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.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Bumps on Kerala’s ride to zero population growth

For 30 years Kerala has been inching towards zero population growth. Experts believe that in another 30 years it will reach that ideal state. But, then, the course of idealism, like that of love, never runs smooth.

Overcome by the fear of being overwhelmed by others, leaders of a religious minority are egging on the faithful to produce more children so that the tribe's number goes up. In an apparent response to the move, a government-appointed commission is considering a proposal to penalize those who reject the 'small family' norm.

The above are the opening lines of an article distributed by the Indo-Asian News Service. The article appears in full at

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Land is at the centre of controversy in ruling front

The sectarian war in the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which heads Kerala’s ruling Left Democratic Front, has flared up again. At the centre of the controversy is a sharp difference in the perceptions of the rival factions on use of the state’s limited land resources.

Following a meeting of the state committee early this month, the party unveiled a policy document, which was seen as an attempt to rein in Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, whom it obliquely accused of taking an extremist position on the issue of distribution of land to landless farmers.

Achuthanandan responded with an off-the-cuff remark characterising his critics in the party as opportunists.

Although there has been no public airing of differences by the Chief Minister since then, the party leadership has embarked upon a campaign to mobilise support for the policy document.

The campaign began with a series of articles in the party newspaper, Deshabhimani, by Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac, who had authored the policy document and moved it in the state committee meeting. As soon as Isaac’s series ended, state Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan began another.

According to media reports, the state committee has distributed to lower committees for discussion a 78-page document, which is a virtual charge-sheet against Achuthanandan.

The party’s established procedure provides lower committees an opportunity to discuss policy documents and express their opinion before they are finalised. More often than not, the lower committees endorse such documents without reservations, but on rare occasions the higher committee made changes in them to accommodate views of the lower bodies.

The discussion on the new policy document at the lower levels may lead to consolidation of opinion within the party against Achuthanandan, making his continuance in office untenable.

Pinarayi Vijayan points out in his newspaper article that the policy document has been prepared in compliance with the decision taken by the of the party’s state conference at Kottayam to draw up guidelines for the government’s functioning.

The document says the government has taken steps to implement most of the promises in the LDF election manifesto, but the government has an image problem. It goes on to declare that a change in the chief minister’s style of functioning has become inevitable.

Most of the charges levelled against Achuthanandan in the document are those that were openly aired by the party leadership before the state conference. These include his failure to distance himself from the public campaign that forced the Politburo to reverse an earlier decision and allow him to contest the Assembly election. The new charges include failure to disown his supporters who conducted a boisterous demonstration on the last day of the state conference.

The issue which has emerged as the focal point in the renewed infighting in the party is that relating to establishment of special economic zones. Although the state committee asked the chief minister to forward all pending SEZ applications to the Centre, opposition from ministers belonging to the CPI and the Revolutionary Socialist Party has prevented a Cabinet decision.

Recently the chief minister stated that a decision of the SEZ issue would be taken in consultation with the national leadership of the Left parties. He cannot expect support from the CPI (M) national leadership in this matter since the party has already given the go-ahead for SEZs.

Pinarayi Vijayan says it is the state committee’s responsibility to ensure that the government functions in the manner envisaged by the party. The new policy document, he asserts, has been prepared in the light of the decisions of the party congress held at Coimbatore.

The congress took the view that it is not enough for the state governments under the party’s leadership to talk of measures to provide the people relief as the people expect these governments to take up development programmes which will raise their living standards.

The SEZ concept is not new to Kerala. The 100% export zone in Kochi is now a SEZ. The Smart City, to be built by the Dubai Internet City authorities, is envisaged as a SEZ.

The problem with most of the SEZ applications pending with the state government is that they are not from real estate operators whose sole aim is profiteer by acquiring and selling land. The party leadership feels they must be encouraged as they will be able to bring in investment. – Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 25, 2008.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Are you with the land mafia or with the landless?

