People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
June 04, 2006
'Addressing Agrarian Crisis
Is Our Priority'
Interview With V S Achutanandan
The newly-elected chief minister of Kerala and CPI(M) Polit Bureau member V S Achutanandan visited Delhi on his way to participate in the Polit Bureau meeting held in Kolkata. He met CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat at AKG Bhavan on May 26, 2006 besides calling on Harkishan Singh Surjeet at his residence.
Representatives of Party dailies and central organs, People's Democracy and Lok Lahar, met Achutanandan and spoke to him on the LDF's election victory and his government's future tasks.
Below we give excerpts of the interview:
There was a big campaign by the UDF and a section of the media portraying the LDF, and particularly you, as being 'anti-development'. How did you respond?
In the 2001 May elections, when the UDF came to power in the state, one of their main promises was of providing employment to 15 lakh educated unemployed youth. They also promised to make Kerala a developed state. After five years in power, the UDF government could not provide employment to even 15 youth. There were absolutely no measures to tackle unemployment. In fact, they announced a ban on recruitment leading to widespread agitation by the DYFI and other youth organisations.
In the name of helping farmers and peasants, the UDF government effected a cut in the salaries of government employees and teachers. It propagated that since these sections were leading a 'luxurious lifestyle' they have to sacrifice in the interests of peasants. When the employees and teachers resisted this assault by conducting a month-long statewide struggle, the government was forced to reach an agreement with them saying once the financial situation of the government improves, it will repay the amount being cut as arrears.
That helping the peasants was only a ruse was evident in the coming days when the agrarian problems became acute, leading to immense suffering. The UDF government invited the wrath of peasantry in the recent elections because of their utter neglect of agriculture. Another area where the UDF government inflicted heavy damage was higher education, which was totally commercialised. While giving permission for starting of self-fiinancing professional colleges in the state, the then chief minister A K Antony had proclaimed that merit students would be eligible to study in these colleges by paying government fee, which was roughly around Rs 3,000 per annum. But the colleges, while taking admissions, hiked this fee by 12 times i.e., Rs 36,000 per annum. The CM kept mum. The SFI and other Left student organisations led a massive agitation against this commercialisation. The UDF government unleashed brutal repression against agitating students, going to the extent of using grenades. Many got seriously hurt, including Sindhu Joy, who contested as a CPI(M) candidate against Oomen Chandy.
Another section of people who bore the brunt of anti-people policies of the UDF regime were tribals. They were forcibly evicted from their lands and their protests were brutally suppressed. In Muthanga, the agitating tribals were fired upon, killing one adivasi. The LDF led a successful struggle on this issue forcing the government to institute a CBI inquiry into the firing incident. The higher-ups, including some cabinet ministers of the UDF government were hand in glove with the notorious forest mafia of Kerala who were plundering forest wealth, particularly the priceless sandalwood. The mafia paid huge money to government functionaries and in return got government protection for their illegal encroachment and looting of forest wealth. The then revenue minister in UDF government K M Mani supported the mafia which tried to encroach 5000 acres land in the dense forest, Mathikettan. Similarly in Pooyamkutty, Marayur etc forest mafia encroached thousands of acres of land. In Munnar alone nearly 15,000 acres of forest land was grabbed by the mafia with the active connivance of the UDF government. The LDF fought against this and the government was forced to take action, particularly in Mathikettan.
So, we asked the UDF leaders whether this plundering of government assets worth thousands of crores of rupees was development? Also is fighting for protecting such wealth anti-development? However, the people have answered this question unambiguously in the recent elections.
m The election results show that there was a clear shift of minority votes in favour of the LDF and away from the Indian Union of Muslim League (IUML), particularly in Mallapuram district.
