Monday, November 26, 2007

War clouds gathering over education sector

Ten Christian denominations and the Nair Service Society of the Hindu Nair community came together last week to resist the Left Democratic Front government's plans for reform in Kerala's education sector.

Church leaders visited the NSS headquarters at Perunna, Changanassery, on Thursday, reportedly at the instance of Joseph M.Puthussery, a Kerala Congress (Mani) legislator.
A constituent of the opposition United Democratic Front, the KC (M) draws its support mainly from the powerful Syrian Christian community.

The Perunna meeting formed an action committee with Syro Malabar Archbishop Mar Joseph Perunthottam and NSS general secretary PK Narayana Panicker as chairmen and Church of South India bishop Thomas Samuel and NSS joint secretary G Sukumaran Nair as general secretaries.

The Churches and the NSS were together in the 'liberation struggle' that led to the Centre's dismissal of the first Communist government in 1959. The main provocation for that struggle, too, was an attempt at educational reform.

Christian missions were pioneers of modern education in Kerala. They received firm support from the rulers of the erstwhile states of Travancore and Cochin.

Official statistics show that private managements control 67.6% of the lower primary schools, 71.2% of the upper primary schools, 67.0% of the high schools and 58.0% of the higher secondary schools. Most of them receive grants from the State government.
Private managements dominate higher education too. They run 150 of the 189 arts and science colleges and 70 of the 84 engineering colleges.

Official documents do not indicate how many of the private institutions are under the control of the Churches. According to knowledgeable sources, different Christian missions manage more than three-fourths of the private schools. The NSS controls a majority of the rest. The Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam of the Ezhava community and the Muslim Education Society are among the other minor stakeholders.

All but a couple of clauses of the Kerala Education Act, which was enacted by the Communist government 50 years ago, survived the legal challenge mounted by private managements. The Kerala Education Rules framed in terms of that law still hold the ground.

A committee appointed by the present government, with retired Chief Secretary CP Nair as chairman, is now reviewing the KER provisions. It is expected to submit its proposals for changes in it before the year-end.

The day the bishops and the NSS leaders conferred in Perunna, Government School Teachers Union president K Vikraman Nair resigned from the committee to register his opposition to the draft proposals formulated by it. He was the only pro-UDF member of the committee.

Two proposals mooted by LDF supporters have invited the wrath of the private managements, particularly the Churches and the NSS.

One of them envisages transfer of supervisory control over educational institutions from the State governments to the panchayats in furtherance of the policy of decentralisation of power.
Opponents argue that this will enable local politicians to pressure school managements.

While the LDF and the UDF have been alternating in power at the State level, the LDF has been controlling a majority of the local self-government institutions continuously.

The other reform proposal envisages vesting of the power to appoint teachers in the State Public Service Commission. Supporters of the move argue that since the government pays the teachers' salaries the right of appointment must vest in it.

While the Christian missions and the NSS want to retain the right to appoint teachers, the SNDP Yogam favours entrusting the task to the PSC. It hopes this will make it possible to bring teachers' jobs within the purview of the reservation policy. CP Nair has indicated the possibility of creating an alternative mechanism for selection of teachers on the lines of the one in the banking sector.

A clash between the Church-NSS axis and the government on the reform proposals cannot be ruled out. However, much water has flowed under the bridge in the last half-century.
The political situation in the State and the nation as a whole has changed so much that any hope of repeating 1959 is a pipedream.

At the same time, the social and economic power of the forces ranged against the government cannot be wished away. They have enough clout to scuttle the government's plans. This is borne out by the way the managements of self-financing colleges have frustrated all attempts of the LDF government to rein them in. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, November 26, 2007.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Politics of Coconut

The Kerala Chief Minister's lament that a court order has pushed coconut growers into the abyss and the withdrawal of the judge who pronounced the order from the case prompted me to look at the politics of the coconut.

According to the CM, the court order adversely affected the State’s 3.5 million coconut growers. The State has a total of 6.7 million families. Anything that hurts 3.5 million of them must certainly worry him. But is that really the case?

