Paddy cultivators need a better deal Thursday, Mar 20 2008 

Paddy fields in Kuttanad, Kerala, IndiaOne should take the Opposition campaign– that paddy in Kuttanad was lost mainly because of refusal of the Kerala State Karshaka Thozhilali Union to allow the farmers to use harvesting machines, with a pinch of salt. Yet there is a grain of truth in that the heavy rains damaged the crop because some farmers could not harvest their crop earlier at some places because of Opposition from KSKTU.

It is perhaps time that the CPI (M) and its Union decided which is its priority– the protection of the jobs of a decreasing number of agriculture workers in Kuttanad or long-term sustenance of paddy cultivation.

What is at stake is clear from the government’s own initiative to enact a law for preserving paddy fields and wetlands. The State’s food security and environment will be jeopardized if paddy fields continued to be filled up. However, the trend cannot be reversed just by legislation. Otherwise, the existing Kerala Land Utilisation Order itself would have achieved the objective. The only was to achieve the objective is to make paddy cultivation remunerative and trouble free. Farmers would not be able to carry on incurring losses as a public service.

If the government go ahead with its plans to punish farmers heavily for changing crops, that would only lead to genuine farmers selling their land. The paddy fields would ultimately land in the hands of the land mafia. They would be able to bribe the politicians and officials and circumvent the law to ultimately turn the fields into housing colonies, tourist centers and what not!

There is little justification for the CPI (M) or its Union in standing in the way of mechanization. The party has virtually embraced capitalism. It is in its scheme of thinks that lesser skilled workers lose jobs to fewer numbers of better skilled workers. Skill upgradation is the key in modern day capitalism. Where that cannot be achieved, safety nets such as the Employment Guarantee Scheme should take care of the workers.

Related: A different Nandigram in Kerala

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Cacophony of Kerala Cabinet on display in Legislature Thursday, Feb 28 2008 

Chief Minister of Kerala V. S. AchuthanandanThe authority and prestige of the Chief Minister’s office in Kerala suffered another blow when the Chief Minister could not comprehensively reply to the debate on the motion of thanks to the Governor for his address in the Legislative Assembly on February 28.

More than half a dozen ministers rose to reply to the debate ahead of the Chief Minister, in an unprecedented display of lack of collective responsibility in the Ministry. In that process the Power Minister Mr.A. K. Balan and Chief Minister Mr. V. S. Achuthanandan even contradicted each other. (While Mr. Balan said that no land was available for acquisition by government for distribution to the tribals, Mr. Achuthanandan said that land taken back from encroachers would be given to tribals on a priority basis.)

The practice so far in the Assembly was for the Chief Minister, who heads the government, to comprehensively reply to the debate while a few Ministers may specifically answer any allegations raised against them during the debate. As his Minister’s had taken over the stage, the Chief Minister confined his remarks to few words.

Mr. Achuthanandan was tongue tied when the Opposition Leader Oommen Chandy asked about the stand of the Government on the HMT land deal. While the Advocate General has filed an affidavit before the Court saying that there were no irregularities in the sale of land by the public sector company (Hindusthan Machine Tools), the Chief Minister did not appear to share the same view. But all he said was that the Court verdict would serve interests of the State. He avoided an answer whether the affidavit filed by the AG was in the interests of the State.

Chief Minister Achuthanandan’s dilemma Thursday, Feb 14 2008 

Chief Minister of Kerala V. S. AchuthanandanKerala Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan is a stanch communist, berated by opponents for Stalinist obduracy. His State unit of his party (the Communist Party of India-Marxist) did not want him to be the Chief Minister and hence did not offer him even a seat contest in Assembly polls. Still, he won the seat and Chief Ministership because of popular support.

He was thus elected by the will of the people and not the will of the party. What he heads is a petty bourgeois democratic government. He cannot expect the support of the party that has turned to capitalist ways, converting paddy fields, acquiring properties and running businesses.

To start with, Mr. Achuthanandan tried to rule according to the wishes of the people who elected him. However, soon he has to submit to some of the dictates of the party, which knows that the people have little choice between the ruling and Opposition Fronts (LDF and UDF). This did not win him supporters in the party. The party was systematically working to undermine him as the Chief Minister. Now, he has been totally routed at the party conference.

The choice before him now is to quit bowing to the overwhelming verdict of the party or rule to fulfill the aspirations of the people to people who elected him with an overwhelming vote. But, Achuthanandan is incapable of doing either. He is after all a devout communist who has sworn to obey the dictates of the party. He also lacks the ability and a fitting team to deliver what the people wants. So, he may still choose the middle course to the misfortune of the people of Kerala.

Kerala education sector: into an abyss? Wednesday, Feb 13 2008 

CPI (M) general secretary Prakash Karat has called for a dialogue between the private managements of educational institutions and the Government. This comes at the end of what may look like a confrontation between the two sides over admissions, appointments, fee structure and other issues connected to the educational institutions. But, what both sides appears to be trying for is a bargain deal.

Education Minister M.A. BabyThe higher education sector virtually became the preserve of the moneyed class as the present and previous government failed to enforce their stated policy that 50 per cent of the seats in self financing colleges would be reserved for students admitted on merit and liable to pay only lower fees (at Government specified rates).

