Monday, September 29, 2008

Fraud investigation may not unravel political links

A month after the "Total 4U" scandal broke, the police investigation has gone into slow mode, leading to suspicion in the public mind that it may be headed for a tame end.

It was towards the end of August that the police said they were looking for JR Sabarinath, founder of the Total 4U group of companies, which had allegedly cheated a large number of depositors of an estimated Rs 2 billion.

He was arrested on Sept. 1. The police claimed they arrested him from a hideout at Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu. However, media reports said the police had obtained his custody from a gang which had kidnapped him for ransom a few days earlier.

The police tacitly confirmed these reports when they registered a case of kidnapping against a small-time Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader and his associates.

Sabarinath, a 21-year-old who had studied only up to Standard 12, is said to have collected vast sums by way of deposits by offering a fabulous return of 60% in an incredibly short period of three months. He gained the confidence of potential investors by promptly paying Rs160,000 to every person who had deposited Rs 100,000. But, then, he got to a stage when he could not keep his promise any longer.

The Total 4U website ( listed five companies belonging to the group: Consumer Credits and Hire Purchase Limited, Total Asset Management, Nest Investment Solutions, Total Builders and ToT Music.

It claimed that CC and HP Limited, which was engaged in share trading and money lending, had obtained a certificate of registration from the Reserve Bank of India in 2001 to carry on business as a non-banking financial institution.

If the information available about his age and education are correct, Sabarinath was only a 14-year-old school boy when that company obtained the RBI licence. The company law does not allow a minor to found a company. So if the company obtained a licence in 2001 it must have a history that predates Sabarinath's arrival on the scene.

All the other companies of the group mentioned at the website were established either last year or this year.

The group, according to the website, was driven by a set of core values like integrity, transparency, business ethics, corporate social responsibility etc. The transparency claim is suspect. Precise information was provided at the site only about one project, an elite club being built on an area of 4.2 hectares at a cost of Rs15 billion.

From the time the scandal surfaced, there has been speculation that Sabarinath was a front for some influential people. Few believe that a callow youth could single-handedly build a business empire of the size of Total group in one and a half years.

The media and some political party spokesmen insinuated that the sons of two CPI-M ministers were involved in the scandal. However, they could not produce a shred of evidence against anyone.

Last week the CPI-M daily Deshabhimani confounded both party men and critics by publishing a report which implicated the sister-in-law of a senior CPI-M minister in the scandal. The next day the allegation was withdrawn as mysteriously as it was raised.

Even if the original report was correct, it will not be right to cast aspersions on the minister as there is nothing to indicate that he was responsible for the actions of his wife's sister.

An interesting aspect of the Total 4U case is the involvement of many women. At least seven of the accused are women. They include Chandramathi, manager of an emporium of the State-owned Small Industries Development Corporation (Sidco), Hemalatha, assistant manager in a commercial bank, her daughter, Lakshmi, Ramani, a doctor of Kollam, and three employees of Sabarinath's firms.

Sabarinath's clients reportedly included politicians, officials and journalists. The money they deposited in his firms evidently came from dubious sources. The crime branch, which has been entrusted with the investigation, is not making any effort to trace the source of the funds.

Santosh Madhavan, the fake swami who is facing criminal charges, was able to ply his business as he enjoyed political patronage. But the investigators did not go into his links with politicians and police officials. They also did not attempt to trace the source of his funds. By all indications, the Total 4U investigation is moving in the same direction. –Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 29, 2008.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Kerala plans partial restructuring of power sector

At long last, the day of reckoning has come for the Kerala State Electricity Board. The State government, which procrastinated for nearly five years, is now left with just a few days to restructure the KSEB.

All work connected with power generation and supply has been a State monopoly in most parts of India. Like most State businesses, the electricity undertakings were inefficient. As the Indian government embarked upon economic liberalization, it felt a need to reform the power structure, allowing the private sector also a role.

The Central Electricity Act, enacted by Parliament in 2003, required all State governments to establish separate companies to undertake generation, transmission and distribution of power. It set June 9, 2004 as the deadline for unbundling of the electricity boards.

In many States, organizations of officers and other employees opposed trifurcation. This made it difficult for the governments to move speedily in the matter. They sought more time from the Centre comply with the law.

The Centre obliged, and most of the States eventually fell in line.

In Kerala, the Congress-led United Democratic Front was in office when the Central law came into force. It sought and obtained four extensions of the deadline. It left office without taking any steps to comply with the law.