Going by Planning Board figures, the area under all kinds of cultivation in the State is 2.15 million hectares. Coconut is grown in 900,000 hectares. Last year’s production was 6,013 million nuts. When we try to draw the profile of the average coconut farmer from among the 3.5 million people, this is what we get: he has about 0.25 hectare (about 0.5 acre) under coconut. He gets 1,715 nuts a year. A coconut does not even fetch three rupees now, says the Chief Minister. So the average farmer’s annual income from coconut is about Rs. 5,000. The Chief Minister reminds us of the time when coconut sold at Rs. 6.20. Even if we recreate that golden era, the average farmer’s income can only be pushed up to about Rs. 10,000. That is not enough to make his life secure.

Price rise helps the producer. At the same time it hurts the consumer. Whether a higher price for coconut is good or bad depends on whether one produces it or consumes it. The coconut farmer is not merely a producer of coconut. He is also a consumer of coconut. Keralites can be divided into three groups: those who produce coconut to sell, those who produce just enough coconut for their needs and those who do not produce enough coconut for their needs and so buy it. A price increase will benefit the first group. It will not directly benefit or hurt the second group. It will hurt the last group.

Official statistics do not indicate how many of the 6.7 million families belong to each of these groups. The State, which has a duty to protect the interests of all sections, must have the data. If it does not have them, it must collect them. Precise information is needed to take a just decision. In the absence of such information it becomes easy for an organized group to persuade the government to take a decision favourable to it. Such a decision need not be in accord with wider public interest. Often it will be contrary to public interest.

The government has before it the arduous task of reconciling the conflicting interests of the producer and the consumer. Both the State and the Centre have responsibility in this matter. In discharge of this responsibility the Centre has allowed import of palm oil. The action is intended to keep the price of edible oil in check. Unloading of palm oil at Kochi was banned after Kerala represented that the import was against the State’s interests. This decision came up for scrutiny before the High Court.

As unloading at Kochi was banned, the ship moved to Beypore. If the State protests more loudly, it may be diverted to Mangalore or Thoothukudi. But, then, if there is demand for palm oil in the State, it is bound to reach here by road even if the consignment is unloaded at a port in Karnataka or Tamil Nadu. Kerala has now demanded that it should not be unloaded at any port in the South.

The solution to the problems of the coconut grower lies in making coconut farming profitable. Kerala’s right to rake pride in the coconut palm is shrinking. According to the Coconut Development Board’s statistics, productivity in Coconut’s Own Land is below the national average. In India as a whole, the yield per hectare is 7,608 nuts. In Kerala it is 7,048.

At the time of the first five-year plan, only 626,000 hectares were under coconut in the country. As with some other commercial crops, Kerala had a virtual monopoly over coconut. Now 1,946,800 hectares are under coconut but Kerala’s share is down to 46%. The State still holds the first place. But the other southern States together have almost as much land under coconut (the precise figure is 846,600 hectares) as Kerala has.

It needs to be noted that other States have not only taken to coconut cultivation but are also doing it more efficiently than Kerala. Lakshadweep, which gets 19,630 nuts from a hectare, tops in productivity. It is a group of islands with special characteristics. It will not, therefore, be fair to compare Kerala with it. What about Maharashtra, which gets 15,189 nuts from a hectare, and West Bengal, which gets 12,882 nuts? Maybe they too need to be excluded as they have comparatively small areas under coconut – 24,600 hectares in West Bengal and 18,000 hectares in Maharashtra. But we have to ask ourselves why we get only 7,048 nuts from a hectare when Tamil Nadu, which has 357,000 hectares under coconut, is able to get 13,133.

The Planning Board has the answer to this question. In this year’s Economic Review, it says one-third of the coconut palms in the State are senile and unproductive and the root wilt disease is a cause for concern. This is not the first time the Board has drawn attention to these problems. Instead of solving the problems, the State government is seeking to appease the producer by imposing a burden on the consumer.
Based on column “Nerkkazhcha” appearing in Kerala Kaumudi of November 22, 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

Agitation by landless poor gathering momentum

KERALA'S landless are on the warpath. Small, scattered movements demanding land are going on in various parts of the State for some time. The mainstream political parties and the media are ignoring them. Yet they appear to be gaining momentum and to hold the potential to develop into a major challenge to the administration.

About 25,000 people have been squatting on a rubber plantation at Chengara in Pathanamthitta district since early August demanding that the government make good the promise of land made to them a year ago. So far the authorities have turned a blind eye to the agitation.

