of the dismal performance if all governments of the last three decades, during which the LDF and the rival United Democratic Front have alternated in power.

Essentially the Achuthanandan government's problem is one of poor image rather than poor performance. Its bid to give the police a people-friendly image has collapsed with a dozen police personnel facing murder charge in connection with a custodial death. There are allegations that it is shielding senior officers involved in this and other cases. Last week, policemen, ostensibly provoked by demonstrators, had gone on a rampage in Kinaloor.

On the education front, the government has bought peace by surrendering to the powerful private sector, dominated by the Christian Church, and on the administration of Hindu religious institutions it is seeking peace by giving in to the demands of the powerful Nair Service Society. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 17, 2010.

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