Communist Party of India (Marxist) state secretary says talk of a second land reform is extremist gibberish. The Chief Minister says opportunists are afraid of extremists. The problem before Kerala is not whether to go with the extremists or the opportunists, but whether to stand with the landless who are getting increasingly marginalized or with the land mafia, which is steadily tightening its hold. Those with a sense of history can see the new phase as a repetition of the early days of the medieval era when monarchy, landlordism and caste supremacists established themselves. The Dalits and the Adivasis, who suffered most as a result of that change, are the main victims of the emerging social order too. Those who grabbed lands for agriculture became lords in the feudal era. Those who grabbed lands for industry become lords today. The old rulers and warlords have gone. Political sharpshooters are the new rulers.

The land reform, which was initiated by the communist regime 50 years ago and completed later by parties of the left and the right, totally ignored the landless farm labourers, who were Dalits. It treated the Adivasis even more cruelly. The law turned them into landlords and recognized those who cultivated the lands in their possession as tenants who were entitled to get ownership.

In 1957, according to official records, 35% of the farm land in the state was under paddy. By 1997 it had shrunk to 13% and by 2006 to 9%. The ruled that prohibited conversion of farm land and the destruction of other crops on converted land could not save paddy. Planning Board documents show that on an average 22,000 hectares of paddy land was lost annually during the Eighth Five-Year Plan, 13,000 hectares during the Ninth Plan and 11,657 hectares during the Tenth Plan. At this rate, the remaining 275,000 hectares will disappear during the next five Plan periods. The authorities who are wracking their brains to devise new laws to prevent this must find out why people are turning away from paddy. If a sincere effort is made in this direction, they will realise that those who got farm land as a result of land reform were not interested in continuing as farmers. They sold the land to educate their children and equip them to join the middle class. Those who stayed put in farming switched to profitable commercial crops.

In 1966-67, before land reform, 60% of all land holders possessed less than 0.40 hectare each, 22% between 0.40 and one hectare each and 10% between one and two hectares each. In 1990-91, after land reform, 72% had less than 0.50 hectare each. Five years later, those with holdings below 0.50 hectare rose to 75%. That a large majority of Dalits are still landless shows that the claim that land reform changed the society is hollow. Among Dalit land holders 97.5% and among Adivasi land holders 97.8% own less than 0.50 hectare each.

Legislature committees have reported that several of the plantations, which were exempted from land ceilings, are in possession of land in excess of their entitlement. Experts are of the view that if the land illegally held by them is repossessed there will be enough to meet the needs of landless farm workers. No government has shown the will to act with determination in this regard. Just as delay in enforcing land reform helped the landlords to transfer excess land and escape the provisions of the ceilings law, by the time the government wakes up and gets ready to act the plantation owners may have sold all their land.

Official statistics about land are not entirely reliable. This will be clear from a scrutiny of records relating to extent of forest. According to an official document of 1957-58, forests covered an area of 10,18,000 hectares. Forty years later, in 1997-98, official records gave the extent of forest as 10,82,00 hectares. Five years later, in 2005-06, forest area remained the same, according to Planning Board papers. That is to say, during the half- century, when extensive denudation is believed to have taken place, there was actually a marginal increase in the area under forest! As the comedy character says, ‘how clever!’ In the matter of revenue lands, too, government figures are not reliable. Resurvey which began decades ago is continuing without the end in sight. According to the report of a recent unofficial study, there is a trend towards concentration of land in a few hands. The study was conducted not by extremists but by the Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad, which has undertaken some missions for the Left. The Parishad study revealed that a large section of the very poor, comprising Dalits, Adivasis and fisher folk, are landless and the very rich section, accounting for 8.8% of the population, has amassed a lot of land.

The concept of second land reform provides an opportunity to correct past mistakes. The government and the party that leads it must realize that it will be a folly to miss this opportunity. The landless asking for farm land is not extremism. Also, it is not opportunism to say that it is necessary to find land for industries. If leaders see extremism and opportunism in them, it must be because they are seeing things which we are not able to see. When the partyu secretary says seizing the land of small holders and giving it to the landless will create anarchy, he is spreading misunderstanding. The landless have not raised such a demand. Although he says there is no difference of opinion in the party on the land issue, the question whether it is with the land mafia or with the landless is valid.