In Kuttanad, 250 landless families are up in arms against a co-operative society, which allegedly turned over to a tourist enterprise the land that the government had allotted to them.

At Nainankonam in Thiruvanathapuram district, villagers are getting restive again as their demands, which the government had conceded, are yet to be implemented fully. They had won the demands after a prolonged agitation.

Most of the landless people in the State are Dalits and Adivasis. This may be one reason why the political establishment and the media tend to ignore their agitations.
Dalits and Adivasis, who form only 11 per cent of the population, are a small segment of the social spectrum. They do not have sufficient numerical or economic strength to command the attention of the political parties.

The Adivasi leader, CK Janu, was able to draw attention to the plight of her people by staging a long agitation in the State capital in 2001. At that time the government agreed to give land to every landless Adivasi family.
When it failed to fulfil the promise, she and her followers occupied an abandoned plantation at Muthanga in 2003. They were ousted in a bloody police action. Subsequently the United Democratic Front (UDF) government distributed land to some Adivasi families. Under Left Democratic Front (LDF) rule, distribution of land to Adivasis has continued but partisan considerations have crept into the process.

Distribution of surplus land to Dalits and Adivasis is a policy which is accepted in principle by successive governments. However, they have been tardy in implementing the policy. As a result, large sections among them are still landless.

The land reform initiated by the first Communist government in 1957 did grave injustice to Adivasis. It treated the Adivasi who was in possession of forest land as the landlord and the settler from the plains who cultivated that land as tenant. The law thus became an instrument for dispossessing the Adivasi of his land.

The land reform essentially benefited the tenant-cultivators. It did not benefit Dalits because there were few tenants among them. Almost all of them were farm labourers. Consequently the reform did not improve their social or economic status.

At the time of Janu's 2001 agitation, Chandrabhan Prasad, the Dalit columnist, cited figures to show that Dalits and Adivasis in Kerala, the most socially advanced State, were actually worse off than their counterparts elsewhere in the country, including Uttar Pradesh, admittedly one of the most backward States. He pointed out that while 53.79 per cent of the Scheduled Castes in Kerala were landless, the corresponding figure for UP was a mere 38.76 per cent. Even the all-India average was only 49.06 per cent. A whopping 55.47 per cent of the Scheduled Tribes (ST) in Kerala were landless as against only 32.99 per cent in the country as a whole. UP's ST population is a negligible 0.1 per cent of the total. Even among the other sections of the population, landlessness was higher in Kerala ( 20.78 per cent) than in UP (15.03 per cent) and the country as a whole (19.66 per cent).

The extreme Left, which has been actively involved in some of the land agitations, has taken the initiative to form a front to launch am intensified movement for comprehensive land reform. It wants land reform to cover plantations, which were exempted last time. The focus of some recent agitations has been on lands under plantations.

The scene of the Chengara agitation is land under the control of a large plantation company.
According to the Sadhu Jana Vimochana Samyukta Vedi, which leads the agitation, the company is holding on to the land even after expiry of the lease. Lands in Munnar and Ponmudi involved in some of the scandals that surfaced recently were part of big plantations.
The authorities remained silent spectators while the plantation owners sold leased lands to all and sundry.

The entry of the extreme Left raises the possibility of what has been a series of peaceful agitations evolving into a broad-based movement that can pose a threat to law and order. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, November 12, 2007

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Is tying up everybody a democratic activity?

A PEACEFUL MEETING was in progress at Jallianwala Bagh in Punjab on Basant Panchami day of 1919 when Gen. Reginald Dyer ordered his soldiers to shoot. Many were killed. The event shocked the nation. Gandhi was perhaps the one who was shocked most. When he returned from South Africa four years earlier he had imagined the British would grant India Dominion status when the World War was over. He started thinking about how best the people could give expression to their strong feelings. An idea struck him as he was travelling by train to Calcutta from Madras. All Indians must stop work for a day! He found a name for this protest action from his own language: hartal. Har means all or everything. Tal means lock. Thus hartal means lock-all.

Gandhi prepared a statement on the subject and gave it to the press. Since good communication facilities did not exist, his appeal reached people in different parts of the country on different days. So the hartal occurred in different places on different days. But the country recognized the potential of the new form of agitation.

