Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Kerala seeks fresh investments amid global slowdown

Even as the recession exported by the United States is slowing down economies around the world and capital is becoming increasingly scarce, Kerala is seeking fresh private investment in various sectors.

Last week the state government placed before an invited gathering of Non-Resident Keralites 60 tourism schemes requiring investment ranging from Rs. 10 million to Rs. 4 billion. Tourism Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said later that investment of the order of Rs 10 billion was expected.

He added that the government would encourage NRKs to form companies and use their resources to develop tourist facilities in their own places.

Also last week the Kerala Chamber of Commerce and Industry released a study report which indicates that, apart from tourism, there are a dozen sectors which offer scope for profitable investment. These include processing of spices, products based on coconut, engineering, education, Ayurveda and, of course, information technology.
The Chamber commissioned the study in advance of the global investor meet, which it plans to hold in April, to promote capital flow to the state.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which heads the government, has put behind it the controversy over the role of private capital. Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, who was considered an opponent of foreign capital, said the other day that it can be accepted if it is in the state’s interests.

Achuthanandan’s clarification came after party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan’s chief lieutenants, Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac and Industry Minister Elamaram Kareem, emphatically argued that the state needs to attract private investment.
Thomas Isaac has indicated that in the next state budget he will go all out to encourage the inflow of private capital. According to him, that is the only way to overcome the effects of the global economic slowdown.

He has set two primary budgetary goals for the next financial year. One is strengthening of social security measures in the context of the economic crisis. The other is raising of capital investment from the current level of Rs 300 billion to Rs 500 billion. This, he says, can only be done by attracting private capital on a large scale.

Thomas Isaac has evolved a strategy to overcome the restrictions on borrowing by the state government. He proposes to encourage local bodies and public undertakings to go in for maximum loans. The state government will provide guarantee for their loans.

The report of the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, which was asked by the government to study the likely impact of the global meltdown on the state’s economy, also lays emphasis on the need to attract private capital.
According to the CDS, credit availability is likely to decline in spite of the measures taken by the Central government. It points out that the global crisis has had a perceptible impact on the state’s traditional exports already. There may also be a drop in tourist arrivals.

While the state government may not be able to adopt pro-active strategies with regard to provision of credit, the CDS says it may consider using the cooperative banking network to help small and medium enterprises and exporters of products like cashew.

The government cannot do much to boost the demand for the state’s traditional exports. However, it can take steps to raise the ability of commercial crop growers and workers to withstand the effect of a decline in the prices of export products.
The CDS report says, “The crisis should not lead to panic reactions like suicides by the affected people. However knee-jerk reactions like writing off credits at the time of such crises are not sustainable.”

Although there may not be any immediate fall in foreign remittances, the mainstay of the state’s economy, the report cautions that the West Asian countries may reduce investment activity in the light of the fall in oil prices.

It estimates that the global crisis may reduce the growth rate of the state’s economy by two to three percent and lead to an increase the government’s revenue deficit.

The 98-page report goes beyond the immediate problem of mitigating the effects of the economic crisis and discusses such matters as raising the state’s capacity to face crises, strengthening social security, stimulating the economy and improving governance.

Pointing out that institutional rigidities are preventing optimal use of Kerala’s resources, including human capital, the report urges the government to use the window of opportunity provided by the global crisis to usher in reforms. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 29, 2008.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Political appointees fight to put the lid on job scandals


POLITICAL party nominees on the Kerala University and the State Public Service Commission have gone to court in a desperate bid to put the lid on job scandals that have surfaced in the two institutions.

The State government has helped the members of the University Syndicate and the Public Service Commission to fight their political battle at the taxpayers' expense by remaining a silent spectator instead of taking timely action.

The university matter relates to alleged irregularities in the appointment of grade II assistants.

The appointments were made on the basis of a rank list prepared after a written examination and interviews.

A Syndicate constituted during the previous United Democratic Front regime was in office when the university conducted the written examination.

It entrusted an external agency with the task of evaluating the answer papers.

The interviews were conducted by the present Syndicate formed after the Left Democratic Front came to power in 2006.

Upa-Lokayukta N. Krishnan Nair looked into the matter on a petition by Sujith S. Kurup, a Congress student leader and former university senate member, alleging that there had been nepotism and corruption.

The university could not produce the answer books of the written examination before him.

The Upa-Lokayukta found that liberal award of interview marks had enabled several candidates to push behind those who had obtained high marks in the written examination.

The main beneficiaries were relatives of Communist Party of India- Marxist (CPI-M) leaders or members of the party's youth and student affiliates.

