People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 23, 2006
CPI(M) state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan addressing an election rally.
THE first round of polling in Kerala will take place in the six districts of Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Pathanamthita, Alappuzha, Idukki and Kottayam which account for 59 out of the 140 seats in the state assembly. I had been in Kerala for three days to participate in the election campaign in
Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Alappuzha districts. The situation has developed favourably for the Left and Democratic Front. All the poll analysis and commentaries in the media are putting the LDF ahead of the United Democratic Front led by the Congress. The five-year rule of the UDF has led to widespread discontent.
The campaign of the UDF is centered upon only one issue i.e. development. The chief minister, Oomen Chandy, claims that Kerala has been set on the path of all-round development under UDF rule and if any lapses are there it is only because of the opposition of the CPI(M) to the government’s developmental plans. This is not cutting any ice with the people.
The five-year rule of the UDF has been marked by a serious agrarian crisis and decline in industry. The prices of majority of the cash crops, except for rubber and coconut at present, have plummeted in the range of one-third to one-fifth of the prices that prevailed in the mid 1990s. Under the LDF government, during the Ninth Plan 7.2 per cent of the total funds were allocated for agriculture, but this was reduced to 4.5 per cent during the Tenth Plan period under the UDF. Due to the acute distress, more than 1500 farmers committed suicide, mainly in Wayanad district, which is unprecedented in the history of
The UDF government’s policies towards the state’s traditional industries such as coir, cashew and handloom have resulted in the livelihood of tens of thousands of families being adversely affected. Twenty-five state public sector undertakings were closed down during the UDF regime. Hundreds of small and medium factories shut down and the rate of factories registered declined. The development proclaimed by the UDF and the Congress leadership sounds hollow given the crisis in agriculture, traditional industries and the consequent loss of employment making a mockery of the UDF’s election promise to create 15 lakh fresh job opportunities.
The new projects coming up are in the sphere of the central government such as the Vallarpadam Container Terminal and the Vizhinjam port cannot be solely credited to the UDF government as these were proposed earlier and were pursued at the centre by the LDF MPs for their clearance and speedy execution.
Worse still is the record of the A K Antony and Oomen Chandy governments in the educational and social spheres. The brazen commercialisation of higher education with the indiscriminate opening up of self-financing professional colleges free from regulations has led to making higher education exorbitantly expensive and outside the reach of even the middle class families. The public distribution system, which was considered the best in the country, has been whittled down with the government pushing out more families out of the BPL category. The social crisis is also manifest in the rise of criminal activities and mafia gangs in the cities, spurt in cases of sexual exploitation and trafficking in women. Two ministers had to resign on corruption charges and another Muslim League minister in a case of sexual exploitation.
A disturbing feature under the UDF rule was the rise in communal incidents beginning with the Marad killings. The cynical promotion of caste and communal forces by the UDF in the 2001 assembly elections has led to pernicious consequences. There have been several incidents of communal violence in which 16 people lost their lives and scores were injured. The UDF leadership not only refused to condemn the RSS gangs targeting the CPI(M) but also withdrew some cases against RSS activists.
The CPI(M) and the LDF led many struggles against the harmful policies of the UDF government. These protest actions were met with repression. Particularly brutal were the police attacks on the student movement led by the SFI which was protesting against the commercialisation of education.
It is the cumulative effect of all these factors which led to the erosion of popular support for the UDF and the alienation of sections of people who were its supporters. Just as the UDF managed to forge a formidable combination of caste and communal forces against the LDF in 2001, this time thanks to the misdeeds of the UDF government, people belonging to all caste and communities have turned against it. This is reflected also in the stand taken by some caste and communal organisations. Some have declared support for the LDF or announced their neutrality. As far as the BJP is concerned, after polling their full strength of 12 per cent in the Lok Sabha elections, the party’s support base has begun to disintegrate. Degeneration of the BJP was witnessed in earlier elections when its leaders would “sell” their votes to the UDF. It has now reached a level where that vote itself may disintegrate. It will not be possible for the BJP/RSS combine to transfer all its votes as it intends.
The LDF has set out an election manifesto which has comprehensively dealt with the situation facing Kerala society. It has put out a blueprint for reviving agriculture, the traditional industries and fisheries. The agriculture sector would get 10 per cent of the plan funds during the Eleventh Plan which should ensure a Rs 30,000 crore package for the next five years. In the industrial sphere, priority is given to information technology, biotechnology and tourism. NRI investment would be channelised towards material commodity producing sectors through the setting up of a financial institution. The manifesto pays special attention to the social sector. Public education would be strengthened and the present policy of higher education geared to the affluent would be changed. Improvement of the health system, the introduction of a universal rationing system and houses for all homeless families in five years would be provided for. The process of democratic decentralisation would be strengthened. A separate women’s development department and special courts to deal with sexual harassment cases would be set up. These are some of the features of the manifesto on the basis of which the LDF has gone to the people seeking a mandate.
The advance of the CPI(M) and the LDF is meeting with vicious resistance. K P Valsalan, the chairman of the Chavakad municipality in Thrissur district was brutally murdered on April 16, 2006 when he was busy with election work. He was stabbed to death by supporters of the Indian Union Muslim League. Another comrade, Akbar, who was also a member of the municipal committee was grievously injured in the cold-blooded attack by the gang who waylaid them. Chavakad falls in the Guruvayur constituency. Only last month, I had been to Chavakad to inaugurate the CPI(M) area committee office named after Ho Chi Minh. I had met Valasalan there and congratulated him and his comrades for the work of the Party in the area. The murderous attack which claimed his life was due to the success of winning over the Muslim masses of the area to the Party. The advance in the election struggle is based on the sacrifices made by innumerable comrades like Valsalan. Thrissur district observed a total hartal to protest the heinous killing on the day of his funeral.
The LDF campaign highlights the important role of the Left at the national level in the present political situation. The victory of the LDF will strengthen the Left’s intervention further. The Left stand in pressing the UPA government to implement the pro-people measures of the CMP, opposition to privatisation of profitable PSUs, FDI in retail trade and to the UPA government’s pro-US foreign policy stance such as on the Iran nuclear issue, are also being taken to the people.
At the conclusion of the first round of the campaign the state Party leadership is confident that the LDF will emerge victorious and there will be a LDF government in the state when the votes are counted on May 11. The response that I saw to the LDF campaign in the three districts confirms this assessment.