Gandhi’s concept of hartal did not include use of force. He wanted everyone to abstain from work voluntarily. Under the influence of other leaders and other movements, hartal later became something that was to be enforced.

In the turbulent 1970s, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) felt that hartal lacked vigour. Some young people were looking for more extreme alternatives to the CPI (M) as they thought it too lacked sufficient revolutionary fervour. The CPI (M) moved from hartal to bandh. It was ready to throw stones and block traffic to make bandh a success. From lock-all it moved to tying up everybody.

Bandh soon became the main mode of agitation in Kerala and West Bengal, where the CPI (M) is influential. The rank and file took to it, viewing it as part of the revolution. Leaders who manage without toil in the name of the toiling masses toiled hard for the success of bandhs. They made sure that nothing worked except those institutions which they exempted from the bandh call. Among the institutions that were exempted was the press. The people may be denied food but not newspapers. After all the people must know that the bandh was a great success.

Apart from nationwide and statewide bandhs, local action limited to a single industry or even a single office took place. Factory managers and government officials came to be locked up in their rooms. But, for some reason, no industrialist or minister underwent such experience. After the CPI (M) came to power in West Bengal and stayed on without a break, the incidence of bandh came down As Kerala became bandh’s own land, the people learnt to live with bandh. As people resigned themselves to bandhs, even a small party could paralyze life. An informal bandh code came into being. It required that when a party called a bandh for whatever reason, the others must let it succeed. Our bandh became theirs, and their bandh became ours.

Word spread that Kerala was not a good place for investment. But statistics compiled by the Centre showed that the State’s lost few man-days due to work stoppages. The government cited statistics to prove that the State was investor-friendly. However, the image remained unchanged. The authorities did not realize that the real issue was not the number of agitations but their character.

Lately the number and intensity of labour disputes have come down. Employers have found that labour leaders can be tamed using new tactics. R. N. Saboo, who was Birlas’ representative in Kerala for many years, is regarded as the pioneer in this field.

As the incidence of bandh and other violent forms of agitation went down in industries, it went up in politics. When industrialists escaped the fury of bandh, ordinary people became its victims. As the media highlighted the hardship caused by bandh, there were small manifestations of anti-bandh sentiments. Participating in a discussion in Thiruvananthapuram, writer Zacharia said bandh was a violation of human rights. He was perhaps the first person to raise his voice against bandh in a public forum. Congress leader M. M. Hassan staged a 24-hour fast to register his personal opposition to bandh, The Left vigorously defended bandh.

Those who suffer most as a result of bandh are not office-goers but the working class. The bulk of Kerala’s working population is in the unorganized sector. Workers in this sector lack the protection and facilities available to their counterparts in the organized sector. For them bandh means starvation.

In 1997, a full bench of the Kerala High Court, acting on a writ petition, declared bandh illegal and unconstitutional. The Left Democratic Front government, which was in power, moved the Supreme Court. It claimed the High Court verdict denied the citizen the right to protest, which was a part of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The apex court rejected the argument and upheld the lower court decision.

To evade the judicial verdict, the CPI (M) gave up the practice of calling bandh, and called for hartal instead. Only the name changed. The character of the agitation remained unchanged. A traders’ organization challenged the constitutional validity of hartal in the High Court. The court ruled that calling for hartal was not illegal but enforcing it was illegal. It also said that if public property was destroyed the government or the Collector or other officials could recover the cost from those who called the hartal.

For some time thereafter the CPI (M) did not call hartals. Instead, it organized blockades. They too interfered with the rights and freedoms of other people. But no one went to court to ascertain their legal and constitutional validity.

In 2004, a petition seeking relief against hardships caused by hartals came up before the High Court. A full bench order on the petition directed the government to take appropriate steps to prevent hartal from paralyzing life. It should not declare a holiday and postpone examinations. Instead, it should offer the protection to those who do not want to strike. If the State is not in a position to do this, it can ask the Centre to deploy the army or paramilitary forces. It should not allow breakdown of the constitutional machinery or violation of fundamental rights. The district administration must be instructed to take steps in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 10 of the Criminal Procedure Code to maintain public services with the help of paramilitary services if law and order problems arise. If there was loss of property, the costs can be recovered from those responsible for it or those who called the hartal.