The administration has the duty to make available land to meet the needs of agriculture and industry. Kerala’s high population density and the current pace of rapid urbanization increase its responsibility. Developments in the State are similar to what happened in post-War Japan. We can, therefore, learn some lessons from that country’s experience. At one stage Japan had relied upon other countries for 75% of its food needs. As its economy boomed, farmers experienced two problems. They realized that their farming methods were outdated. As returns from paddy cultivation were low, farmers started moving away from it. At that stage, the government stepped in and guaranteed high price for paddy. When paddy cultivation became remunerative, farmers who were growing other produce switched to paddy. Since produictivity increased, production rose in spite of a fall in the number of farmers. Now food deficit is down to 33%.

Kerala can follow the Japanese example of land use. Taking into account the rapid urbanization, the Japanese authorities divided the land into four zones: one where urbanization is promoted, another where agriculture was promoted, a third where both agriculture and urbanization were promoted and parkland. If land use is regulated in this manner, it will be possible to ensure that there is land for both industry and agriculture. It will also help avoid a siyuation where mafia gangs loaded with black money run around grabbing land. There is room to doubt the intentions of rulers who are reluctant to frame a scientific land use policy.
Based on column ‘Nerkkazhcha’ appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated August 21, 2008

Monday, August 18, 2008

Family planning programme comes under pressure

KERALA's highly successful family programme is coming under pressure from different quarters. On one side are religious leaders who want their communities to abandon restraint and produce more children. On the other side are reformers who favour use of compulsion to enforce the small family norm.

Kerala, divided into three administrative units, had a population of only 12.5 million at the time of Independence. The region had the highest population density and the highest rate of population growth in the country. In 2001, when the last census was taken, the State's population stood at 31.8 million.
It still had the highest population density but the rate of population growth was now the lowest in the country.

This miraculous fall in population growth was a measure of the success of the family planning programme. The Indian government, anxious to hold the galloping population growth, launched the programme immediately after the country gained freedom. The programme evoked far greater response in Kerala than elsewhere in the country.

Till 1971 the state had the highest population growth rate but thereafter it started declining. By 2001, the decennial growth rate fell to 9.4 percent as against the national average of 21.5 percent. There was a dramatic decline in both the birth rate and the death rate during this period.

The fall in the death rate is attributable to such factors as improvement in public health standards and medical facilities. The fall in the birth rate is attributable primarily to practice of family planning.

The spread of education and the revolution of rising expectations brought about a salubrious change in the attitude of the people.
Parents were eager to give children greater opportunities than they themselves had, and they realised that they could make better provisions for the family if its size was small.

The government did offer incentives under the family planning programme but there was no use of compulsion, as happened in some northern States during the Emergency.
Religious leaders, who are opposed to the use of contraception, did not put up any hurdles in the way of voluntary use of contraception.

Judging by the total fertility rate (TFR), worked out on the basis of number of children per women, the response of the different religious groups to the programme has been uneven.

In 1991, the Hindus had a TFR of 1.66, Christians 1.78 and Muslims 2.97.
Against this background, the census finding that the Hindu population had come down from 57.4 percent in 1991 to 56.2 percent in 2001 and the Christian population from 19.3 percent to 19.0 percent came as no surprise. The Muslim population moved up from 23.3 percent to 24.7 percent.

Some communal outfits sought to scare the Hindu majority by raising the spectre of being swamped by the minority communities. However, they could not make a big impact, primarily because the Hindu families which restricted the number of children had done so on their own.

Though the fall in the Christian population was small, it was enough to cause "grave concern" to the powerful Catholic Church. It exhorted the faithful to abjure contraception.

On a superficial view, the Muslim TFR and population growth appear to indicate a trend contrary to that in the rest of the state's population. However, the growth rate is falling among the Muslims too. As in the Christian community, there is a powerful section among Muslims too, who believe that contraception is against the principles of the religion. But experts are of the view that Muslims remain behind other communities in the matter of population control not because of religious reasons but because of educational backwardness.

The reported move by a law reforms commission, appointed by the state government, to impose penalties to enforce the small family norm has now set the stage for a needless confrontation on the issue of population control.