The Left Democratic Front government, which came to power in 2006, adopted the same strategy as the UDF. It, too, sought and obtained four extensions.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), which heads the LDF, is opposed to privatisation of KSEB on ideological grounds. So is the CPI. Although the Congress does not share their ideological compulsions, it too does not favour changes of the kind envisaged by the Central law.

KSEB has a plethora of trade unions and associations, all which are under the control of political parties. The Congress-led unions shared the Left unions, enthusiasm to retain KSEB in the present form.

When Central minister Sushil Kumar Shinde granted State minister AK Balan’s fourth request for more time to comply with the law six months ago, he made it clear that there would be no more extension. However, the State did not take the warning seriously.

A few days ago the State government sought another extension. The Centre turned down the request and asked it to comply with the law by September 24. Peeved by the Centre’s action, the State Cabinet decided on a formal protest.

The State’s failure to fall in line even after the deadline was extended eight times exposes it to the possibility of denial of access to power from outside to meet the shortfall in its requirements.

KSEB has 9.16 million consumers, of whom 7.2 million are domestic consumers. Commercial consumers number 1.36 million. There are fewer than 449,000 agricultural consumers and 131,000 industrial consumers.

It has an installed capacity of 2087.23 MW of power. It gets 570.016 MW from the National Thermal Power Corporation. Two private sector firms also make small contributions to the grid. Since local production accounts for only half of the State’s current requirements, lack of access to outside sources can precipitate a major crisis.

The Centre believes reforms in the power sector are necessary to technical and commercial efficiency. It also feels fresh capital is needed to augment capacity for power generation. It considers unbundling of KSEB and the creation of separate companies to look after generation, transmission and distribution essential to ensure efficiency.

The Kerala Electricity Board Engineers Association disputes the Centre’s position. It claims the experience of the States which have already undertaken reforms is that unbundling and privatization do not yield the expected results. It says restructuring has been followed by hefty hikes in the power tariff.

There appears to be no clear link between reform and rate revision. Even though there has been no reform in Kerala, there was a major tariff hike. The Electricity Regulatory Authority is now considering KSEB’s plea for a further revision of rates.

The politically controlled unions’ adamant stand against structural reforms has resulted in a situation where the consumer has to pay higher tariff for an inefficient service. In the last few days, the State has been experiencing unannounced power cuts.

The State government is trying to buy peace by transferring all KSEB activities to a company that will be fully owned by it. This means there will be no unbundling. It remains to be seen whether the Centre will be satisfied with such partial compliance.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 22, 2008.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Onam's journey from harvest festival to shopping carnival

There is a morning-after air in Kerala as the state recovers from the hectic annual Onam festivities.

These are the opening lines of a Letter from Kerala distributed by Indo Asian News Service (IANS)

A published version of the artcle can be seen at the AOL India site.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Chinese women seeking second marriages in US

New America Media writer Jun Wang reports that some middle-aged Chinese women are now turning to American cities to find their new husbands. In a report, which is part of a NAM series on elders in America, Jun writes:

Sue Zhang never thought that her mother would marry an American man on her first visit to the United States.

But Zhang, a Chinese graduate student living in Montgomery, Ala., now translates for the newlywed couple, who don’t speak a common language.

Zhang’s 57-year-old mother, Guangzhen Lu, is a retired primary school teacher from Hubei Province, China. She lived alone for years after her husband died.

For the rest of the report, please go to NAM site

Monday, September 15, 2008

Signs of a paradigm shift in Malayalam cinema industry

Movie buffs in Kerala are experiencing an unusual drought. There is a dearth of new films during the Onam season this year. More importantly, there are no films of superstars Mammootty and Mohanlal among the few new releases.

As the most important festival on the Keralites' calendar, Onam has been the preferred time for release of new films, especially big budget productions, for years. This year only three new films have been released.

All of them are modest offerings. Two of them feature Prithviraj, the fastest rising star of the new generation. The third has veteran Jayaram in the lead. The long-reigning superstars, whose presence is considered a guarantee of box office success, do not figure in them even in guest roles.

It will be a mistake to view the absence of Mammootty and Mohanlal in the new releases as heralding the end of their reign. It is not as though they have gone off the screen. Some films of theirs, which were released earlier, like “Madampi” and “Akaasagopuram”, both starring Mohanlal, are still drawing crowds at theatres.