No government has shown the will to implement truthfully the court directives on bandh and hartal. Although the CPI (M) has been participating in the democratic process for six decades, it does not believe in parliamentary democracy. As such, the indifference of the governments under its leadership is understandable. But the situation is no different when the front led by the Congress, which believes in the parliamentary system, is in office. A class division is discernible in Kerala with parties that organize agitations on one side the people who suffer the consequences of agitations on the other.

Court verdicts cannot offer permanent solutions to problems like hartal. According to information provided by the government in response to an application under the Right to Information Act, Thrissur is the most hartal-prone city. Last year there was hartal there on 59 days, as against 19 days in Thiruvanathapuram and 11 in Kochi. Although hartals result in loss of property, the State government has not taken steps to recover the costs. Three years ago, the Bombay High Court set an example in this matter. Four persons had died in an explosion at Ghatkopar during a bandh jointly called by the BJP and the Shiv Sena in July 2003. The court ordered the two parties to pay Rs 2 million each in damages. Since the parties can make collections to pay the penalty, this cannot be taken as a good model.

Frequent hartals proclaim the failure of democracy. The problem has to be resolved by mobilizing public opinion. If political parties realize that there are strong feelings against agitations that impose hardship on the people, they are sure to give them up.
Based on an article in Malayalam which appeared in Madhyamam weekly dated November 19, 2007

Friday, November 16, 2007


I wish to draw your kind attention to a Kerala-based alternative media effort, which has been on for more than five years.

This is how the organization, which went online on March 27, 2002, describes itself:

"'Countercurrents' is a non-profit organization and the site is financed by our personal income and the small contributions received from the readers.

" is an alternative news site. We bring out what the mainstream media fails to tell you, or hides from you. These are the things that really matter. The things which may determine the fate of planet earth! The future of our children! In a word, the survival of the species!

" stands for peace and justice. Our sympathies are with all those who are engaged in struggles for economic, political, social, cultural, gender, environmental ….. justice. Our aim is to strengthen all these movements. Our conviction is that the driving force of social change is these small counter movements and struggles!"

Contact address:,
PB No. 5,
Kumaranalloor PO,
PIN 686 016

Satya Sagar, writing in, makes an interesting comparison between Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. It can be seen at

Monday, November 12, 2007

Karunakaran awaiting Sonia Gandhi's nod to return

WHEN VETERAN CONGRESSMAN K. Karunakaran led his breakaway faction into the National Congress Party a year ago it was seen as a masterly stroke. Since the NCP was a coalition partner of the United Progressive Alliance ruling at the Centre and the Left Democratic Front in power in Kerala, it looked as though he had a win-win strategy.

When Karunakaran, four-time chief minister, and his son, former Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president, K. Muraleedharan, left the Congress and floated the Democratic Indira Congress (DIC), they were hoping to join the LDF, which was expected to win the approaching assembly elections. CPI-M State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan was ready to accommodate them but the party's Politburo put its foot down.

As DIC president, Muraleedharan repeatedly declared that the party would contest all 140 assembly seats. However, on the eve of the elections, it hurried back into the UDF. It lost all but one of the seats the UDF allotted to it.

Sharad Pawar, NCP's founder-president, who was looking for ways to extend his party's beyond the borders of Maharashtra, thought a Congress leader of Karunakaran's vintage would be an asset. He arranged for DIC's merger in the NCP and made Muraleedharan president of the party's State unit.

The LDF was not pleased with the back-door entry of Karunakaran and his followers into the alliance. It told the state NCP that it was no longer welcome as its composition had undergone a major change.

Critics have accused Karunakaran of seeking to establish his children in politics.
Muraleedharan, who is his only son, became PCC president under a deal he had struck with the rival faction in Congress. On the eve of the Lok Sabha poll, Muraleedharan was inducted into the State Cabinet. Unfortunately for him, he lost the assembly by-election and had to bow out of office.

Karunakaran's only daughter, Padmaja Venugopal, was Chairperson of the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation when the UDF was in power. She did not follow her father out of the Congress but that did not make her acceptable to the rival faction.

During the past few months, Karunakaran made a couple of well-publicised visits to Delhi, leading to much speculation in the media. Some thought he was aspiring for a role in national politics. It was presumed that as a senior Congressman he was in position to bring together all those who had left the party in recent years. Some others thought he was trying to find a place in national politics for Muraleedharan. They presumed he was hoping to send Muraleedharan to the Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra with Pawar's help.

