Wednesday, November 26, 2008

China allows farmers to sell land titles

In view of the controversy raging in Kerala over provision of land for industry and agriculture, I presume the recent policy changes made by China will be of interest to readers.

Those interested may see a critique of the Chinese Communist Party’s reform proposal, titled “China’s land reform will deepen the gulf between rich and poor” by John Chan, at the World Socialist Web Site.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Builders change strategy; land mafia's plans go awry


THERE is a slowdown on the real estate front in Kerala in the wake of the global financial meltdown and the construction industry has initiated measures to limit the damage.

Under the impact of the massive inflow of remittances from abroad, the State had been witnessing a construction boom for some years.

This attracted big real estate operators from outside the State, who promoted the concept of luxury apartments in and around the major cities.

Simultaneously, a land mafia with high political connections, especially with the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which currently heads the State government, appeared.

It started grabbing land and offering it to builders and industrialists.

The stock market collapse has curtailed the worth of the construction companies.

The general expectation is that the impact of the financial meltdown will be softened by the official efforts to usher in a low interest regime.

The builders appear to have evolved a two-pronged strategy to tide over the looming crisis.

Those with projects in advanced stages of construction have launched high pressure campaigns to sell all expensive flats before things get worse.

Those with projects in early stages are switching to construction of budget accommodation, sensing a drop in the demand for luxury apartments.

The land mafia, which scored spectacular early successes, appears to have run into trouble in recent days in circumstances that are far from clear.

The cancellation of two government notifications which were beneficial to it bears testimony to this.

One of these is the notification issued in September for the acquisition of 1,088 hectares of land in six panchayats of Thiruvananthapuram district, ostensibly for the Vizhinjam harbour project and allied activities.

The notification came as a bolt from the blue to the people as the State government, while promoting the ambitious project, had said there was no need to acquire any land for the proposed deep-sea harbour.

It claimed that only 200 hectares of land was needed for the project and this would be reclaimed from the sea.

The people living in the notified area suspected that the government was trying to take away their land, not for the construction of the harbour, but for "allied activities," which is a euphemism for commercial projects like hotels.

They rose in protest against the eviction move. They vowed not to surrender their land and asked the government to withdraw the notification.

At first, the government made a valiant effort to ride through the storm of protest. Law Minister M. Vijayakumar, who, as one of Thiruvananthapuram's legislators, has been an active promoter of the project, attributed the protest to machinations by a foreign lobby which feared that the Vizhinjam port would cut into the revenues of their own ports.

Last week, he was forced to change tack. He conceded that the government had erred in issuing the acquisition notification. The confession coincided with the government's decision to cancel the notification.

The handling of the Vizhinjam land issue is typical of the way the State administration tackles development projects.

In the absence of a detailed project report, there is no reliable estimate of the land required. In fact, so far there is no clear picture of even the contours of the project. The State government projects it as a major undertaking but the Union government does not endorse this view.

The State government also talks of having a ship-building unit at Vizhinjam, besides the harbour, where big vessels can berth.

A project of the size envisioned by the State government will certainly require more land than the 200 hectares it hopes to reclaim from the sea.

Vizhinjam and neighbouring panchayats are heavily populated, and several thousand families may have to be evicted.

The government is inviting trouble by trying to proceed in a surreptitious manner.
It must adopt a transparent approach. After working out the precise requirements, it must hold extensive consultations with people to work out a scheme which is acceptable to them also.

The other notification that the government felt compelled to withdraw had fixed 'fair' price for land at various places.

Registration authorities were required not to register any land sale at prices lower than what was indicated in it for the area.

The notification invited criticism on the ground that it had fixed very high rates for areas where there was less demand for land and very low rates for areas where there was more demand. This, it was alleged, was done to help the land mafia.

Revenue Minister KP Rajendran, who ordered withdrawal of the notification, has initiated steps to fix new rates.--Gulf Today, November 24, 2008.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Kashmir terror trail vanishes in Kerala’s political sands

Letter from Kerala
Indo-Asian News Service

A month after the Kerala police got on the job, investigators are yet to provide a satisfactory explanation for the presence of youths from the state among those killed in encounters with the security forces in a remote area of the Kashmir valley.When authorities in Jammu and Kashmir said four youths from Kerala were among those killed in two encounters at Kupwara early in October, the state police dismissed it. The Kashmir terrorists must have forged identification papers to create the impression that they were getting support even from distant Kerala, they claimed.

