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.

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