(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 13, 2011
Kerala Shows the Way
THE people of Kerala elected the first Communist government in April 1957, fifty four years ago. The EMS Namboodiripad ministry was a trail blazer. The EMS ministry took pioneering steps for land reforms; enhancing the minimum wage and initiating social welfare measures; democratising the educational system; decentralising the administration and adopting a pro-people police policy.
The first Communist ministry was undemocratically dismissed by the Congress government at the centre, but its 28 month existence unleashed the powerful currents of agrarian reforms and democratic transformation, the impact of which is still unfolding in Kerala and the country.
The policies adopted by the EMS government were shaped by the powerful mass movements and class struggles that Kerala witnessed from the mid-1930s – the peasant movement against landlordism in Malabar, the working class movement in Alleppey and the movements for social reform. The peasant struggles of North Malabar and the Punnapra Vayalar struggle in the late forties symbolised the height of the anti-feudal and anti-imperialist struggles.
The subsequent Left-led governments in 1967, 1980, 1987, 1996 and the LDF government elected in 2006 were the products of the ceaseless struggles of the working people of Kerala. The public action initiated by the Left created a social model in Kerala which is unique. There is full literacy in Kerala; the infant mortality rate (12 out of 1000) is the lowest in the country; the health and social indicators are the best in the country. Kerala, despite the neo-liberal onslaught, still has one of the best public distribution systems in the country. These social advances have taken place because every section of the people are organised to fight for their collective rights. The influence of the Left vision has permeated all political activities and this has ensured that these social gains are not endangered even when the Left is not running the state government.
The neo-liberal policies pursued by the Congress-led UPA government have threatened the hard won gains in Kerala. The agrarian crisis has had a specific impact in Kerala due to the cash crop dominated agrarian economy. The trade liberalisation and the opening up of the economy to agricultural imports adversely affected the farmers. The ASEAN Free Trade Agreement is one such example. The targeted PDS and the cuts in supplies of foodgrains have affected the universal PDS that existed in Kerala. The squeeze on resources to the states has hampered the development of infrastructure and public investment in health and education.
Yet despite these severe constraints and obstacles, the LDF government in Kerala has made significant progress in developing material production in industry and agriculture and registered splendid achievements in social welfare measures.
Some of these should be mentioned here. No other state has brought about a turnaround in public sector enterprises as Kerala has done. In 2005-06, majority of the state public sector undertakings were running at a loss. In 2009-10, out of the 37 companies in the industries department, 32 have become profitable.
Behind this turn-around has been the initiatives taken to reorganise the management, restructuring of the PSUs, strategic tie-ups with central PSUs and eliciting full cooperation of the workers and the staff. The Kerala experience of the four and half years has shown that the public sector can be made viable and make a valuable contribution to material production and public services. This is an effective counter to the neo-liberal propaganda against the public sector.
Despite the difficulties created by the neo-liberal policies pursued by the central government, the LDF government has put in place certain policies to raise production and adopted measures to provide assistance and relief to different sections of the working people. Some of these are:
i) The government is providing foodgrains at Rs 2 per kg to 25 lakh families by bringing the workers of the unorganised sector into the ambit of the BPL category. Under the cooperative network, more than 50,000 retail outlets have been arranged for sale of essential commodities at prices ranging from 15 to 45 per cent less than the open market.
ii) Setting up of Debt Relief Commission to provide relief for indebted farmers. Under the Food Security Programme, 15,000 hectares of fallow land has been brought under rice cultivation and an additional production of 1.25 lakh tonnes of paddy was achieved. Procurement price of paddy was hiked from Rs 7 per kg to Rs 13 per kg, the highest in the country.
iii) A comprehensive health insurance scheme has been introduced for 18 lakh families and the effort is to raise the number of beneficiaries to 35 lakhs from the coming financial year.
iv) Under the EMS housing scheme, 3.5 lakh houses have been constructed till date and the aim is to provide house sites and houses to all landless and houseless families under the BPL category.
v) An income support scheme was introduced for fishermen, coir, khadi and handloom workers; minimum wages have been fixed or revised for the first time for industrial workers in the unorganised sectors covering about 65 lakh out of the 80 lakh workers in the state.
vi) Provision of debt relief to fishermen amounting to Rs 380 crore which has benefited more than 80,000 fisher folk families. As a result of Matsyakeralam Project, inland fish production increased from the current level of 0.75 lakh tonnes to 1.03 lakh tonnes.
vii) Pattas have been given to 1,20,300 landless poor for house sites in the past four years. 10,000 tribal families have been vested with land under the Forest Tribal Rights Act.
viii) 50 per cent of the seats in panchayats and local bodies have been reserved for women.
The Kerala budget for 2011-12 placed recently is a good contrast to the union budget with its anti-people neo-liberal prescriptions. The range and enhancement of the social welfare measures are remarkable. One instance can be cited. There will be a Rs 10,000 endowment in the name of every child born in the state. At the plus two stage in school, the principal and interest accumulated can be used for getting a bank loan for further education or a skill enhancement training or for self-employment. Those not in the BPL category will have to contribute half the endowment amount.
This is the record with which the LDF is going to the people in the assembly elections. The opposition consists of the UDF, a Congress-led coalition which is backed by various caste and communal forces. Not only is the Congress coalition plagued with corruption scandals at the centre, it is tarnished by corruption cases in the state. In the recent period, one of the former ministers of an earlier UDF government was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment by the Supreme Court in a corruption case. In the case of another former minister Kunhalikutty, a reinvestigation has been ordered in a sex scandal case and how it was covered up. In contrast, the LDF government headed by V S Achuthanandan has established its credentials as a fighter against corruption.
The CPI(M) and the LDF are going into the electoral battle with a platform of ensuring a pro-people path of development as against the neo-liberal policies; of defending and expanding the social gains of the people and of building a secular and harmonious society.