Monday, July 26, 2010

Gearing up for a decisive poll

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Besides the long-established political parties, a host of smaller entities, many of them with no political affiliation, are preparing to contest the local self-government institutions (LSGIs) in Kerala, which is likely to be held towards the end of September.

LSGIs constitute the lowest levels of administration. They are bodies elected to exercise authority at the district, block and town and village levels.

As in the elections to Parliament and the State Assembly, the main contenders for power in LSGIs are the Left Democratic Front and the United Democratic Front. Traditionally, the LDF has had an edge over the UDF, thanks to the well-oiled election machinery of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, which heads the alliance.

In the last elections, held in 2005, the CPI-M got control of all five city corporations, all but one of 14 district panchayats, a majority of the municipal councils and block panchayats and nearly 700 out of about 1,000 village panchayats.

A series of reverses suffered by the CPI-M in by-elections to local bodies held during the past year point to erosion of its mass base. With a disastrous Lok Sabha poll behind it and new Assembly elections less than a year away, it has much at stake in the LSGI elections.

This is one reason why the CPI-M, which limited the role of small LDF constituents four years ago, is now willing to placate even the smallest splinter group. It recently decided to retain the breakaway P C Thomas faction of the Kerala Congress (Joseph) in the alliance and welcomed back the National Congress Party which had been shown the door earlier.

Originally, the panchayat system did not envisage division along party lines. However, lately local bodies too have become an arena of partisan warfare.

The last LDF government had initiated a programme of democratic decentralisation and people’s participation in the planning process. It generated a lot of enthusiasm, which evaporated fast. People’s interest in local bodies waned as parties which controlled them resorted to favouritism.

The coming elections are the first since women’s reservation in LSGIs was raised from 33 per cent to 50 per cent. When women’s reservation was introduced, the political parties drafted wives and daughters of their leaders as candidates. The CPI-M picked candidates from the ranks of its student and women’s affiliates too.

When elected, these candidates generally acted as proxies for male party functionaries. Those who refused to do so were reined in. As a result, women’s empowerment, the proclaimed objective of reservation, remains unrealised.

The Bharatiya Janata Party and the People’s Democratic Party of Abdul Naser Mahdani, which fought LSGI elections in the past and are holding the balance between the LDF and the UDF in some local bodies, are hoping to improve their position this time.

Several new players are also preparing to enter the arena. They include the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Social Democratic Party of India, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Dalit Human Rights Movement.

The BSP, a recognised national party which is in power in Uttar Pradesh, has only a small presence in Kerala. The SDPI is the political wing of the Popular Front of India, which is under a cloud following the arrest of several of its members in connection with the chopping of the hand of a college teacher at Muvattupuzha, allegedly as punishment for denigration of the Prophet (PBUH).

The Jamaat and the SDPI have done considerable groundwork in areas where they have influence. Both the groups are planning to field Muslim women in constituencies where the community has substantial presence.

A large number of civic groups involved in agitations over environmental and developmental issues are also likely to contest the elections. They want to challenge the stranglehold of the LDF and the UDF on state politics. CPI-M dissidents may also enter the fray.

All this invests the LSGI elections with unusual significance. The outcome of the election may well decide whether the present two-front system can survive for survive.
With many forces vying with one another, multi-cornered contests are inevitable. The resulting splintering of votes will work to the advantage of the two fronts. Realising this, the small entities are exploring the possibility of coming together on a common platform. All of them agree on the need to eliminate corruption and favouritism which are rampant in LSGIs today.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Of the party, by the party, for the party

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Forget Abraham Lincoln’s definition of democracy. Kerala has rewritten it to read ‘government of the front, by the front, for the front.’ Since Left Democratic Front constituents other than the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) are midgets, under LDF rule democracy gets reduced to ‘government of the party, by the party, for the party.’

Last week, George Mercier, a member of the opposition United Democratic Front, asked in the State Assembly how many cases of attacks on women had been registered and how many women had been killed since the present government took office.

Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan replied that police had registered 33,148 cases of attacks on women and 243 women had been killed during the past four years.

There is nothing to suggest that attacks on women have increased under LDF rule. Since the question was about cases reported after the LDF came to power, there was no occasion for the minister to provide comparable figures of the UDF period.

In limiting the inquiry to the period of LDF rule Mercier was following a pattern set by others before him. Members often use the question hour to ferret out material which may show the other side in a bad light.

How much has been spent by ministers of this government on entertainment, on telephone calls, on air travel? Such questions come up regularly in the Assembly.

The information the government provides may not be enough to decide whether the spending was justified but it will be enough to plant a suspicion in people’s minds that ministers are spendthrifts.

The change of government in 2006 may not have led to a growth in the crime rate or rise in ministerial extravagance, but there is reason to believe the tendency to misuse authority is increasing. Since many officials are aligned with the CPI-M through service organisations, it is easy for the party to help those whom it favours.

One of the earliest scandals of the present government relates to irregularities in the appointment of assistants in Kerala University. The Upa-Lokayuta, who inquired into the matter, concluded that there had been political interference. The beneficiaries were members of the CPI-M’s youth and student affiliates. The issue is now before the high court.