He recommended cancellation of all appointments and scrapping of the rank list. Holding that former Vice-Chancellor MK Ramachandran Nair, Pro-Vice-Chancellor V. Jayaprakash and Syndicate members BS Rajeev, AA Rasheed, MP Russel and KA Andrew had displayed favouritism, nepotism and political patronage, he asked that legal action be taken against them. Education Minister MA Baby, who is Pro-Chancellor of the university, told the media the government would act after studying the Upa-Lokayukta's order.

However, there was no action of any kind.

The CPI-M dominated Syndicate decided to move the High Court against the Upa-Lokayukta's finding.

The university, which was not cited as a party in the proceedings, is bearing the legal expenses of the indicted officers and Syndicate members.

The Public Service Commission matter relates to reservation.

Some unsuccessful backward class candidates, in a petition filed in the High Court, questioned the reservation formula applied by the Commission.

Upholding their contention that the formula worked to the disadvantage of backward class candidates, the court asked that the practice of making appointments in blocks of 20 be done away with.

All vacancies must be divided into merit and reservation seats on 50:50 basis and filled, it said.

The 20-point roster system, introduced on the basis of rules framed by the State government 50 years ago, has apparently helped forward class candidates by restricting the number of backward class candidates who qualify for appointment on merit basis.

However, until now it had not invited any serious objection.

As the rule-making authority, it was for the State government to take action in the light of the High Court verdict.

It could have amended the rules to comply with the court's directive or appealed to the Supreme Court against it.

However, it took no action. Meanwhile the Public Service Commission decided to file an appeal.

The Commission has 18 members, all nominees of different political parties. The ruling front usually divides the membership among its constituents.

A few years ago there were media reports that aspirants were offering money for party nomination.

The Commission's decision to approach the court is questionable since its role is limited to giving effect to the government's decisions in the matter.

If an appeal was called for, it was for the government, which is the rule making authority, to move the court.

The Nair Service Society, which has consistently taken up cudgels on behalf of the forward classes, has also approached the Supreme Court.

The Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam and some Muslim bodies have decided to intervene to protect backward class interests.

The government's initial inaction is generally attributed to its reluctance to displease the forward classes.

After backward class organisations staged a rally outside the Public Service Commission's office to protest against its taking up the forward classes' cause, the government dissociated itself from the Commission's move.

It looks like a case of running with the hare and hunting with the hound.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 22, 2008.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Kerala CPI-M factions appear set for fight to finish


SECTARIANISM in the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which subsided after secretary Pinarayi Vijayan tightened his grip over its state unit this year, is in full cry again.

This time, the leadership appears to be ready for a fight to the finish.

The state party has been faction-ridden for years.

At one stage, in a bid to check sectarianism, the central leadership suspended both Vijayan and VS Achuthanandan from the Politburo.

The suspension was withdrawn before the Assembly elections.

The sectarian strife is essentially a power struggle.

Before the poll there was a build-up in Vijayan's favour. He led a march from Kasergode to Thiruvananthapuram, and all along the route, party units organised breakfast meetings for him to interact with social and business leaders.

Some interest groups presented to him memoranda outlining what they expected the CPI-M-led government to do for them.

Simultaneously there was a move to keep Achuthanandan away from the election scene.

Pinarayi loyalists branded him as "anti-development" and argued that the party would lose if he led the election campaign.

The Politburo's decision that both Achuthanandan and Vijayan should stay out of contests dashed the former's chief ministerial hopes and left the door open for Vijayan or his nominee to head the government after the elections.

Achuthanandan's supporters revolted, forcing the Politburo to allow him to contest.

After the Left Democratic Front's sweeping victory, the party could not deny Achuthanandan the chief minister's post.

The state party leadership, therefore, tried to clip his wings.

It expelled KM Shahjehan, who, as additional private secretary to the leader of the opposition, was believed to have helped him to build a populist image.

It denied Achuthanandan elbow room by packing the cabinet with Pinarayi followers.

However, strife continued. Each side resorted to covert methods to defeat the other's moves. Thus, when the chief minister stood in the way of a loan agreement with the Asian Development Bank, in which the party leadership was interested, the Local Self-government minister sent an official to New Delhi without his knowledge to sign the deal.

The chief minister and the party secretary found themselves on opposite sides when the state government began eviction of encroachers in the hill resort of Munnar.

The infighting was so intense that many believed Achuthanandan would be forced out after the state party conference.

Although Pinarayi Vijayan emerged stronger from the party conference, the central leadership made it clear that it wanted Achuthanandan to continue as chief minister.

For a while, it looked as though factionalism had ended.

Last week's developments suggest that the two sides have begun an open clash which can only end with the loser's unceremonious ouster in typical Communist fashion.

The opening shots were fired by the chief minister's private secretary, S. Rajendran, and political secretary, KN Balagopal, who reportedly told the state committee that Achuthanandan was acting on the advice of a clique of outsiders.