However, the evidence marshalled by the Kashmir authorities compelled a visiting police team to concede that the four men killed in Kupwara were indeed residents of Kannur, Malappuram and Ernakulam districts of Kerala. All four were Muslims, one of them a recent convert from Christianity.

There followed a well-publicized operation to track down various persons who were known to be in touch with those killed in Kashmir or were associated with suspect organizations like the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) or the National Development Front. The political parties announced anti-terrorist campaigns.
The police told the media that terrorist groups might have recruited as many as 300 men from Kerala. This upset the government. Both the chief minister and the acting home minister described the reports as exaggerated.

P.K. Hormis Tharakan, who has been director of the Research and Analysis Wing as well as state Director General of Police, said Keralites who joined terrorist outfits had done so for monetary gain, not ideological or religious reasons.
Four weeks later, seven people are in the police net. They are all from Kannur district, and none appears to be a big catch. It is not clear what charges the police plan to slap on them. And the terrorist hunt has gone into low gear.

The theory about the mercenary character of terror recruits sidesteps the fact that communal sentiments have been on the rise in the state in recent years. The trend is evident in varying degrees among Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike.
Kerala’s Muslims do not suffer from a minority complex. They form 24.7 percent of the state’s population, which makes them the largest single caste/religious group. Christians form 19 percent.

The Hindus’ nominal majority (56.2 per cent) is virtually nullified by the conflicting interests of major groups like the ‘forward’ Nairs (estimated at 19 per cent), the ‘backward’ Ezhavas (21 percent) and the marginalized Dalits and Adivasis (11 percent).

The campaign against the first Communist government of 1957-59 gave a new lease of life to caste and religious organizations, whose influence was on the decline after Independence. Since the United Democratic Front and the Left Democratic Front, currently the major contenders for power, are fairly well matched, the Congress and the Communist Party of India-Marxist, which lead them, spare no effort to gain the support of caste and religious groups.

The Congress deals with the communal parties, some of whom are in secular disguise, quite openly. The Indian Union Muslim League and most of the Kerala Congress factions are its allies in the UDF. E. Ahamed, the lone League MP from the state, is Minister of State for External Affairs in the Manmohan Singh government.

The CPI-M, which had accepted a breakaway League faction as ally at one time, has been less open in recent years. A Kerala Congress faction is the LDF’s only sectarian constituent now. On election eve, the CPI-M strikes private deals with various Muslim and Christian groups to boost the alliance’s prospects.
The 1990s witnessed an intensification of the communal mood, with various Hindu and Muslim organizations queering the pitch. It was at this stage that SIMI first attracted attention with the slogan “India’s liberation through Islam”. The Sangh Parivar organized ritual consecration of bricks at several places for construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. A fiery orator, Abdul Naser Mahdani, set up an Islamic Seva Sangh, patterned after the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).

The period also saw resurgence among Muslims under the impact of Gulf money. About 44 percent of the Keralites in the Gulf countries are Muslims, and they are the major beneficiaries of the state’s remittance-based prosperity. Many religious groups have received funds from benefactors abroad. Secular groups, too, have benefited, although not to the same extent as extremist elements.

As an ally of the Congress, which was in power at the centre at the time, the Muslim League’s response to the demolition of Babri Masjid by Sangh Parivar volunteers was muted. In the process, its extremist challengers gained the upper hand. Most of them were aligned with the LDF in the last assembly elections.

It is well known that there has been extensive political infiltration in the state police. The high court has been looking into the failure of the police to check political violence in Kannur, scene of recurrent clashes between CPI-M and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cadres. A few months ago the Sangh Parivar had struck at CPI-M targets outside the state to check local Marxist attacks. A police raid last week after two RSS men died in an accidental explosion had yielded a haul of 125 country bombs.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Literary academy chief in the garb of party commissar


As the sensation created by Kerala Sahitya Akademi Chairman M. Mukundan’s denigration of Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan subsides, the sectarianism in the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which was believed to have been laid to rest at the State party conference early this year, is raging furiously once again.

