People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
June 10, 2007
Kerala: A Great Leap Forward
K N Harilal
THE appreciation and support that the LDF government received on the occasion of its first anniversary in office was overwhelming. This was reflected in the newspaper editorials, special articles commissioned on the occasion by the print media, channel discussions, opinion polls, and other fora where experts as well as laymen expressed their views. In fact, this general mood of approval appears to have influenced even the opposition spokespersons, as reflected in their unusually subdued criticism of the government. The warmth with which the people celebrated the first anniversary of the LDF government in Kerala is an eye-opener for politicians who fear the ‘anti-incumbency’ factor, especially for the UPA leadership, which refuses to take note of the hardships caused to the people by the neo-liberal policies.
There is no magic or mantra behind the success of the LDF government in Kerala except that it has been trying with full commitment to practice the politics of the Left in India, which offers a fighting alternative to the neo-liberal policies. The new government has a well-set programme of action as clearly spelt out in the LDF’s election manifesto and the state’s five-year plan documents. This programme of action in turn is the product of long years of struggle of the people against the Indian ruling class and its hostile policies. The latest episode in this saga of struggles, viz., the five years of resistance against the neo-liberal policies of the previous UDF government, which was also a struggle to protect the gains of progressive reforms of the past, deserves special mention here. Obviously, this resistance movement had a decisive role in shaping up the LDF’s election manifesto and the programme of action of the new government.
For instance, the most popular initiative of the new government, viz., the Munnar model action against encroachment of public and common property resources, which is continuing to generate fresh waves of popular enthusiasm and support in every nook and corner of the state, is best understood in the background of the struggle against the UDF rule. In fact, the UDF government was striving to convert Kerala into a model state in implementing the so-called second-generation reforms. The principal mission of the second-generation reforms was to make the states compete for private corporate sector investment from within and outside the country. That the neo-liberal reformers succeeded in generating such competition is clear from the race among the states in announcing sops of all sorts to the investors, including tax concessions, immunity from labour and environmental regulations, free or cheap land, infrastructure support, etc. In its bid to outsmart other state governments the UDF government in Kerala had organised several road shows in different parts of the world including the notorious Global Investor’s Meet (GIM) in Kochi. Even though the GIM was a big flop it generated an environment of anarchy conducive for massive encroachment of pubic and common property resources. The encroachers, in the garb of ‘investors’, intruded into common property resources of all types such as forests, hills, rivers and streams, backwaters, fresh water lakes, ponds and tanks, ground water, and the beaches along the coastline!
The UDF government did practically nothing to check this great march of encroachers except abetting the invasion in all possible ways. But there was no option for the people of the state, especially the working class and the peasantry and their organisations, but to resist because the loss of common property resources almost always harmed the conditions of their survival in innumerable ways. The fight for protecting public and common property resources thus has become one of the most prominent fronts of class struggle in the state. Many groups of environmentalists also came forward to put up a common front against the greed of the encroachers disguised as investors. It was in this context that the Plachimada agitation against the US soft drink companies Coke and Pepsi for drying up and polluting the drinking water sources of nearby villages flared up. The Kovalam agitation against encroachment of the beach and the ancient Halsian Palace, the movements to protect Vembanadu Lake, rivers Nila, Periyar, and Pampa, the protest against mining of black sand in Alappuzha coast, etc., are good examples of heroic fight by the people to protect their common property. The action in Munnar, carefully planned to evict large-scale encroachments into the forests, cardamom reserves, revenue purampoke (wasteland), and land owned by government departments or semi-government institutions, was an attempt to carry forward the legacy of such agitations to protect public/ common property resources. The success in Munnar prompted people in most other parts of the state to identify similar encroachments and demand eviction. The revenue authorities, and the special taskforces constituted in every district are busy following up the complaints against encroachers. The revenue department has already reported recovery of 669 acres besides identifying thousands of hectares to be recovered soon.