Recently the media reported that the commission, headed by former Supreme Court judge VR Krishna Iyer, has decided to propose the enactment of a law providing for a fine of Rs10,000 on parents who go in for a third child.

The Catholic Church dubbed it an attempt to import the Chinese population policy.
While the Church exercises tremendous influence on the Christians, it is doubtful if it can persuade those who are restricting the size of the family voluntarily, in order to give the children better lives, to go in for larger families. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 18, 2008.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Chengara: Independence Day thoughts

BLOCKED: The police blocking a group of Chengara-bound human rights activists near the Chengara junction on Thursday. Photo: The Hindu

Since August 3, some persons, said to be plantation workers, have been engaged in a blockade to force several thousand landless people, most of them Dalits and Adivasis, out of the Chengara estate in Pathanamthitta district, where they have been squatting for a year demanding farm land.

While the squatters have been peaceful, the workers involved in the blockade have been violent. They have forcibly prevented social activists from meeting the squatters and damaged their vehicles. They have also abducted women squatters who came out of the estate to fetch necessities.

The police, who are present in the area, are clearly in collusion with the workers, who are under the flags of different political parties, including the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which heads the government of Kerala. They have arrested and removed activists who wanted to assert their right to enter the estate and meet the squatters.

The blockade is inhuman. It denies the squatters, who include a large number of women and children, access to food and medicine. According to media reports, the unions are taking a tough stance and the situation is getting more complex. (See report in The Hindu.)

The government of Kerala held two rounds of talks on the issue. One meeting was called by the Chief Minister and the other by the Collector of Pathanamthitta. Clearly there can be no peaceful solution of the problem so long as the blockade, organised with the tacit approval of the CPI (M) and support of the government machinery, lasts. A small incident can lead to a repetition of Muthanga (where the Kerala police broke up a similar agitation using bullets, when the United Democratic Front was in power) or Nandigram (where the West Bengal police broke up a similar agitation in a joint operation with CPI-M cadres and goons).

Let us ask the CPI (M), which, as the ruling party, has a duty to act in a responsible manner, to call off the blockade and create conditions favourable to peaceful resolution of the problem. I have sent today a message to the Chief Minister, the Collector of Pathanamthitta, the General Secretary of the CPI (M) and the State Secretary of the CPI (M) in this regard. The text of the message and the e-mail addresses of the persons concerned are given below. I appeal to all those who are in agreement with these sentiments to write to them too.
Mr.V.S.Achuthanandan, Chief Minister of Kerala (
Mr. P.C.Sanalkumar, District Collector, Pathanamthitta (
Mr. Prakash Karat, General Secretary, CPI-M (
Mr. Pinarayi Vijayan, Secretary, CPI-M, Kerala (

The blockade of Chengara estate by workers, with the tacit approval of the CPI (M) and connivance of officials, has created a serious situation.
I earnestly urge the CPI (M) and the State government to use their influence and put an immediate end to the inhuman blockade, which denies several thousand squatters access to food and medicine, and resume talks with them to find a peaceful solution to their problems.

Silpam, NRA C-29,
Thiruvananthapuram 695017


Causeless Journalists: Fourth Estate in the Age of Social Movements

Dr. T.T. Sreekumar, Assistant Professor, Communications and New Media Programme, National University of Singapore, discusses the phenomenon of Causeless Journos in an article distributed by

Besides the exemplary examples of P. Sainath and a few others, he says, scribes in the mainstream media mostly present themselves as “causeless journo/s” (CJs) with pretensions of neutrality and a derision for those who stand up for the causes of the marginalized. The disdain probably arise from their own kinship ties or alliances with corrupt politicians or past association with Stalinist or cultural fascist media organizations.

The Kerala media comes up for special mention.

Over to for article

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Online petition on the issue of Chengara blockade

The following is a message circulated by Bobby Kunhu (

Dear Friends

As most of you are aware, around 5000 families protesting in Chengara are facing violence and are completely cut off even from basic necessities like food and medicine by a bunch of goons with the connivance of the Government of Kerala.

There are several activities taking place on the ground to provide some relief to the protestors. In addition, we thought it is important to show solidarity in the form of a petition addressed to Constitutional authorities in this country, to put pressure on the Government of Kerala to act immediately and secure justice for the peaceful protestors.