According to Mollywood watchers, producers have deliberately withheld films featuring Mammootty and Mohanlal as they do not expect big crowds during Onam this year since it coincides with the Ramadan. Muslims usually stay away from theatre during the period of fast.

In the last few years, there has been animated discussion in the state about an alleged crisis in the Malayalam movie world. Some critics have pointed to the dominance of superstars as one of the contributing factors.

Both Mammootty and Mohanlal are talented artistes. They undoubtedly deserve the adulation they receive by virtue of their contributions to the movie industry. Their presence has not prevented younger actors from rising to the top. They cannot, therefore, be accused of blocking the path of younger artistes.

However, the superstars are reluctant to accept the fact that they are past their prime and settle for roles that suit their age. Stories are written keeping them in view, and young women artistes who were unwilling to be paired with them have had to quit or migrate to other languages.

It is not easy to dislodge the superstars from their high perch as they have stakes in key sectors of the cinema industry like production and distribution. Lately, following the Tamil example, fans associations have started playing an active role in boosting their image.

Not long ago, Sreenivasan, who has carved out a place for himself in the tinsel world as actor and writer, dwelt on the crisis in the industry in an entertaining film, “Udayanaanu thaaram”. Critics hailed the movie as one that identifies the problems facing the industry. But, then, identifying the problem is easier than finding a solution.

There are entrenched interests not only among the stars but also among producers and distributors. Taking them on is no easy task but there are indications that the Malayalam film industry is ready for a paradigm shift. For one, producers are willing to experiment with new directors and artistes. For another, writers and directors are willing to experiment with new themes. And movie-goers appear to be willing to welcome changes.

KP Kumaran, who has made good movies but nurses the grievance that he has not received due recognition, has based his latest movie “Akaasagopuram” on Ibsen's play, Master Builder. Apart from Mohanlal, the late Bharat Gopi and Manoj Jayan are in the cast. Shot entirely in Britain, the film has an exotic appeal.

There have been occasions when film-makers who won state awards found it difficult to get their works to the screen as distributors entertained doubts about their commercial prospects. MG Sasi seems to have broken the jinx with “Adayalangal”. He has expressed satisfaction with the popular response to the film, which narrates the life-story of writer Nanthanar.

Two new movies, “Gulmohur” and “Thalappaav”, are cinematic essays which rekindle memories of the spring thunder of the 1970s. The first is the work of Jayaraj, who has already made a mark as a director with a wide range. The other is the first directorial venture of actor Madhupal.

It is, of course, too early to proclaim the dawn of a new era. But the new Malayalam films hold out the reassurance that that there is enough talent in the industry to prevent it from inviting ruin by going farther along the route charted by Tamil and Telugu films, which operate in a different milieu. – Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 15, 2008.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Thiruvananthapuram citizens’ group launches development initiative

Ajay Prasad of Trivandrum Bloggers writes:

Let me wish all of you a very happy Onam today and also announce the launch of a new initiative for our beautiful city.

As many of you know, Trivandrum has been facing a lot of hurdles in its development lately due to a variety of reasons, including political apathy, vested interests, media disinterest and general public disengagement with development issues. The Trivandrum Development Front (TDF), which is a voluntary organization that I am part of, has decided that it is long overdue that we, the citizens of Trivandrum, take up our duty to promote our city and its development. We have been interfacing with key stakeholders including the Government, private business, other NGOs and the public to build awareness of and interest in developmental projects in and around Trivandrum. Using the limited technical competencies possessed by our members, most of whom are young professionals, we have also conducted preliminary market and feasibility studies for projects like the Vizhinjam port, Technocity, Mass Transit in Trivandrum and so on.

As the next phase of our work, TDF is launching its website "Tribiz.Com" today at 11 AM IST. Please visit us at when you get time and let me know what you think. We are also launching a periodic newsletter which will follow developmental news in Trivandrum, the newsletter will be available on the website.

I request all your support in making this initiative a success and also ask you to pass on this information to those of your friends who may be interested in understanding Trivandrum better and who are well-wishers of our great city. Thanks!


Before saying ‘yes’ to SEZ

Although there are dissenting voices, most States are able to go ahead with the establishment of special economic zones, or SEZ. It is only in Kerala and West Bengal, where the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is in power, that it has become a major topic of discussion. The media conveys the impression that the debate is centred on whether or not SEZ is in accordance with Marxist principles. The credit for transforming the free trade zones, which were failing worldwide, into special economic zones and making a success of them belongs to the regime in China, which still swears by Marx and Mao. How, then, can SEZ be termed anti-Marxist?