Karunakaran is 89, going on 90. For him one year in the political wilderness is too long a period.
In an interview telecast last week, he indicated that he would like to return to the Congress.
Congress leaders' immediate response to his statement showed a sharp division in the party.
AK Antony and several others belonging to his erstwhile faction, like VM Sudheeran and Mullappally Ramachandran, favoured his readmission to the party. However, leader of the opposition Oommen Chandy and PCC president Ramesh Chennithala, who fad inherited the leadership of the Antony faction, indicated that they did not want him back.

Mohsina Kidwai, who was on her first visit to the State as All India Congress Committee general secretary in charge of Kerala, said it was for Congress President Sonia Gandhi to decide on the issue of Karunakaran's return.

Karunakaran had made some uncharitable remarks about Sonia Gandhi when he left the party.
However, there is reason to believe that she might be inclined to welcome him back. Although she was not pleased with his activities, she had intervened to prevent his leaving the party on the eve of the last Lok Sabha elections. She had again intervened to accommodate his DIC in the UDF on the eve of the Assembly elections. With the next Lok Sabha elections fast approaching, she may want him back in the party.

Karunakaran did not attend a meeting of NCP leaders held recently. He sent word that he was not in a position to take an active part in the party's activities. Apparently, father and son have parted ways on the issue of return to the Congress. Muraleedharan has stated that even if Karunakaran goes back to the Congress he will not. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, November 12, 2007.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Parties find their way around court ban on strike

Photo on the right, published by The Hindu,
shows two CPI (M) ministers, Kodiyeri
Balakrishnan and A. K. Balan, walking
to the party office on a hartal day in 2006.
Photo: S. Gopakumar
WHEN the courts held 'bandh' and 'hartal' illegal and declared that those who organised such work stoppages could be held to account, there arose a faint hope that such protest action might become a thing of the past. That hope did not materialise. Work stoppages are on the rise again.

Hartal and bandh are terms that signify shutdown. The first gained currency after Gandhi called for a day's gnereal strike in 1919 to protest against the shooting down of unarmed people on the orders of a British officer at Jalianwala Bagh in Punjab. The second was popularised by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the 1970s. Gandhi envisaged hartal as peaceful and voluntary abstention from work. The Left developed bandh as forcible closure.

In the 1990s, signs of opposition to strikes that disrupted normal life appeared in Kerala. While reporting bandhs, some newspapers highlighted the hardship they caused to the public. They played up stories of the sick dying because they could not reach the hospital in time. At a discussion organised by Kerala Watch, a civil society organisation, writer Paul Zacharia said bandh involved violation of human rights. Congress leader MM Hassan observed a 24-hour fast demanding an end to bandh.

The Kerala High Court, which heard a petition on the subject, declared bandh unconstitutional on the ground that it curtailed the citizens' fundamental rights. The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) approached the Supreme Court, claiming bandh was a legitimate form of protest. The apex court rejected the CPI-M argument and upheld the High Court verdict. Since its decisions become part of the law of the land, bandh became illegal.

Thereafter political parties started calling for hartal, instead of bandh. The High Court, holding that hartal, like bandh, involved use of force or threat of force, banned it too. After that the political parties observed restraint for some time. The CPI-M, instead of calling for bandh or hartal, organised 'uparodham' (blockade), which also caused hardship to the people.

Lately, the parties have abandoned the restraint of the past few years and started calling for hartal again. Last week there was one State-wide hartal and there were several at regional or district level. In some areas, three working days were lost during the week.

The State hartal on Thursday was called by the Bharatiya Janata Party to coincide with the inauguration of a railway division with headquarters at Salem in Tamil Nadu. Brushing aside Kerala's protests, the Railway Board had transferred to the new division more than half the rail network under the Palakkad division. The BJP turned down appeals by Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and poet ONV Kurup to drop or defer the hartal as the State was celebrating its 51st anniversary on that day and President Pratibha Patil was to be in the State capital on an official visit. The President's visit went off smoothly despite the hartal, thanks to the arrangements made by the State government to ensure attendance at her functions, which included a public reception.