The IUML leader K N Kunhalikutty, who is actively involved with the forest mafia and made hundreds of crores of rupees, was also an accused in the notorious ice cream parlour sex scandal. He escaped punishment in this case only because of the patronage of the UDF government. The government had manipulated the prosecution process leading to the acquittal of Kunhalikutty. We opposed these policies of UDF government right from the beginning. Despite the UDF's attempt to paint us anti-minority, our opposition against Kunhalikutty was firm.
During the parliament election campaign we highlighted all these issues. We urged the Muslim community to realise the real face of leaders like Kunhalikutty. We said that the leaders of IUML were not taking care of minorities’ interests and they were only protectors of affluent classes. Our argument was that the ban on recruitment was a loss of employment opportunity for educated youth in Kerala, including youth from minority communities also. These campaigns exposed the class character of IUML and the Muslim community realised that Left is a champion of their causes.
These campaigns yielded results in Malappuram. The Muslim League could win only five seats out of twelve in this district. Voters showed the courage to defeat three cabinet ministers in UDF and stalwarts of IUML in Malappuram – Kunhalikkutty (industries minister), E T Muhammad Basheer (education minister) and Dr M K Muneer (PWD minister) – and one former minister, Cherkkalam Abdulla, in Manjeswaram constituency in Kasargode district.
The CPI(M)’s stand on world affairs also helped us to win the support of Muslim minority in whose perception the United States was unjustly targeting Muslims all over the world. At the national level we vehemently opposed the UPA government’s pro-American attitude. Responsibility of UPA government's decision on Iran and Palestine under the influence of US pressure also falls on IUML leader E Ahmed who is minister of state for external affairs in Manmohan Singh’s cabinet. Apart from Muslims, the LDF also got the massive support of the Christian community, which is reflected in the results in districts like Thiruvanathapuram, Kollam, Idukki etc. The LDF government will not tolerate any attempts to create communal disturbances in the state and deal firmly with those making such attempts.
LDF supporters celebrating victory in Thiruvananthapuram
m Any other notable feature of this election?
Well, apart from minorities, the LDF made impressive gains among women. I had reported 59 odd cases related to sex racket in the last five years to both A K Antony and Oommen Chandy during their tenures as chief ministers of the state. But no action was taken against the culprits. Apart from ice-cream parlor case, Kiliroor, Kaviyoor, Kottiyam cases had hit headlines. Many women activists resorted to agitation against these sexual assaults and government’s inaction. These agitations helped us to garner the support of women. The women voted in favor of the LDF. Our seven women candidates won the election, at the same time no UDF woman candidate could win their election. The interesting thing is that many UDF leaders including ministers like, K K Ramachandran, A Sujanapal, M V Raghavan, Gowri Amma, K K Dominic, former minister R Balakrishnapillai, UDF convenor P P Thankachan lost the elections.
m In the backdrop of the campaign of LDF being anti-development, what will be your government's efforts in developing industrial sector, particularly IT?
Our new government will leave no stone unturned in developing and attracting new investments in the field of Information Technology. Many IT giants have already met me and offered to start their projects in Kerala. They are ready to provide thousands of employment opportunities to IT professionals in our state. At the same time we will definitely take care of the peasants and traditional industries, which have suffered worst neglect during the UDF regime.
m What is your action plan in dealing with the agrarian crisis in the state.
The UDF has never applied its mind to support the suffering peasants in Wynad district, where 1540 farmers committed suicide. The pathetic condition of farmers due to the acute crisis in peasantry was not appropriately reported to the central government. This inaction caused non-availability of central assistance.
Our government has decided to write off the debt of those farmers who committed suicide and we will take care of farmers who are in a debt-trap. Addressing agrarian crisis will be one of the top priorities of the LDF government in the coming period. We have to mitigate the suffering of peasants.
m Typically, Kerala has a record of voting out the incumbent government every five years unlike in Bengal where the Left Front is in power continuously for the last 29 years. Any thoughts on this?
(Laughing) We will try this time to beat the record of change in government every five years and try to emulate Bengal experience. However it all depends on our work.