West Bengal and Kerala have SEZs even now. According to information published by the Government of India, of the 250 SEZs notified so far 16 are in these States: eight in Kerala and eight in West Bengal. Of the 513 SEZs that have been given formal approval by the Centre, 16 are in Kerala and 23 in West Bengal. Of the 138 given approval in principle, 13 are in Bengal and one in Kerala. This means that even if the State government rejects all the applications now pending with it, Kerala will have 17 more SEZs and West Bengal 36. Clearly the debates going on in the two States have no ideological basis. The question before us is not whether we must go in for SEZs but whether we must go in for more of them.

There have been reports that the Chief Minister had withheld a score of SEZ applications recommended by the Industries Minister and that the CPI-M has directed that all of them be forwarded to the Centre. When the Chief Minister placed the proposal before the Cabinet, the CPI ministers asked that the matter be held over until their party finalized its policy. In the meantime, the Chief Minister said that some SEZ applicants are real estate businessmen. When media persons asked the Industries Minister about it, he said this had not come to his attention. The Health Minister gave a similar reply when she was asked about reports that her son was connected with a fraud case that is taking up a lot of media space these days. She said she was not aware of it. Why ministers are unaware of what is going in their homes and unable to notice who has filed the applications coming before them is a fit subject for inquiry. The party which picked them for the job, the Chief Minister who heads the ministry and civil society institutions interested in a clean administration all have the duty to look into the matter. To borrow an expression used by a senior minister in the context of some unacceptable court rulings, whether the problem is the thickness of the bundle of currency notes needs to be examined. (The minister was hauled up before the court for that remark. But the question whether it amounted to contempt of court still remains undecided.)

All the SEZs notified in Kerala so far are under the government or institutions controlled by it. That may be the reason why there have not been objections to them. Three of them are for IT and IT enabled services. Of the rest, three were applied for by the Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (Kinfra) and two by the Cochin Port Trust. That three applicants who have received formal approval are real estate companies is evident from their very names. Two of them are establishing SEZs for the IT/ITES sector and the third for biotechnology.

The Kerala economic scene was dominated for long by manufacturers and distributors of consumer goods. As inflow of money from outside the State increased, sale of luxury goods outstripped that of traditional consumer items. Now builders have become kings of the market, pushing aside jewellers, fashion wear retailers and automobile dealers. The big real estate companies of the country entered the State only recently. In a short period, their activities have pushed up the prices of land and homes beyond the reach of a majority of the people. This is the time for the government to take firm decisions on land use, keeping this fact also in view. There is only one reason for the government’s unwillingness to take policy decisions in this regard. It wants to retain the right to take decisions on each application as it likes.

Some CPI-M leaders have raised the strange argument that they are allowing SEZs not because they like them but because the Centre has provided for them. This is a palpable attempt to place the blame for their own sin on someone else. The Central law does not compel States to set up SEZs. Each State has the freedom to allow or not allow SEZs taking into account their own circumstances. Recently the Goa government decided to abandon the SEZs that were sanctioned because of strong opposition from the people.
The situation in Kerala is different from that in West Bengal. Bengal had many industries. As bandhs and gheraos grew, many industries migrated to other States. No new industries came up. The Bengal government is ready to acquire 10,000 acres of farm land for a foreign company to build a petrochemical complex because it is eager to end three decades of economic stagnation. Kerala is not in such a desperate situation. Our circumstances allow us to take decisions wisely.

Only 512 hectares of land is needed for all the eight SEZs notified here so far. Of this, 400 hectares are for two projects of the Cochin Port Trust. Only 10 or 12 hectares of land is needed for each of four projects. It may well be possible to sanction more projects of such small size. But do we need real estate companies as intermediaries for that? We are now witnessing the sad sight of Kinfra, which has a mandate to build industrial infrastructure, reducing itself to the role of middle men in land deals.

The rulers justify the concessions they give to investors, saying they will go elsewhere if their demands are not met. The agreement which the Left Democratic Front government negotiated with the Dubai Internet City authorities shows that we can get good terms if we handle things intelligently recognising our strengths and weaknesses.
Before sending the pending SEZ applications to the Centre, the government must take the people into confidence. It must publicize complete information about the applications and give the public an opportunity to raise objections, if any. This is necessary to dispel the doubts that have arisen about the SEZ enthusiasts in the administration.
Based on column “Nerkkazhcha” appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated September 11, 2008

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ruling party's bid to cash in on Kerala's tourism boom

Kerala is riding the wave of a tourism boom and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which heads the ruling Left Democratic Front, is determined to hive off a piece of the cake.