The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) organised a hartal in the Malabar region to protest against the alleged neglect of Kozhikode airport, which caters to the needs of a large section of Keralites working in the Gulf States. The airport is under the Centre and IUML leader E. Ahmed is a minister in the Central government.

Palakkad and Kottayam districts witnessed local hartals, called by various parties including the CPI-M, the BJP and the Congress to protest against some violent incidents.

The Kerala chapter of the Confederation of Indian Industries said on Friday that the spate of strikes and hartals was adversely affecting the State's economy. It estimated that the daily production loss due to work stoppages at Rs 6.50 to 7 billion.

The judicial verdicts have been of little avail because the machinery which should enforce them remains in the hands of the political parties. When the BJP called for hartal, the High Court asked the government what it proposed to do. By way of reply, the government furnished a copy of a circular the Director General of Police had sent to his force.

The only remedy open to a citizens who have suffered as a result of bandh or hartal is to initiate contempt of court proceedings against the party which called such a protest.
Considering the high cost and cumbersome nature of legal action, this will mean inviting more hardship on oneself. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, November 5, 2007

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Political parentage of campus violence

WHO killed Assistant Sub-Inspector of Police M. C. Elias? This was question that was debated widely in Kerala after the violent incidents in the NSS Hindu College at Changanassery last week. All CPI (M) men from the party’s State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan downwards were certain that the ASI was killed by members of the pro-BJP Akhil Bharat Vidyarthi Parishad. All BJP men from State BJP President P. K. Krishnadas downwards were equally certain that he was killed by members of the pro-CPI(M) Students Federation of India. If one listens carefully to what political leaders say on such occasions, one can understand how faith saves.

It is meaningless to say that what happened at Changanassery should not have happened. What happened there could have been foreseen in the light of the violence that has been raging in several campuses for some time. When and where it will occur was all that remained to be known. A weakness of modern journalism is that it concentrates on events. It does not usually take note of the processes that lead to events. If it does, it may be able to recognize dangers inherent in a process and avert the likely event.

A study of the history of students’ movements will show that they have clashed with regimes from time to time. Students made a major contribution to the freedom movement in many countries, including India. In some countries they played a decisive role in sweeping away dictatorship and establishing democracy. If all students had buried their heads in textbooks, some countries might have had to wait longer for freedom and democracy. These historical facts do not justify the violence in our campuses today. Those who provide leadership to it are under the control of political parties engaged in power struggles. Their agenda is set by these parties. In the executive body of each of these parties there is one member who is in charge of its student wing. The first item in his table of priorities is narrow party interest, not broad national interests.

It may well be that students gravitate to various parties, attracted by the ideals that they swear by. However, when we take into account the recent history of the major parties, the possibility of some of them viewing student politics as a shortcut to high places cannot be ruled out. If it is all right for one to decide in his childhood that he wants to be a doctor or engineer and work for it, it is not wrong for one to set a political goal for oneself and work to achieve it. Political parties are indispensable for the working of the democratic system. We are familiar with the practice of big companies going to campuses to find the people they need and offer them jobs even before they pass out. A political party looking for future leaders in the campuses can be seen in the same light.

The real problem is that political parties use students’ organizations to serve their own interests. The violence in campuses is part of the effort to establish the party’s authority. The students who go at each other are the parties’ sacrificial offerings. Some recent incidents suggest that political violence, which remained confined to Kannur for long, is now spreading to other parts of Kerala. All parties have the duty to prevent this. The CPI (M) has greater responsibility than the other parties in this regard. First, there is reason to believe that it started the era of political violence by creating party villages and party campuses. Secondly, as the State’s largest party and one that wields power, it has the duty to provide leadership to the effort to restore peace. All over the world, attempts by the weak to resist the violence of the strong have often led to the growth of extremism. There are indications that this is happening in Kerala’s campuses.

At the time of writing, it is not quite clear whether ASI Elias was killed or died following a heart attack. Policemen on the spot cannot be faulted if they presumed it was a case of murder. However, the public pronouncements by official and party spokesmen have cast doubts on the ability of the police to conduct a fair investigation. There is prima facie evidence of police torture of those who were taken into custody. We need also to remember here that the CPI (M) has fractions in the State police.

Based on Nerkkazhcha column in Kerala Kaumudi of November 1, 2007