During the Upa-Lokayukta’s inquiry it came to light that the answer papers of 40,000-odd candidates who took the examination held for filling the post had disappeared. The external agency which evaluated the papers said it had returned them to the university but the university denied having received them. The university bodies are packed with nominees of political parties who are ready to do their bidding.

While revising the voters list of the Kannur constituency before the by-election to the Assembly last year, 9,357 new names were added. Many new voters were shown as staying in buildings under the CPI-M’s control. The Congress alleged that the party had fudged the list with the help of officials.

The Election Commission directed the district authorities to register a case and investigate. While they complied with the directive, the chances of effective prosecution of the guilty officials are thin.

Punishing deserters is as much a part of the scheme as rewarding the faithful. After the Janata Dal quit the LDF and joined the UDF, its president, MP Veerendrakumar, and his son, MV Shreyamskumar, MLA, have come under attack as land grabbers.

The CPI-M Wayanad district secretary CK Saseendran led a group of tribal people under the banner of the Adivasi Kshema Samithi and occupied an estate belonging to Shreyamskumar. The court ordered that they be removed. In a stage-managed show, the police evicted the squatters only to return after the cops left.

High court judges who watched a video of the eviction drama noted that legislators had tried to obstruct the police and asked the Advocate General to advise those concerned to respect the law.

The CPI-M justifies the encroachment on Shreyamskumar’s property saying he is in illegal possession of land that belongs to the Adivasis. The land was in his possession all through the two decades during which the Janata Dal was an LDF constituent. The party or its governments did nothing to reclaim it for the Adivasis during that period.

The most worrying aspect of political infiltration of the service is the reported formation of CPI-M fractions in the police. It was in the 1990s that the presence of party members in the police first came to light. Recently the media reported that policemen had been called to party offices in some places for meetings. – Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 19, 2010.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Degeneration of decentralised planning

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Kerala has a proud record as a pioneer of decentralised planning in India, having launched a programme for preparing development plans with people’s participation soon after the Indian constitution was amended to facilitate devolution of power to local self-government (LSG) institutions at the district, block and village levels.

While the state’s performance in this regard has won acclaim nationally, those who have been associated with the programme at one stage or another during the past 15 years are agreed that it is plagued by problems that defeat its very purpose.

The people’s plan programme was launched with fanfare by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government headed by EK Nayanar. The formation of a committee headed by EMS Nambooripad, the tallest leader of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), to propagate the programme testified to the importance attached to it by the party which heads the LDF.

The Nayanar government, while transferring control over institutions under several departments to LSGs, announced that one-third of the state’s annual budget outlay will be earmarked for them.

The Congress-led United Democratic Front government, which came to power in 2001, retained the decentralised set-up but rechristened the programme as Kerala development plan, presumably because the original name was associated in the popular mind with the LDF government. When the LDF returned to power four years ago, many people expected it to re-launch the people’s plan but it did not.

An expert team, headed by MA Oommen, a noted economist, appointed by the present government, said in a report presented last year that the programme had failed to achieve its primary objective of boosting agricultural production. Farm output which was growing at 3.42 per cent a year declined at 0.29 per cent a year after the introduction of decentralised planning.

It found that there had been a decline in people’s participation in the planning effort. Development seminars, which were conceived as a means of preparing people to participate in the planning process, had been reduced to a ritual. Plans were being prepared by officials. It cited the case of a junior clerk who prepared 120 projects for LSGs in just one month.

Dr S Mohanakumar, KM Shajahan and N Niyathi, who were involved in the programme in the early period, presented their assessment of its working at a seminar organised by the Kerala Vikasana Samithi in Thiruvananthapuram recently.

Mohanakumar, who is attached to the Institute of Development Sudies, Jaipur, is a CPI-M member. Shajahan, who was on the personal staff of VS Achuthanandan when he was Leader of the Opposition, was expelled from the party for alleged anti-party activities. Niyathi has no political affiliation. All three agreed that the expectations raised by people’s planning remain unfulfilled.

Mohanakumar laid the blame for the failure of the programme at the doors of the Kerala Sastra Sahithya Parishad, a non-governmental organisation, whose activists were involved in the preparatory efforts. He also said a section of the CPI-M was opposed to the programme.

He pointed out both LDF and UDF started distributing benefits under various schemes administered through LSGs to their members and supporters disregarding all parameters. As people’s participation declined, everything came under the control of the bureaucracy.

He alleged that only 35 to 70 per cent of the fund allotted for a scheme was spent. The rest of the money was shared by officials, contractors and politicians under an agreed formula.

Shajahan observed that decentralised planning had turned into decentralised corruption. The Comptroller and Auditor General had pointed out that several LSGs had failed to submit their accounts to the Local Fund Audit department for scrutiny.

Of the more than 18,000 LSG members about 12,000 belonged to the CPI-M members and many of them also held party posts, he said. They were handling the money allotted to LSGs. There were discrepancies in the statistics provided by the government about LSG spending. The mechanism created to scrutinise the accounts was failing. All this pointed to large-scale corruption under cover of decentralisation.