Please do sign this petition and circulate it widely amongst your contacts.

The petition can be found at

In solidarity
Bobby Kunhu

Monday, August 11, 2008

Party resolution seen as bid to rein in Chief Minister

A policy document adopted by the State Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has put the seal of approval on the organisational leadership's plan to take Kerala along the capitalist road, following the footsteps of China and West Bengal.

The committee approved the document, presented by State Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac, after three days of discussion. Most of the members supported it enthusiastically and it was adopted unanimously in the absence of Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, who is undergoing Ayurvedic treatment.

In effect, the document is a victory proclamation by the organisational wing, headed by state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, who had successfully marginalised Achuthanandan and his followers in the elections at various levels held in advance of the party's national congress at Coimbatore early this year.

The state party had witnessed intense factional strife between the two leaders before and after the Assembly elections of 2006. At one stage, the national leadership, exasperated by the way they aired their differences in public, suspended both from the Politburo, the party's highest policy-making body. The suspension was revoked before the party congress.

Later, the national leadership inducted Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan also into the politburo in an apparent bid to establish a new equilibrium in the state party with Pinarayi Vijayan in control of the organisational wing and Achuthanandan remaining the chief minister.

The new policy document pointedly rejects Achuthanandan's publicly stated positions on two issues with a bearing on agricultural and industrial development.

In the context of the growing demand for farm land from landless agricultural labourers, most of them Dalits and Adivasis who did not benefit from earlier land reform measures, Achuthanandan had endorsed the call for a second land reform.

The resolution dubs talk of a second land reform as mere rhetoric. Some time ago, a senior bureaucrat, apparently acting at the instance of his political master, had prepared a paper, making out a case for scrapping of the prevailing land reform measures on the ground that they came in the way of acquisition of land for industries.

The chief minister can seek consolation in the fact that the party has not gone that far. It has only scotched talk of further land reform.

The policy document is widely seen as a calculated attempt to rein in the chief minister and clear the way for ministers belonging to the Pinarayi faction to go ahead with their schemes without running into roadblocks.

In the early days of the present government, the Finance Minister and Local Self-government Minister Paloli Mohammedkutty, both stalwarts of the Pinarayi faction, had encountered stiff opposition from Achuthanandan in their bid to secure a loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for schemes to improve urban amenities.

As the time set by the ADB for signing the loan agreement was running out, they sent an official to New Delhi without the chief minister's knowledge and completed the formalities.

Industries Minister Elamaram Kareem, another Pinarayi acolyte, had also to contend with the chief minister's opposition when he sought to push through some schemes in which the organisational leadership seems to be interested.

The state committee's directive to adopt a liberal approach to attract investments and secure Rs250 billion for infrastructure projects in the remaining period of the government's tenure will enable him to press ahead.

A number of proposals for creating special economic zones, recommended by Kareem, have been lying in the chief minister's office for a long time.

Apparently they have not been forwarded to the Centre because Achuthanandan does not share Kareem's enthusiasm for them.

According to reliable sources, the state party leadership took up the issue with the national leadership, which then asked the chief minister to forward all pending applications to the Centre. Following this, the matter was placed before the Cabinet, where CPI ministers blocked it.

It is not as though the chief minister and the CPI ministers are totally against SEZs.
Since the present government took over, some SEZ projects have been cleared, notable among them being the Smart City project being implemented by the Dubai Internet City authorities.

They, however, favour a cautious approach in the matter. As a state with a high density of population, Kerala has to assess the needs of industry and agriculture properly and apportion the available land among all claimants, including them.

A scientific approach of this kind, which will restrict the ability to dispense favours, does not appeal to the political leadership. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 11, 2008.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Remembering Alexander Solzhenitsyn

‘Vayana’, readers’ collective, joined the Russian Cultural Centre in Thiruvananthapuram in a function to commemorate Nobel Prize-winning Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn on August 9.

The New Indian Express report of the event can be seen here.