They identified K. Suresh Kumar, an IAS officer, whom the chief minister had handpicked to head the Munnar operations, as a member of the clique.

Suresh Kumar, who was attached to the chief minister's office at one time, hit back with an accusation that Rajendran and Balagopal had blocked action on some important files, including that relating to the Kiliroor sex scandal in which Achuthanandan had taken keen interest as opposition leader.

The party immediately demanded action against Suresh Kumar for violating conduct rules of government officials.

At the chief minister's instance, the chief secretary called for an explanation from him.

Later the cabinet decided to suspend him without waiting for his explanation. There is more in the renewed outbreak of sectarianism than meets the eye.

There was a veneer of ideological differences in the exchanges between the two sides on issues like the ADB loan.

Personal elements vitiate the latest exchanges.

There have been insinuations that the sons of two ministers belonging to the Pinarayi faction are involved in the Kiliroor case, to which Suresh Kumar alluded CPI-M legislature party secretary P. Jayarajan accused Suresh Kumar of visiting New Delhi to contact officers investigating the Lavalin case.

One issue involved in the case, which the High Court has entrusted to the Central Bureau of Investigation, is Pinarayi Vijayan's role in the award of a contract to the Canadian firm SNC Lavalin when he was electricity minister.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 15, 2008

Monday, December 8, 2008

Kochi steadily becoming ungovernable city


OVER the years, the Kerala High Court has been flooded with petitions complaining of steady deterioration of conditions in Kochi, the state's largest city.

In exasperation, the court recently warned the City Corporation that it could be thrown out if it did not perform.

At the time of the 2001 census, the Kochi urban agglomeration had a population of 1.14 million. Out of this, only 564,000 lived in the Corporation area.

In the recent past, the city proper has witnessed massive construction activity and shown signs of evolving into a metropolis.

With some major projects like Smart City and the Vallarpadam container terminal on the way, the city is now set to grow at an accelerated rate.

One issue that came up before the High Court through a writ petition was the mosquito menace, which has dogged the city for as long as one can remember.

This, of course, is not a problem that can be solved through a judicial pronouncement. While the court made heroic efforts to press the authorities to act, the problem persists.

The Corporation's failure is most evident in the area of garbage clearance. The city, which generates about 250 tonnes of garbage daily, did not have a waste treatment plant until last year.

For years, the Corporation used the Willingdon Island as the dumping ground.

The Navy, which has establishments on the island, objected.

The Corporation then started dumping garbage at Brahmapuram, which it had picked for location of its waste treatment plant.

When residents of Brahmapuram protested, with no place to dump the waste, the civic body suspended garbage removal altogether, and the city began to stink.

The High Court then stepped in and directed the district collector to make the city free of garbage within five days.

Against this background, the High Court's warning to the Corporation, which has proved itself a colossal failure, comes as no surprise. Two questions arise in this context.

Is the problem one of inefficiency of the civic administration? Or is the city becoming ungovernable? Both the questions need to be answered in the affirmative.

The concept of governance is virtually unknown to the political parties, which gain control of the administration through elections.

To them, power is primarily a means to provide patronage and dispense favours. Narrow political considerations prevail in the selection of candidates for civic posts.

The choice of Mercy Williams to head the Kochi Corporation is a case in point. Under the system of reservation, it was the turn of a woman to be the Mayor. There was no record of public service or administrative experience to commend Mercy Williams, a former college teacher, for the post. The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) picked her because she belongs to a religious group which it was keen to cultivate.

The time has come for all parties, particularly the CPI-M, which controls most of the city corporations, municipal councils and village panchayats, to recognise that local administration means much more than selection of beneficiaries for welfare measures.

Improving Kochi's administration deserves urgent attention since failure to take timely action to develop infrastructure has already made the city somewhat ungovernable. A study, conducted by the Indian Institute of Architects some time ago, showed that unplanned urbanisation has resulted in water shortage, poor storm water management, inadequate waste disposal, destruction of natural heritage, etc.

To get a full measure of the problems of governance of the city, one has to take into account also matters like growth of the goonda menace and shrinkage of housing facilities for the poor, which do not fall within the sphere of the civic body.

Two private projects, a hi-tech city and a knowledge park, are expected to come up before the State government for approval this week. The promoters claim that they will create 100,000 jobs. Such big projects will accelerate the city's growth, making it even more ungovernable.

A metro rail project conceived as the answer to the city's traffic snarls is yet to get off the ground.

The Planning Commission wants it to be a public private participation project, but the State government is keen to keep the private sector out.

While the metro rail may ease inner-city traffic problems, it is likely to add to the city's woes by leading to further population concentration.

