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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 23, May 23, 2009

Communist Parties have Let Down the People in Kerala

Saturday 23 May 2009, by K Saradamoni

On May 18, 2009, the ruling CPI-M-led government in Kerala completed three years in office. There would have been rejoicing even if they did not take stock of their successes and failures. But now a reason has come for them to do not only that, but serious introspection and stock-taking too. The reason: their pathetic failure in the recent Lok Sabha elections. One would say that they would do it without anybody’s prompting. There is a difference, which I shall explain. Three years back the people of Kerala gave overwhelming support to the Left parties to take over the responsibility of ruling the State believing that there would be days ahead which would bring them security, and assurance of basic needs of life including food, and water. And the experience?

The people in Kerala are exposed to violence of sorts. Women face violence within and outside their homes. The “sex racket” was a serious issue even before the present government came to power. In fact women’s organisations had brought this question to the present government and particularly the Chief Minister soon after they assumed office. Nothing has been done in the last three years. On the contrary abuse of women, children and the elderly continue.

On the economic front, unemployment, which was always a grave issue in Kerala, has been assuming new heights since the start of the global economic crisis and return of the workers from the Middle Eastern countries. Price rise, increasing disparity between the poor and the rich, in a manner the State has never seen before—are all disturbing. Above all, the break-up in human bindings within the family and outside at a time when cooperation and solidarity are essential, cannot be ignored or seen lightly.

Even before the new economic ‘reforms’ under the auspices of globalisation and instructions from corporate powers started, the government had washed its hands off the responsibility of creating jobs. That is partly the reason why the Kerala governments (both LDF and UDF) neglected agriculture and allied occupations. We cannot believe that successive governments did not see the paddy lands dwindling and disappearing. If Singur and Nandigram did not happen here it is because Kerala had managed to make the small farmer give away his land either on sale or convert the land for purposes other than cultivtion. With land less than many other States in India, the present government behaves as if they would appear old-fashioned and backward looking if they do not have smart cities, twin cities, IT parks, amusement parks and never ending institutions for higher education and research. These have come as a result of the faulty notion of development.

Development has to be redefined. The word development is heard everywhere. Mostly it means broad roads full of cars and vehicles, flyovers, huge air-conditioned buildings where people work for long hours without fresh air and light, outfits for outsourced jobs done by young women and men working when they should be sleeping, five-star hotels and hospitals, big shopping complexes and malls. Kerala has their share of all these. In addition the State has foreign and Indian companies working in techno parks where young women and men work on jobs which pay high salaries. They form a new middle class, having disposable income which is easily being snatched by the jewellery, textile and other shops displaying fancy ware. There is not a single day when a new shop is not being opened. That too by popular film stars. What is wrong with all this?—can be a pertinent question. True. But what is not understood is that Kerala has been converted to a big market. A section of the not well-to-do and the deprived also get attracted to the mess of consumerism from which they will never escape. I know many domestic helps, daily wage workers, coconut tree climbers, people engaged in the fishery sector who have debts in lakhs of rupees. How do they manage this? Borrow from different sources. Interest rate? Not always known. Reason? First, dowry and other expenses for daughter’s marriage, treatment in hospitals, to return earlier debts. Already, occasional news of suicides by individuals and entire families because debts could not be paid, come to us. One should not be surprised if their number increases.

Inequality on the basis of caste distances has been to a large extent replaced by money and what it can do is the feature of present-day Kerala. A peace loving people, who happily led a simple life, have been changed to a violent mass without any sense of shame in displaying vulgar wealth. Full freedom is given to make money by any means. The word mafia has suddenly become a commonly used word in Malayalam. There is the real estate, sand, drinking water, spirit, illegal tree cutting and various other mafias actively engaged in their respective activities without fear. They spread fear in other peoples.

With abundant sunshine, sea coast, wind and small streams the government could have engaged their collective wisdom to produce alternate, pollution-free energy for the entire population and set an example.

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What have all these to do with the present elections? Much, because it is the job of any political party aspiring to reach the top to rule to know what happens to the people, what their aspirations are, how they live and where the society is going. This is what the earlier Communist leaders of Kerala excelled in. The present leaders, who got full fledged emotional and intellectual support from the people, spent their time in infighting and arguments which could easily have got sorted out through dialogue without publicity. Every word, move, even body language came to be seen by the people and they came again and again on the TV screen. It is not the fault of the media, it is their job.

Another important reason for the CP leaders to come out with honest, clear and convincing reasons for their defeat is that some of the prominent national media have already told the world that the weight of the Left is off the back of the Prime Minister and that he can now go ahead boldly with the ‘reforms’. The Left has to spare all their energy and time to come up with viable alternatives which are being carried out in many countries including the USA. The people should also be equipped to think of alternatives, employment generation, review of the existing wages/salaries/income deciding factors etc. It is essential for the CP leaders to know that their support base was not only members of the party, but a sizeable section of the citizens who believed that the Left would give them clean, efficient, just and transparent administration. Their trust has been hurt. The leaders of the Communist Parties have to heal that hurt and regain the trust. It would pay much more than carrying on with intra-party and inter-party feuds.

Tailpiece: For relaxation, fun and serious thinking the CP leaders in Kerala may see Srinivasan Cinema Arabikkadha.

The author is a renowned economist and concerned social activist based in Thiruvananthapuram.

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