Mukundan’s dim view of Achuthanandan’s leadership had first found expression in a short story, which contained an allegoric reference to him as a dinosaur. It was written when the Chief Minister was pushing hard for removal of land encroachments in Munnar, facing opposition from his own party as well as the CPI.

This time he went one step further. In a magazine interview, he described Achuthanandan as “old-fashioned” and “an outdated saint”. He not sonly ridiculed Achuthanandan as an anachronism but also hailed State party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan as the one who can lead Kerala to glory.

Mukundan is undoubtedly a major writer of his generation, but few will give him a high rating as a political thinker. Though not a CPI (M) member, Minister for Culture MA Baby picked him to head the official literary academy. Baby, a leading light of the Pinarayi camp, has been instrumental in drawing several writers and artistes, who were not even fellow-travellers, towards the party with a view to widening its base among men of arts and letters.

Some have uncharitably characterised Mukundan’s criticism of Achuthanandan and praise for Pinarayi Vijayan as a return favour. Since the Akademi post does not in any way curtail his personal freedoms, he is certainly entitled to express his opinion. However, he was being impetuous when he donned the garb of a commissar and pronounced on who should lead the party.

Mukundan merely echoed the views of KEN Kunhahammad, who has been the party’s de facto literary commissar since the late MN Vijayan was deposed after he criticised the party leadership’s line of seeking accommodation with the forces of globalization. In a widely discussed magazine article, he had accused Achuthanandan of being a political godman.

Achuthanandan’s initial response to Mukundan’s interview was one of good-humoured dismissal. People would have different views and they had the right to express them, he told media persons.

A few days later, in a written statement, he addressed the writer’s criticism directly. He acknowledged that as an 85-year-old he could be described as “old-fashioned”. Besides, the ideology that he upheld dated back to 1848. He added, “I am proud of it. I consider it is the ideology of the future too.”

He pointed out that even in the time of Karl Marx, the demons of capitalism had ridiculed Communists as old-fashioned. When Gorbachevism gained ground in the Soviet Union, there was widespread propaganda that history had ended and Communism had become outdated. With a touch of sarcasm, he added, “Even now some post-modernists are taking it up.”

Achuthanandan concluded with another ideological dig. He said it was capitalism’s chorus as well as hope that time would invalidate all values.
The carefully worded response made it clear that Achuthanandan considered Mukundan’s remarks not as personal views expressed casually in an interview but as a calculated attempt to boost the prospects of the party’s official leadership in the renewed sectarian warfare.

The thrust of Achuthanandan’s arguments were directed not against the writer but against Pinarayi Vijayan and his supporters, who, like the Chinese Communist leadership, favour the capitalist path of development.

The link between Mukundan's interview and the sectarianism in the CPI (M) became evident when Achuthanandan's supporters burnt the writer's effigy at a few places. The party leadership has reportedly ordered inquiry into these incidents. Evidently, it views a demonstration against Mukundan as an anti-party activity.

The controversy coincides with acts of revolt by party men at some places. The party recently dissolved a few local committees dominated by Achuthanandan supporters and set up ad hoc committees in their places. Some who have attracted disciplinary action have responded by setting up parallel committees. Such forms of protest have few parallels in the party’s history.

CPI (M) General Secretary Prakash Karat had made decisive interventions before the last party congress to check sectarianism in the State unit. At one point, he had even got the Politburo to suspend both Achuthanandan and Vijayan from that high-powered body. The disciplinary measure was withdrawn when the Assembly elections approached.

Karat has so far maintained discreet silence on the renewed faction fight. With the Lok Sabha elections fast approaching, he does not have much room for manoeuvre. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, November 17, 2008.

Thursday, November 13, 2008 seeks help

I have been posting material distributed by in my blogs regularly. is a Kerala-based effort to create an alternate media. It has been bringing material of a kind that the mainstream media often overlook. It deserves the support of all those who believe in diversity of opinion. I am posting below an appeal issued by Binu Mathew, Editor of seeking help.