Russia is expected to open a consulate in Thiruvananthapuram shortly.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Chengara: the problem and the solution

What happened at Chengara (in Pathanamthitta district) the other day is not something the regime and those who lead it can recall with pride. Thousands of landless people have been on an agitation there for a year demanding farm land. Three activists who went there to express solidarity with them on the first anniversary of the struggle were stopped by a group of men who claimed to be plantation workers. They also damaged their vehicles. All this happened in the presence and under the patronage of the police. At the request of the police, the organizers had to shift the venue of a public meeting, planned for the next day, at another location. Events of this kind are not new in Kerala. But the society needs to recognize factors which make the Chengara developments different.

The violence in Chengara was planned. Even the police does not say there was any provocation from the side of the agitators. What they have been carrying on for a year is a peaceful struggle of endurance. This is quite different from the agitations that the political parties organize. A parallel that one can point to is the agitation that the Adivasis staged at Muthanga under the leadership of CK Janu. After the attempt to discredit that agitation by alleging extremist presence failed, the government created provocation and used needless violence. AK Antony, who was Chief Minister at the time, sought to justify the use of brute force, saying the Centre had asked for eviction of Adivasis from the Muthanga sanctuary. At Chengara, too, the authorities alleged extremist presence. A plantation owner got an order from the High Court for the eviction of the agitators. But the court’s directive to avoid bloodshed came in the way of Muthanga-style solution.

Tapan Ganguly, who had come from Bengal, environmental activist CR Neelakantan and a priest and former college teacher Abraham Joseph were the victims of violence. From the eyewitness account given by Fr. Abraham Joseph at Thiruvananthapuram the next day, it appears the violence was perpetrated by a bunch of goons who were behind the plantation workers. The workers complain that the land agitation was adversely affecting them. But what happened there was not a mere protest demonstration. When workers who are under different party flags and the army of goons in the pay of the estate owners form a united front against landless Dalits and Adivasis, what emerges is a picture of the new class division taking place in Kerala. It is a phenomenon the genius of Marx could not comprehend.

It cannot be a coincidence that police arrangements there were at a low level and provided the assailants an opportunity to run riot. The only point on which there is room for doubt is the level at which the decision to keep the police presence at a low level was taken. According to the practice in democratic societies, it is the duty of the police to check those perpetrating violence and protect those engaged in peaceful activities. The very opposite happened at Chengara. There the police checked those who maintained peace and protected the perpetrators of violence. This indicates the direction in which police reform, of which we hear a lot these days, is moving.

The responsibility for the Chengara events cannot be laid on the shoulders of the small police force present there. The circumstances suggest that they were acting in accordance with the wishes of those who decided that limited police presence will do. Even if it was an official who took that decision, the responsibility has to be shared by Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. He is not known to have expressed displeasure over the police conduct. As such, it must be presumed that it has his approval. In the Communist Party of India (Marxist) dispensation, the party is above the individual. No minister, not even the Chief Minister, has the right to take a decision that does not have the party’s approval. In the circumstances, it will not be right to limit the responsibility to the minister. It extends to the party.
Most of those engaged in the agitation for land are Dalits and Adivasis. Some others are also at Chengara. What unites them all is landlessness. The government has a duty to solve this problem. A Left government has greater responsibility in this matter than any other regime since it was the Left that raised the slogan ‘Land for the Tiller’. It was the failure to make good this promise that led the Dalits and the Adivasis to the path of struggle.

The Dalits and Adivasis have traditionally stood with the Left. The party congress, held at Coimbatore, acknowledged that these sections were moving away from the CPI-M and decided on steps to bring them closer to the party. Following this, General Secretary Prakash Karat planned to lead a protest demonstration in a Tamil Nadu village, where a wall had been erected to segregate the Dalits. The government pulled down the wall even before he arrived. The party’s intervention thus yielded result. But the governments in Kerala and West Bengal have not taken any steps in the light of the party congress decision. The party leadership presumably believes that it can attract Dalit support nationally by projecting Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati as the Third Front’s prime ministerial candidate. But Mayawati’s elevation as Prime Minister will not solve Dalits’ problems just as Indira Gandhi’s elevation did not solve women’s problems. The party has to demonstrate its sincerity by solving the problems of Dalits and other weaker sections in Chengara and Nandigram.