The market fundamentalists must be worried about the adverse impact of such State intervention on investor sentiments because for them investors should be privileged over the rest of the society and even the future generations. It was this pro-capital bias of the ideology of the UDF that led the previous government to negotiate an agreement with the Dubai based TECOM to set up a Smart City in Kochi, which was heavily loaded in favour of the foreign company. The LDF opposed the agreement citing unacceptable conditions such as the transfer of government owned Infopark, granting of monopoly right to exclude others from establishing IT parks in the district, unacceptably low land prices, outright sale of land to the foreign company, low equity participation of the state government, liberal provisions for the use of land for non-IT speculative purposes, etc. The LDF government wasted no time in renegotiating the agreement with TECOM taking care of literally every point of criticism that was raised earlier. The new agreement does not involve transfer of Infopark, it grants no monopoly right to the TECOM, manages several fold increase in land prices, assures 26 per cent equity participation for the state government and imposes strict limits on the use of land for non-IT uses, besides switching the mechanism of land transfer to a lease deed. The media celebrated the new accord comparing the draft agreement of the UDF and the final agreement signed by the new government. The Smart City project in Kochi will usher in a new era of accelerated development in IT and related areas besides helping the state in attracting investment in its own terms.
The class bias of the UDF government was evident in its policy towards the public sector too. Taking cue from its all India leadership and armed with the R C Chauduri Committee report the UDF wanted to disinvest and destroy the public sector units in the state. But for the incessant struggles by the trade unions, ably supported by the Left parties, most of the units would have disappeared during the previous regime. An important achievement of the new LDF government is the revival of public sector units. In 2005-06 only 12 out of 42 companies under the industries department reported profit, in 2006-07 it increased to 22. The dismal picture of a combined loss of Rs 63 crore in 2005-06 has been turned around to a net profit of Rs 93 crore. The turnaround in public sector units should be seen as an indicator of many good things happening in the industrial sector including inflow of private investment and launching of new joint sector projects.
MEASURES IN AGRICULTURAL SECTOR
The biggest challenge that the new government encountered on assuming power was the crisis in the agricultural sector. One of the first things that the new government did was to declare a moratorium on all recovery activities related to agricultural debt. It was followed up by the decision to write off agricultural loan liabilities of the farmers who committed suicide. Further, with the help of the union government a relief package was introduced in Wayanad, Palakkad and Kasargod districts for mitigating the distress of debt-stressed farmers. Under this package loan accounts of farmers were rescheduled, interest liabilities were fully waived, and fresh finance assured. The massive scale of such interventions is obvious from the fact that the amount of interest waived till March 2007 was to the tune of Rs 218 crore. Moreover a Debt Relief Act was passed and a commission appointed to examine complaints of debt-stressed farmers on a case-by-case basis and issue suitable awards for settling the debt. However, the debt relief or for that matter the central government’s new move to facilitate penetration of corporate capital into agriculture will not solve the crisis in the sector. It will require comprehensive measures to ensure remunerative prices to the peasants such as protection from unjust competition from abroad and planned intervention in the domestic market to regulate prices. But, the neo-liberal mindset continues to prevent the central government from initiating such bold measures. In this context the lessons of the state government’s intervention in the rice sector assumes special importance. The advance assurance to procure rice at Rs 8.50 per kilogram and its fulfillment has done wonders in the sector. The tendency of continuous decline in area under cultivation of paddy got arrested. Further, production of rice registered nearly 30 per cent increase over the previous year indicating stepped up efforts on the part of cultivators. In spite of financial and other constraints, which limit states, the LDF government in Kerala is preparing to extend the programme of market intervention to other crops.
The lack of sensitivity of the legal system had failed what would have been a model legislation for the rest of the country introduced in Kerala to effect social control over the menace of self-financing professional colleges. But, the stamp of LDF rule is already visible in the school sector, which report all round improvement in various indicators including examination results. It is impossible to list all the major achievements and do justice to the government in a brief review like this. The message however is clear. The LDF government has already achieved a great leap forward for the state in almost every sphere of governance and development. It has instilled new faith and expectations in the minds of the people. It has scaled new heights of popular support, besides gaining respect of the intelligentsia and the media. And most importantly, it achieved all this not by compromising but upholding basic tenets of working class politics in India.