Countercurrents is in need of urgent funds. We posted a short appeal to support CC on our home page, but just two people responded. That won't do. We have developed a unique subscription programme to support CC. By this programme those who can pay our annual subscription amount of $50 keeps CC going. You can pay in two equal installments. I request all who can spare this amount in this difficult time to pay and support CC. You can make the payment here

In Solidarity
Binu Mathew

Monday, November 10, 2008

Malayalam movie industry creates a splish-splash

For a long time, all the sound emerging from the tinsel world of Malayalam cinema was rather unpleasant. Acrimony among film personalities and bickering among organisations of producers, distributors, actors, directors and technicians generated noises, which sometimes rose above the din of movies crashing at the box office.

For a change, pleasant sounds are now emerging from Malayalam moviedom. The industry is celebrating the grand success of a film, which is truly the result of a collective effort.

The film “Twenty:20” is quite unlike anything has been produced before not only in Kerala but also elsewhere else in the world. It has set records which may remain unbroken for long.

Produced by actor Dileep for the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA) and directed by veteran Joshi, the film brings to mind the lines of the nursery rhyme about all seas being one sea, all trees being one tree, all axes being one axe, and all men being one man. The rhyme goes on to say:

And if the great man took the great axe,
And cut down the great tree,
And let it fall into the great sea,
What a splish-splash that would be!

It is such a splish-splash that the Malayalam industry has created by bringing together a host of actors and playback singers.

Superstars Mammootty, Mohanlal and Suresh Gopi head the glittering cast of more than three scores of actors. They appear in roles that they have played with consummate skill in a number of movies previously – as lawyer, rowdy and police officer respectively.

Also in the cast are veteran Madhu, Dileep, Jayaram, Indrajeet, Prithviraj, Jayasurya and Boban Kunchacko. Viewers may well miss some of them unless they are quite attentive. Jayaram’s is just a guest appearance. Prithviraj, who has already demonstrated the potential to evolve into a superstar, figures along with Jayasurya and Boban in a dance sequence presented by Nayantara.

The comedy brigade is present in full force. Innocent, Jagathy Sreekumar, Jagdish, Cochin Haneefa, Harishree Asokan, Salim Kumar, Suraj Venjarammood and Bijukuttan are all there, along with the indispensable Kalpana.

KJ Yesudas and Jayachandran lead the 17 playback singers. All of them come together to sing one song, which was penned by Gireesh Puthencherry and set to music by Benny Ignatius.

The one weak link in the chain is the feminine department. There are only three women stars, Bhavana, who is cast against Dileep, and Gopika and Kavya Madhavan. As one critic has observed, Gopika and Kavya vanish from the scene very quickly. Meera Jasmine, Malayalam’s most talented actress, is conspicuous by her absence.

The low-key female representation in the star-studded extravaganza is in conformity with the industry practice of devaluing young artistes who are reluctant to be paired with the ageing superstars.

A movie of this kind calls for considerable dexterity on the part of the director, the script writer and the cameraman since they have to achieve a careful balance, keeping in view the sensitivities of the superstars’ fans who will not tolerate a situation where their favourite hero appears to be only the second best.

Joshi has repeated in this film the difficult feat that he accomplished in 1990 when he cast Mammootty and Mohanlal together in his movie “Number 20 Madras Mail”. First reports indicate that the fans are quite pleased with the work of Sibi K. Thomas and Udayakrishna, who wrote the script, and Sukumar, who handled the camera.

The initial response of critics, too, has been favourable. Reviewing the film for, Paresh C. Palicha wrote: “We may have heard that too many cooks spoil the broth but, if handled with care, they can spread interesting smorgasbord. And ‘Twenty:20’ proves this fact.”

AMMA produced the film to raise funds to help needy film artistes of yesteryears. To ensure good initial collections for the big budget film, it approached the State government with a request to allow the theatres to raise the ticket rates for the first few days.

The government conceded the request. However, the High Court subsequently stayed the decision on a petition challenging its validity.