Problems of this kind cannot be solved except through negotiations. The government had made some efforts to settle the Chengara agitation. At one point the Chief Minister had called the leaders of the agitation as well as elected representatives for talks but there was no progress. Later the District Collector had talks with the agitation leaders. As long as the CPI-M leadership maintains a negative approach towards the problems of the landless, talks by the government at whatever level are bound to fail. Winds of change must blow in the party.

Based on column ‘Nerkkazhcha’ appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated August 8, 2008

Monday, August 4, 2008

Parties obfuscate facts as they try to score points

Facts are at a discount as the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress, which head the ruling Left Democratic Front and the opposition United Democratic Front respectively, go all out to score points with an eye to winning the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.

The CPI (M) leaves no stone unturned as it seeks to live down the reputation of having supported the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre, led by the Congress, for more than four years.

Last week the two parties were involved in a verbal war over food supplies. Allegations and counter-allegations flew thick and fast after the Centre cut allocation of rice to families above the poverty line (APL) in the State.

According to Food Minister C Divakaran, Kerala needs 175,000 metric tonnes (MT) of grains a month to give 35 kg to each of five million APL families. However, during the past four months, the Centre had provided only 17,000 MT. Now it has stopped all supplies until December.

Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan said the Centre’s decision amounted to pushing the people of the State into starvation. CPI-M State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and CPI State secretary Veliyam Bhargavan characterised the Centre’s action as reprisal for the Left parties’ withdrawal of support to the UPA government.

Leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy and Pradesh Congress President Ramesh Chennithala rose to the Centre’s defence. They said the Centre had suspended supplies as the State government had violated the terms of an agreement under which it was required to contribute 168,000 MT of grains to the Central pool.

Divakaran, who belongs to the CPI, said the Chief Minister and other ministers would stage a dharna (sit-in) in New Delhi if the Centre did not reverse the decision.

Achuthanandan did not go that far. He said he would lead a delegation to represent the State’s case before the Prime Minister. An agitation would be mounted in New Delhi if the Centre did not concede the State’s demand, he added.

Onam, the biggest festival on the Keralite’s calendar, falls next month. For several weeks, prices of food and other essential commodities have been rising. The spectre of food scarcity at this time is naturally a source of great worry.

At the root of the current controversy is a well-known paradox. The State has a public distribution system (PDS), which covers the entire population, but not everybody buys grains from the PDS outlets.

The PDS outlets supply grains at subsidised rates to those below the poverty line (BPL). While the BPL families draw their requirements from these outlets, the APL families generally buy from the open market.

The PDS outlets divert the unsold APL quota to rice mills and other commercial interests. This was what prompted the Centre to cut the quota.

Responding to the State government’s criticism of its action, the Centre clarified that there was no cause for anxiety as the State had sufficient grain stocks to manage until the next crop arrives.

The Hindu quoted an official of the State Civil Supplies Corporation Limited (Supplyco) as saying it had procured 170,000 MT of paddy from this year’s crop and converted 110,600 MT (68%) into rice. Out of this, 31,211 MT was transferred to the Central pool for distribution to APL families till June 20.

Thereafter, the official told the newspaper on condition of anonymity, the State government informed the Centre that it would not be making any further contributions to the Central pool as it proposed to distribute rice directly to the APL families.

The Supplyco official’s statement, which has not been refuted by the State government, suggests that the allegations of vindictiveness levelled against the Centre by the leaders of the CPI-M and the CPI are patently false. But the two parties have already unleashed a wave of protests by their youth wings.

In any case, the Centre has announced a special allocation of 10,000 MT of rice and 20,000 MT of wheat to the State for the Onam season.

The Rs. 18.4 billion package to boost paddy cultivation in Kuttanad in Alappuzha district was also caught in a needless controversy. When the Centre approved the package on July 24, it was stated that the State would be required to pay only Rs. 46.5 million towards its cost. A few days later, the Chief Minister alleged the Centre had gone back on the commitment. After Union Minister Vayalar Ravi refuted the charge, he conceded that he had erred.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 4,2008.