Congress to consoldidate position in Kerala, West Bengal Thursday, May 28 2009 

New Union Ministry after swearing in -PIB Photo

New Union Ministry after swearing in -PIB Photo

While the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala could not put its house in order, the Indian National Congress is making moves to strengthen its position in Kerala and West Bengal.

The failed leaders of the CPI (M) Pinarayi Vijayan and V. S. Achuthanandan do not have the grace to step down owing responsibility for the debacle in the Lok Sabha polls. It is not just that they don’t believe in democratic norms. They are entangled in a bitter battle that none could withdraw without conceding defeat. At least for the time being, the party is unable to push them out, or end the quarrel.

Party general secretary Prakash Karat is in no position to assert himself with the West Bengal unit demanding his resignation over the poll debacle. The decision to withdraw support to UPA Government before th elections has cost the party a share in power at the Centre. Now, the Congress-Trinamool combine would leave no stone unturned to wrest power from the Left in West Bengal.

The Congress has already taken steps to consolidate its position in both the States. It has named eight members of the Parliament from West Bengal and six from Kerala as Ministers. Two of them each are of Cabinet rank. The portfolios allotted to them are also significant. Minister of State E. Ahamed gets Railways while Minister of State K. V. Thomas gets Agriculture, Food and Civil Supplies. These are areas in which the State had been continuously accusing the Centre of neglect. It is clear that the Centre is not for confrontation with the State Government. On the other hand, it plans to win over the people.

One only have to recall the performance of BJP leader O. Rajagopal in 2004 elections to assess the opportunity that is opening up before E. Ahamed. Mr. Rajgopal’s contributions to the State as Minister of State for Railways had won acclaim and at least a lakh votes from politically uncommitted voters in Trivandrum.

Mullappally Ramachandran may also been tactically placed in the Home Ministry. He can address the concerns of Keralites about law and order and terrorism. If needed, he can also take on the CPI (M) politically over its handling of the police.

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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

A different Nandigram in Kerala– Part II Wednesday, Nov 14 2007 

Polders of Kuttanad (kayal land)

Let us examine what could be the probable justifications for Nandigram or defragmentation of lands distributed under land reforms. Fragmentation of land has often made agriculture less productive and hence less sustainable owing to higher input costs, absence of economies of scale and other factors. (In Kerala, the land distributed to agriculture workers is ten cents or less). Globalisation has opened up the markets making several produce uncompetitive, especially in Kerala.

Under such circumstances, the large-scale suicides of farmers were waiting to happen. Reports show that as many as 1.5 lakh farmers had committed suicides across the country as agriculture ran into crisis in several regions.

Now, look at the solutions being offered. The agriculture packages being offered by the Central Government are primary meant to provide relief and would not lead to revival of agriculture in a big way (unless prices improve which is unlikely in the globalised scenario). The Agriculture Commission, set up by the Centre, proposes technology intensive agriculture as a solution. The proposals are beyond the capabilities of ordinary farmers. It would require defragmentation of land and corporatisation of agriculture. No need to say that this would lead to large scale displacement of farmers. If and when that happens, Nandigram and Kuttanad would pale into insignificance.

Distorted ideologiesThis may appear inevitable in future and reversal of land reforms in order to ensure competi- tiveness of agriculture in the country. However, technology itself may suggest alternative approaches, which need to be studied before rushing for action. Moreover, India cannot envisage speedy transition to technology intensive, market-driven agriculture because of the sheer size of its agrarian population.

What compounds the guilt behind Nandigram and Kuttanad is that they were not part of any well-planned land use policy. Nor are the methods adopted acceptable in a democratic country. To top it all, corruption is allegedly behind the developments.

(Part I)

A different kind of Nandigram in Kerala– Part I Monday, Nov 12 2007 

Polders of Kuttanad (kayal land)

The CPI (M) is practicising Marxism in the reverse gear whether it is in West Bengal or Kerala. The original slogan of communists was land for the tillers. Now, it is tiller’s land for business houses.

There may be historical justifications for both the postures. The problem is that the communists are using the same method they advocated to take away land from the landlords- violence, to take away land from the tillers. In Nadigram (West Bengal) the party is fighting the peasants through the barrel of the gun. In Kuttanad in Kerala, they used trickery, instead.

The land in question in Kuttanad is part of hundreds of hectares of land reclaimed from backwaters (polders) by an enterprising farmer Joseph Muricken before independence for paddy cultivation. It was done on the basis of a call from the then Maharaja of Travancore for production of more food in the princely State (following food shortages during the second World War).

The Kerala Government took over the polders early in the seventies under the Defence of India Rules and subsequently distributed the land to agriculture workers. Though Muricken was successful in profitably cultivating paddy, neither the Government nor the collectives of agricultural workers organised by the Government thereafter succeeded in carrying forward cultivation profitably. (Because a polder is a single unit for dewatering and other purposes, no worker could cultivate fragmented units individually.)

Then, a cooperative controlled by the CPI (M) entered the scene with the promise of a scheme to ensure returns from the land  in one of the polders. (The polder in question—R block, was not the creation of Muricken. Its reclamation was a collective effort. The Murickens, however, had land there, which was taken over and distributed to the agriculture workers as excess land).  All titleholders pledged their land to fund the project. But, the project failed and the land was put up for auction without the knowledge of the former agriculture workers. The auction was allegedly not conducted properly and the land went into the hands of developers of tourism facilities at very low prices. Those behind the operation are alleged to have received large sums in commissions. Some enquiries are underway amidst allegations that the CPI (M) led Government is protecting them.

(Part II)