The government’s bonanza enabled the 115 theatres, where the film was released on November 5, to make a record first-day collection of Rs.17.4 million. Following restoration of normal rates under court order, the collection dropped by about 20 percent on the second day, but by all accounts the film is well on its way to setting a new box office record.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ayyankali: Legacy Of Organic Protest

By Muhammed Nafih
03 November, 2008

The history of religious reform movements that claimed to have played a defining role in revolutionising the socio- religious fabric of pre-independence Indian society is replete with descriptions of mainstream movements led by upper caste reformers. Those reformers sought to modify Brahminic Hinduism making it competent enough to co-exist with the changed social milieu installed by the colonial apparatus. These movements, besides enabling the upper caste segments to utilise better prospects of colonial modernity, did virtually nothing for the emancipation of the lower caste people who were victims of both an oppressive caste system from within and an exploitative administration from without. Till Mahatma Jotirao Phule took up some bold initiatives in Pune in later decades of the 19th century for empowering Shudra and Ati-shudra communities, Indian Dalits were unable to claim their share of the pie in the much-vaunted reform movements.

In Kerala too, the mainstream reformist movements of the earlier 19th and later 20th century were cast in this patterned mould. Being led by the middle class caste groups who occupied the ‘public sphere’ and driven by exclusivist interests, those movements did never seek to address the acutest social malaises such as poverty and inequality and problems of women and Dalits. Western education and colonial modernity have so profoundly influenced those movements and manipulated their goals that they ended up as mechanisms for caste consolidation. The book under review critically examines how those movements got narrowed down to caste groups and how this plight fuelled the emergence of Dalit agitations under the charismatic leadership of Ayyankali.

Emerging as the Dalit voice of rebellion in the later decades of the 19th century when Kerala was agog with dissenting voices against caste and social inequalities by the upwardly mobile middle class of the Ezhavas, Syrian Christains and Nairs, Ayyankali waged a spirited battle for bringing the Dalits, especially the pulayars, on a par with the status of the domineering middle class. The Dalits were never considered as part of the public and were least represented in the public opinion to the extent that they, despite bearing the brunt of a lumpen exploitative system, were never in the picture in the discourses of reformation and social integration.
The spirit of Ayyankali’s spontaneous revolt was his bold attempt to lay claim for, or to make a forceful entry into, the public space which he believed will enable the oppressed people to brave all forms of oppressions and brutalities. Ayyankalippada, the small band of revolutionary youths organised by him, spearheaded an all out war against all forms of exploitations. By bravely violating the caste diktats which brazenly denied Dalits entry into public roads and marketplaces, this movement sought to subvert the symbolic world of Jati maryada.

In a symbolic gesture, in 1898, Ayyankali led a historic pedestrian march through all forbidden roads to a market place. Though the march erupted into gory violence when the outraged upper caste Hindus tried to block its way, it helped bring about an enhanced consciousness of Dalit’s status and mobilize the various Dalit groups in Travancore.

Though influenced by an array of his contemporary reformists, including Sree Narayana Guru, Ayyankali displayed exemplary practical wisdom and employed genuine revolutionary methods. His Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham(SJPS) was a bold initiative to create a unique platform for the oppressed. Within a shorter span of its formation, the SJPS emerged as a bulwark in the struggle against all forms of exploitation meted out to the Dalit community. Apart from strongly advocating the cause of egalitarianism, the SJPS helped Dalits improve their socioeconomic conditions and instil self-confidence in them through a wide range of programmes.
Its representation in Srimoolam Praja Sabha, especially Ayyankali’s own nomination to it, was a landmark event in the history of Dalit empowerment in Kerala. This paved the way for a wide range of Dalit issues including housing, distribution of the agricultural land, educational facilities and the right to use public roads being debated in the Sabha. The criticism that Ayynkali’s induction to the higher echelons of power weakened his revolutionary fervour letting the state to patronise much of his agendas does not hold water, because mass mobilisation programmes to get admission for Dalit students in schools and to prevent Pulayar women from wearing the mandatory stone beads were held after he assumed the office.

By closely examining the social dynamics that fuelled the emergence of Dalit leaders of Ayyankali’s stature, the book also sheds light on the inherent fallacies of an exploitative system that always sought to rein in attempts for Dalit revival by hook or by crook.