A late entrant on the tourism circuit, the State got a boost when the National Geographic Traveler, commended it as a "must see" destination a few years ago. It now gets over 600,000 foreign tourists and more than 6 million domestic tourists.

Direct and indirect revenue from tourism, which was only around Rs 45 billion in 2001, shot up to Rs 114.33 billion last year. During this period, foreign exchange earnings through tourism rose from Rs 5.35 billion to Rs 26.41 billion.

The CPI (M) already controls several businesses in different fields such as the media, healthcare and manufacturing. Observers have estimated its corporate assets at between Rs 40 to 50 billion.

The oldest of its businesses is a newspaper, Deshabhimani, which was launched in the 1940s as the official organ of the undivided Communist Party of India. The story of a woman who gifted a lamb, which was her only asset, to start the newspaper is part of Communist lore. The biggest contribution to the newspaper's capital was made by EMS Namboodiripad, and he remained its owner until his death.

When there was a change of ownership in Asianet, the first Malayalam satellite channel, which the party viewed as a friendly medium, shortly before the Assembly elections of 2001, the CPI-M promoted a television company and launched the Kairali channel. The company, of which film star Mammootty is the chairman, attracted investments from many non-resident Keralites. It now runs three channels.

Both Deshabhimani and Kairali TV are now constructing multi-storeyed buildings in Thiruvananthapuram to house their corporate headquarters.

The CPI-M has considerable business experience in the cooperative sector. Cooperative societies under its control run multi-specialty hospitals at Kochi, Thalassery and Perinthalmanna. The party also runs a self-financing nursing college at Thalassery.

The cooperative sector offers the party certain advantages. Even before venturing into commercial enterprises, it had been associated with workers' cooperatives. By virtue of its control over cooperative banks and cooperative societies which are flush with funds, the party can easily raise capital for cooperative ventures.

When the party decided to enter the expanding tourism and hospitality industry, it first formed a cooperative society, styled as the Malabar Tourism Development Co-operative Ltd (MTDC). However, since the cooperative society is not a good mechanism for attracting investments from NRKs, it also registered a joint stock company, named the Malabar Pleasures (India) Pvt Ltd.

Under the arrangement worked out by the party, the cooperative society sets up tourism and hospitality units and the company runs them.

The first unit of MTDC, the Vismaya water park was inaugurated at Parassinikadavu in Kannur district on August 31. Apparently the party has drawn inspiration from Kochouseph Chittilappilly, the founder of the V-Guard group of companies, who set up the Veegaland amusement park near Kochi. It reportedly attracts about one million visitors a year.

Last month, even as the Kannur project was taking concrete shape, the party promoted another cooperative society to build a five-star hotel at Kozhikode. Another tourism project, located at Mannarkkad in Palakkad district, is reported to be "at an infancy stage".

The party controls its expanding business empire by placing trusted leaders in key positions. When MTDC was set up, party central committee member EP Jayarajan, who is the general manager of the Deshabhimani group, was named chairman. Kannur district panchayat president KK Narayanan replaced him later.

Two ministers, district committee secretary TP Ramakrishnan and Mayor M. Bhaskaran have been named members of the governing body of the Kozhikode society.

Information provided by MTDC at its website indicates how the party mobilizes resources for business ventures. Membership of MTDC, set up with an authorized capital of Rs 200 million, is open to individuals, cooperative institutions, local self-governments and government establishments.

Membership fee is Rs 10 for all categories. Individual members must hold at least one share of Rs 500 and institutions shares worth at least Rs 10,000. The maximum permitted holding is five per cent of the authorized capital.

MTDC has justified the water park by arguing that Keralites are today open to new avenues of leisure and recreations and such projects have ample potential. Party veterans may not buy such arguments but young cadres will have no problem with them. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 8, 2008.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

When Might is Right: A study of political action in J and K, Orissa and Kerala

We see today in different parts of the country the sight of rulers standing helplessly before organized forces. The Central and State government were reduced to the role of spectators when Muslim separatists ran amuck in Kashmir valley and Hindu communalists in Jammu province. Jammu and Kashmir is a State where an extraordinary situation has been prevailing since long. This limits the freedom of operation of the regime. This does not fully explain the failure of the authorities but it deserves consideration when we appraise the situation in the State.