The UDF Government led by A. K. Antony (now the Defence Minister) failed to enter into proper written agreements with the managements. Consequently, they were able to get a series of court orders against differential fee structure in self-financing colleges. Though the LDF Government brought what was described as a “fail safe” legislation, that too was struck down by the courts. One of the problems with both the governments was that there were people within their set ups who wanted to undermine government policies in favour of the managements. All these opposing forces and divisions within the Government and ruling parties created a mess in the higher education sector, causing much hardship to students.

It is also notable the student and youth organisations of the CPI (M) have changed their stands over the years from violent opposition to self financing colleges to conceding the demands of managements. Though the State legislations were struck down by courts, the CPI (M) never pressed the Centre sufficiently for a Central legislation for regulation of the self-financing colleges (though it supports the government). So, the meaning of the call for dialogue becomes obvious. It is call for a deal.

KEAR Report
The State Government has now obtained a committee report on amendments needed to the Kerala Educational Act and Rules. It contains recommendations that are against and in favour of the interests of the school managements, who also control many of the self-financing institutions. The biggest bargain would be on appointments of teachers.

The committee recommends change of teacher-student ratio that would lead to creation of hundreds of posts of teachers. At the same time, it recommends that the appointments should be done though an independent agency. The managements stand to lose millions they collect from the appointees (as so called donations) if the right to appoint staff is taken away from them. But this is something that they could very well retain either through a deal with the government or through intervention of courts. Meanwhile, the government can play to the gallery that they taking on the managements.

Janasree is just not for the people Friday, Feb 8 2008 

Minister for Local Self Government Paloli MohamedkuttyThe CPI (M) has come out strongly against launching of Janasree programme by the Congress-led Union Government. Local Administration Minister Paloli Mohamedkutty has alleged that it would undermine the Kudumbasree programme and create financial anarchy in the microfinance sector.

However, the real reasons for the strident criticism by the Minister are different. The Congress is planning to use the programme to fund non-government organisations and use it for leverage in the coming Lok Sabha elections. There is little doubt that the funds would mostly go to the supporters of the party.

It is, however, to be noted that Congress is trying to emulate the CPI (M) in its own way. The CPI (M) has built up a financial empire consisting of cooperative and other institutions in the control of the party. Employment in those institutions was used to win and reward supporters. Huge sums were raised for business including Government subsidies.

If the trend catches on, political parties of all hues would soon be running financial empires. No doubt that they would eventually assume mafia characteristics. We know that politicians also behind all the so-called land mafia deals in the State.

The trend does not augur well for democracy. The non-political, ordinary people will be exploited by those politico-financial empires. People will be forced to buy services from them as is already happening in the State. If in doubt, just look at the way the land prices have gone up in the State. The political mafia is expanding its grip over land, after gaining control of public sector units and other institutions. Soon, they will do the same in other sectors including micro finance. The communal mafia is also pitching for their share in the cake.

Last vestiges of communists under seige Tuesday, Jan 15 2008 

Red flagThe last vestiges of communists in the CPI (M) are under seige. Jyothi Basu and Budhadeb Battacharya have already denounced socialism and have said that capitalism is the only way forward, given the ground realities.

However, a section of communists in both West Bengal and Kerala still want to stick to communist ideals, however impractical they may have become. In Kerala, communists and Stalinists led by Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan is fighting a losing battle to protect the last bastion of communism.

Kerala still have some people dreaming of a just society or at least envious of the rich. They had risen in support of Mr. Achuthanandan, when he was denied party ticket for the Assembly elections and later when he moved against the land mafia. However, Mr. Achuthanandan failed them badly.

The men he deputed against the land mafia were not people who tread carefully. In a Quixotic fashion, one (Suresh Kumar) uprooted the tea plants of Tata Tea on the slopes of Munnar in the thick of a monsoon and also went to break the glasses of a resort just to attract contempt of court proceedings. But when he tread on the feet of the ruling constituent Communist Party of India (CPI), Mr. Achuthanandan could not withstand the pressure from the CPI and a section in his own party. The Chief Minister’s image went into a tailspin as he shifted the officials including the Idukki Collector Raju Narayana Swamy.

Now, within the party, he is losing in the organisational elections at the district level one by one. The party’s control will remain with the official faction, opposed by Mr. Achuthanandan. The official faction is led by Pinarai Vijayan (State secretary) who can better be described as the CEO of the party. The party, according to some estimates, controls a financial empire with net worth of more than Rs. 50000 millions. Mr. Vijayan and his colleagues had realised that capitalist enterprise is the way forward for the party also— perhaps much before Budha and Basu.

Supporters of Pinarai have also managed a coup of sorts in the Revolutionary Socialist Party. A former Minister Ramakrishna Pillai seized control of the party, which is a partner to the ruling coalition. T. J. Chandrachoodan, who lost out to him, was a supporter of Achuthanandan in many matters, and a person who intelligently and sensibly articulated his views. He led the last of the ‘revolutionary’ socialists in the party and the State. RIP.

Related: Achuthanandan’s image