Name of the book: Ayyankali:A Dalit Leader of Organic Protest

Author: Nisar.M.& Meena Kandasamy

Published By:Other Books,New Way Buiding,Railway Link Road,
Kozhikode, Kerala-673002, India.
Phone- 04952306808.
Pages: 104
Price: INR 150, € 16

Monday, November 3, 2008

Maya magic may not help CPI-M to stem Dalit desertions


WHAT prompted the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) to align with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was the Samajwadi Party's (SP) going to the aid of the Congress-led government at the Centre, virtually nullifying the effect of its withdrawal of support.

Since both the SP and the BSP are non-entities in Kerala politics, the switch of allies at national level made little difference to the State party. But there was reason for hope that Mayawati's clout among the State's Dalits may help stem the party's growing alienation from the community.

Caste and religious groups have been active political payers in Kerala even before independence. In 1946 the undivided CPI-M sent selected senior leaders into their respective caste organisations with a view to extending its mass base among the respective groups. The strategy paid dividends at the highest and lowest levels.
EMS Namboodiripad became president of the Yogakshema Sabha and many younger members of the Namboodiri community followed him into the party.

The Congress, on assuming power in the erstwhile Travancore state in 1948, accommodated the leaders of the Nair Service Society, the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam of the Ezhavas and Pulaya Mahasabha of the largest of the Dalit groups in its ranks. Yet the party was able to cut deep into the backward Ezhava and Dalit community on the strength of the appeal of its ideology.

It is now on record that shortly before the elections of 1957, the CPI-M leadership sent emissaries to NSS chief Mannath Padmanabhan seeking the Nair community's support. His response to the request was positive, and the party rode to power for the first time.

Ironically, Mannath Padmanabhan later became a major rallying point of the so-called liberation movement, which led to the Communist government's ouster and gave new life to the dying political ambitions of communal organisations.

The short-lived Communist government yielded a big benefit to the Dalits, most of whom were landless farm workers, constantly living under the threat of eviction by landlords. Its very first legislative enactment put an end to evictions, removing a threat under which they had lived for generations.

The Dalits remained grateful to the Communist movement. However, some who had placed implicit faith in the CPI-M have started questioning the sincerity of its leadership's approach to their problems.

What brought about the change in mood is the burning land issue. On reassessing the Communist government's land reform, many scholars have pointed out that it was not the revolutionary measure it was made out to be. Abolition of landlordism, which was its biggest achievement, benefited the tenants. It did not benefit the Dalits, who were only farm workers.

Dalit intellectuals are in the forefront of a campaign that exposes the weakness of the land reform. They have argued that the Dalits were betrayed while implementing the party's "land to the tiller" programme.

Land having become a scarce commodity in the State, its apportionment has become a major issue. A powerful mafia is on the prowl grabbing land to build industrial estates, commercial complexes and luxury apartments. Adivasis and Dalits are engaged in agitations demanding allotment of sufficient land for each landless family to make a living through farming.

Since the LDF came to power two and a half years ago, Industries Minister Elamaram Kareem, who belongs to the CPI-M has been vigorously championing the cause of the industrial land grabbers. So far as the landless are concerned, the government has shown no inclination to concede anything more than a housing plot.

Recognising that Dalits and Adivasis have been moving away from the party, the State leadership recently decided on a strategy to check desertions.
Breaking with past practice, it organised meetings of these groups in a bid to tighten the grip on these sections.

The agitation which landless people have been conducting at Chengara demanding agricultural land has proved to be an acid test for the CPI-M. As the agitation entered the second year the party organised a blockade of the area by mobilizing estate workers, to deny any kind of succour reaching the squatters.

Many squatters have fallen ill due to lack of nutrition. The district administration deputed a medical team to the estate. The musclemen enforcing the blockade did not allow the government doctors to go in. Last week Health Minister PK Sreemathi the told the media that the cabinet had decided not to send doctors to the estate to attend to the sick.

For Mayawati's magic to work, Kerala's Dalits must be ready to overlook their own experience, which seems unlikely. –Gulf Today, November 3, 2008.