Orissa does not resemble Jammu and Kashmir even remotely. The wave of violence set in motion by communal elements there following the murder of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati has not subsided at the time of writing. Reports say thousands of Adivasis driven away from their villages are still hiding in the forests. The State government discouraged MPs who wanted to visit the trouble-hit areas, saying it cannot guarantee their security.

When we examine the Orissa developments, there are reasons to believe that the violence was pre-planned, as in the case of the anti-Muslim riots of Gujarat in 2002. Swami Lakshmanananda was engaged in wooing back to the Hindu fold tribesmen who had embraced Christianity. Earlier, too, there had been attempts to kill him. Although the authorities said suspected Naxalites committed the murder, the Sangh Parivar ignored it and turned against the Christians. Even after Naxalites owned up responsibility, the Parivar did not revise its position. It appears that just as the Godhra incident was used to carry out a plan prepared in advance in Gujarat, Swami Lakshmanananda’s killing was used as a pretext to put through a plot hatched against the Christians in Orissa’s tribal region.

The burning of Graham Staines, a foreign missionary, and his sons, aged seven and nine, in a vehicle by communal elements in Orissa nine years ago is an event we can only recall with a sense of shame even today. In the circumstances, the authorities must have foreseen the possibility of the situation in the tribal region getting out of hand. Yet they were not able to take effective steps to prevent violence. They could not also bring the situation quickly under control once violence broke out. It may not be quite correct to say that they are not able to keep the miscreants in check. The fact is that they are not able to work for it sincerely. The Biju Jana Dal chief minister, Navin Patnaik, is in office with the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party. At the national level, the BJD is associated with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. All this renders the Patnaik regime inactive before the Sangh Parivar’s organized strength.

The Orissa violence must have aroused the most anger and anxiety in Kerala. After all, this is the home of the country’s largest Christian community. Priests and nuns deputed by different Churches in Kerala are actively engaged in social work there. There were reports that their institutions were burnt down and that many of them were hiding in the forests. This makes the Orissa events something more than a mere challenge to secularism from communal forces. It is a problem that directly affects us.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and its affiliates are in the forefront in organizing protests against the Orissa events. This, no doubt, is in keeping with their proclaimed policies and traditional positions. But, then, all parties work with their political interests in view. The party, which has been publicly clashing with the leadership of some Churches, evidently sees the Orissa developments as an opportunity to improve its relationship with that religious group. The Christians being hounded in Orissa are mostly Adivasis. That the CPI (M) has never shown to the Adivasis of Kerala the kind of sympathy it is pouring out for the Adivasis of Orissa directly proves this. Here, the party has been with the hunters, not the hunted. The CPI (M) has not been behind anyone else in extending protection to migrants from the plains who encroached upon the tribal territory extensively with the cooperation of the political and bureaucratic leadership in the years since Independence.

The CPI (M) has also adopted a negative approach to the agitation by the landless, most of them Dalits and Adivasis, going on at Chengara estate for a year. The blockade, which the plantation workers’ unions, including the CITU, which is under the control of the party, began on August 3, is an attempt to bring a people to their heels by denying them food and medicine, as the Americans did in Iraq. Not only those who wanted to express solidarity with the agitating landless people but also government doctors who went to provide medical aid were denied access to the estate. There have been complaints that those who came out of the estate to buy food and other essential commodities were stopped and harassed. The police did nothing to check such acts. Instead, it provided total protection to those involved in such activities. P.V.Rajagopal, a well-known social worker and vice-chairman of a commission constituted under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister to study land reform, was also stopped when he went there to talk to the leaders of the agitation. A press photographer recorded that scene. In the picture, a police officer can be seen, standing like a scarecrow in a paddy field. That picture conveys the same message as the news reports from Kashmir, Jammu and Orissa: the regime stands paralysed before an organized force.

When leaders who remained silent as such scenes were enacted nearer home become eloquent about the Orissa violence, one must assume there are political considerations behind it, not human considerations. The organizers of the blockade had declared that they would march into the estate and drive out the agitators on Wednesday, exactly a month after the blockade began. In the light of the situation prevailing there during the past month, this declaration had aroused anxiety. Since the authorities woke up and acted promptly, the workers’ march passed off without any untoward incident. This shows Kerala society can still avoid lapsing into a situation where Might is Right. This is a development that kindles hope. The political and official leadership which foiled the ill-advised move of the labour unions through timely intervention deserves three cheers. The statement of the Leader of the Opposition, who has been silent all this while on the Chengara issue, at this stage that the police is indifferent, is, to put it mildly, strange.