Niyathi pointed out that the commitment to transfer one-third of the state budget to LSGs was not being honoured. While the Nayanar government gave 29.6 per cent and the UDF government 28.8 per cent, the present LDF government had given them only 21.6 per cent. In the absence of effective coordination among various official agencies, projects often suffered. He cited the examples of hospital buildings remaining unused as there was no water or power or staff. – Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 12, 2010.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Vehicle Rally by Hartal Opponents in Kochi

Say No to Hartal campaigners on the road in Kochi on Monday

On Monday, about 25 citizens opposed to the hartal called by the Left parties and the Bharatiya Janata Party took out a Vahana Jatha (Vehicle Rally) in Kochi under the auspices of the Say No to Hartal campaign

The following is a message from Facebook friend Raju P. Nair who took the initiative in organizing the campaign:

Thank you for the support extended.

As informed, Say NO to Hartal held a Vahana Jatha to protest against the hartals. I am happy that almost 25 cars and some eminent personalities took part in the Jatha held today. Hon’ble Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer inaugurated the Jatha by handing over the flag to the Jatha Captain.

Rotary International, Chamber of Commerce and Travel Operators Association of Kerala extended their support.

Ms. Deepthi Mary Varghese, Fr. Roby Kannancheril, Director, Chavara Cultural Center and Mr. Mansour of the Chamber of Commerce led the Jatha.

Say No to Hartal campaigners offering transportation to stranded passengers at Ernakulam Jn railway station

The vehicles which took part in the Jatha proceeded to the Ernakulam Jn railway station and offered free transfers to stranded passengers.

The media extended great support to this movement.

Request your support to this campaign in the future. Please kick off a debate in the media about the bill presented by Hon'ble Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer against the bandhs and harthals.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Ruling party’s tirade against judges

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Communist Party of India-Marxist, which heads Kerala’s ruling coalition, has launched an orchestrated campaign against high court judges, prompting Chief Justice J Chelameswar to observe that “attacking judges personally does not augur well for democracy.”

What drew the party’s ire was the court’s June 23 judgement directing the state government not to grant permission to hold meetings on public roads and road margins. It also asked that if any meeting was held the police must remove all installations and people and prevent it.

A division bench comprising Justice CN Ramachandran Nair and Justice PS Gopinathan had passed the orders on a petition by a resident of Aluva challenging the authorities’ action in permitting a public meeting on the road in front of the local railway station. The Executive Engineer, Public Works Department, Roads, and the Superintendent of Police, Ernakulam Rural district, were cited as respondents.

The judges who perused a set of photographs presented by the petitioner were convinced that the meeting had blocked traffic on the busy road and that such meetings resulted in suffering for the travelling public.

Even though the petitioner drew the court’s attention only to the instance of a road in Aluva, the judges decided to extend the benefit of the decision to road users all over the state. They did not visualise any objection to such extension from any corner, including government agencies, “because the act sought to be prevented is illegal.”

It soon became evident that the assumption that there would be no objection was not correct. All national parties, including the Congress, the CPI-M and the Bharatiya Janata Party criticised the ban on roadside meetings, which have been a feature of public life since the days of the freedom struggle. They dubbed it as a denial of the constitutionally guaranteed rights of association and assembly.

The charge of denial of rights is far-fetched as the court has not imposed a blanket ban on meetings. It only wants to prevent meetings hindering traffic. “In our view,” the judges said, “all meetings should be permitted only in stadiums, public grounds outside road margins and grounds of educational institutions on holidays.”

Three days after the court order, addressing a roadside meeting held on a thoroughfare to protest against the Centre’s decision to hike fuel prices, CPI-M state committee member MV Jayarajan, a close lieutenant of party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, reviled the judges who had delivered the judgement.

After seeing television and newspaper reports of the speech, a lawyer approached the high court with a plea to initiate contempt proceedings against Jayarajan. A bench headed by Chief Justice decided to hear the Advocate General on the issue.

Meanwhile party central committee member EP Jayarajan carried the campaign against the judges further with an equally vituperative speech in which he declared no one could take action against MV Jayarajan.

Pinarayi Vijayan and Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan also joined the campaign but they spoke with a certain degree of restraint. Vijayan said they were only criticising a wrong judgement, not attacking judges. Achuthanandan pointed out that the court had a duty to hear the state’s views before pronouncing a judgement of this kind.

But the vile campaign continued at another level. The Democratic Youth Federation of India and the Students Federation of India organised protest marches to courts at different places in the state and their leaders made virulent attacks on judges. “If necessary we will hold meetings outside judges’ houses,” said a young hothead.

MV Jayarajan’s speech could have been dismissed as the work of a rabble-rouser but for the calibrated performances that followed. The DYFI and SFI are CPI-M affiliates. In the party’s politburo and state committee there are members charged with the task of overseeing the activities of these organisations.

This is not the first time that the CPI-M has come out against court judgements adverse to its interests or those of the government that it heads. However, the current campaign marks a new low in its public conduct. There was no vicious campaign of this kind even when the late EMS Namboodiripad, the tallest party leader of the time, was found guilty of contempt of court in the 1960s for a speech in which he alluded to the class character of judges. – Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 5, 2010