The attack on the police station at Kottackal the other day and the blockading of teachers and officials by student and youth organizations at different places in the State are all activities based on use of force. The political parties that control these organizations must realize this and be ready to give them up. A consensus on such issues is needed more urgently than Special Economic Zones to ensure Kerala’s progress.
Based on column “Nerkkazhcha” appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated September 4

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

State seeks to dispel Kannur’s reputation for violence

Is Kannur’s reputation as a violence-prone district unjustified? The State of Kerala believes it is. An affidavit filed in the High Court on behalf of the State government asserts that the law and order situation in the district is no different from that in the others.

The affidavit, signed by an Undersecretary in the Home department, is in response to the proceedings instituted suo moto by the court after disposing of the bail applications of the accused in a murder case from Kannur district.

The court action came in March while Kannur was in the grip of violence. Seven persons were killed in five days of violence involving workers of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Rashtreeya Swayamsevak Sangh in the district.

The violence abated after RSS cadres made retaliatory attacks on the CPI (M) headquarters in New Delhi and select party targets in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kanyakumari and Dehra Dun.

The widow of a National Development Front activist of Thalasseri approached the High Court alleging that her husband was killed by CPI (M) cadres as he had left the party and joined the NDF. She expressed lack of faith in the investigation by the State police and asked that the case be referred to the Central Bureau of Investigation.

The NDF is a Muslim organisation which the CPI (M) characterises as extremist.

Mr. Justice V. Ramkumar, who allowed the petition, observed that, if reports were to be believed, Kannur district, particularly Thalasseri, had over the years become the hotbed of political violence and carnage of the worst order. He added, “All political parties there seem to freely indulge in the cult of violence.”

Immediately after the RSS attacks on CPI (M) offices outside the State, the party’s Kannur district secretary P. Sasi, writing in People’s Democracy, the party journal, said, “The CPI (M) had never initiated violence and will not do so in the future either.” The operative word here is “initiated”. According to the party’s version, its members are merely “resisting” RSS attacks.

The RSS, too, claims its cadres are only resisting attacks. Writing in the RSS weekly, Organiser, a correspondent, S. Gopalakrishnan, said the CPI (M) launched attacks after several of its cadres moved to the RSS, and “determined RSS cadres started resisting the attackers”

Gopalakrishnan put the number of cadres lost by the two parties in three decades of violence at about 200. Sasi, in his article, mentioned only CPI (M) casualties. He said 53 party activists and sympathisers had been killed.

The self-serving accounts of the two parties reinforce Justice V. Ramkumar’s observation that “manslaughter is a competing sport” in Kannur district. Going beyond the issue raised in the petition before him, he expressed the hope that the Governor would inform the Centre of the “urgent need for a permanent prophylactic action”.

Kerala has the highest crime rate in the country. According to reports of the National Crime Records of Bureau, more than 300 crimes per 100,000 people are reported from the State each year. The national average is only about 170. Crimes against public order in the State number four to five times the national average.

But, according to the State government, Kannur is not the most crime-prone district in the State, as is widely believed.

In his affidavit, Undersecretary Joseph Rajan, cites statistical data to dispel the impression that the district is a killing field. He points out that Kannur reported only 257 murders in the last 10 years. Five districts had reported more murders: Thiruvananthapuram 507, Thrissur 437, Kollam 433, Palakkad 430 and Idukki 328.

The affidavit claims that most of the crimes in Kannur are the result of personal vendetta and family feuds, but are given a political complexion later. It, however, concedes that there have also been incidents precipitated by political enmity.

These figures may not suffice to wash off Kannur’s disrepute, which stems primarily from the political character and gruesome manner of the killings. Both the CPI (M) and the RSS have established machineries to sustain criminal enterprises.

The criminal operation is financed, managed and directed by the party system. The party function extends to dealing with the criminal justice system, providing assistance for families and defence counsel.

There have been occasions when CPI-M and RSS cadres clashed in jails too.

The CPI (M)’s role in Kannur violence attracts more attention now than before since the party’s State leadership is now in the hands of a group of leaders from that district. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 1, 2008.