A more sensible approach may be to promote long-distance commuting which will help disperse the city's working population over a wider area. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 8, 2008.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Police prevents S.A.R. Geelani from speaking at Kochi

Delhi University lecturer S.A.R. Geelani, who was on a three-day visit to Kerala at the invitation of different Muslim organizations, was prevented by the police from addressing a public meeting at Kochi on Sunday.

Geelani, who was an accused in the Parliament attack case, was acquitted by the Supreme Court. However, the Sangh Parivar organizations have been carrying on a vicious campaign against him. Recently a leader of a Parivar youth organization had spat on him when he was attending a seminar in the university campus.

Geelani was to have addressed a public meeting at Alappuzha on Friday under the auspices of the Kerala Jamaat Council. Before the meeting began, the police withdrew the permission granted earlier and also cancelled the permit for use of mike. This forced the organizers to abandon the plan for a public meeting and hold a meeting in a hall.

On Saturday, Geelani was the chief guest at a human rights conference convened by the Jamaat Council at the Press Club hall. The conference, which I inaugurated, went off peacefully.

On Sunday, Geelani reached Kochi to speak at a function organised by the Minority Rights Watch. The police did not allow him to go to the venue of the meeting. He was also not allowed to go to Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer’s house to meet him.

It is reasonable to assume that the police action followed a political decision by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which heads the State government.

In a statement, Geelani said, “Under the pressure of some lumpen elements and from Sangh Parivar fascists, may be 20-25 people were protesting, police instead of allowing us to exercise our democratic right of gathering peacefully and discussing, the police seems to be encouraging the fascist elements and endangering the democratic space in India and the future of democracy

“I condemn this illegal and undemocratic attitude of police and the government of the state act against those police officers who are responsible for denying the people their democratic right and encouraging the fascists in the state.

“This lumpenism has become the culture of sangh parivar they have demonstrated it while killing Prof. Sabarwal at Ujjain and recent massacre Of Christians at Orissa, Kandhmal, raping nuns and the recent incidents at Karnataka as well.

“This is sheer fascism and terrorism which should not be tolerated and since sangh parivar claims that it represents the Indian culture, democratic loving people of India are duty bound to come out and condemn this fascism in unequivocal terms.

“Q) CPM who claims to be the champions of minority rights are leading the government in Kerala, what is your comment about today’s incidents in this particular situation of Kerala?

“Innocent Muslims in North India, Maharashtra, Gujarath are being victimised in the name of terrorism, so far this was not happening in Kerala. Unfortunately recent arrests of innocent Muslim youths makes it clear and exposes the claim of Government in Kerala of their being democratic and secular, I hope that good sense prevails and the people at the helm of affairs will take stock of the situation and refrain from victimising innocent Muslim youths.”

Establishment on wrong side in sexual harassment cases


FOR a state which boasts of remarkable social advancement, Kerala suffers from some serious problems.

The surest indication of this is the rising number of cases of sexual harassment. Almost invariably the Establishment finds itself on the wrong side in such cases.

The Supreme Court, while disposing of a case from Rajasthan in 1997, felt that the absence of specific legal provisions to deal with instances of sexual harassment at the workplace was a lacuna that needed to be remedied.

It laid down detailed guidelines to deal with such complaints.

The apex court directed that committees headed by women be set up in all offices to deal with complaints of sexual harassment.

It specifically stated that the committees must include representatives of non-government organisations.

Both the governments and the private employers were slow in responding to the directive.

When they set up committees they were often ineffective.

A study by the People's Union for Civil Liberties, a leading national human rights organisation, a few years later showed that the committees were not functioning the way the court expected.

Writing in the PUCL Bulletin, D. Nagasaila and V. Suresh said, committee members including NGO representatives sometimes embarrassed the complainants with questions and statements such as "Why do you prefer these complaints? As a woman you must learn to adjust and not complain. No other woman around you is complaining, so why are you doing it? You are overreacting and being hypersensitive. It is better for your career to withdraw this complaint."

One would have thought things would be different in Kerala with its unique social record. But from time to time evidence surfaces which shows that on gender issues the State is no better than the rest.

The latest instance comes from the Kerala State Public Services Commission, which has let off a senior official, who had attracted sexual harassment charge, with a mere censure.

He was due to retire from service this month and a severe punishment may have meant his having to quit in disgrace.

The charge against the official, Abu Saly, was that he had made an obscene remark to a woman employee. Geedha, another employee, objected to it and encouraged her colleague to file a complaint.

The employees' organisation rushed to the official's aid and Geedha was subjected to harassment and threats. The organisation arranged a formal send-off for Saly at the PSC office on Saturday, his last working day.

Human rights activists joined Geedha in a protest outside the office, which took the form of a symbolic "public trial."

Maithree Prasad, of the Forum against Harassment of Women and Workplace, said it was deplorable that the PSC should attempt to protect an official the charge against whom had been proved.

She pointed out that Geedha had been subjected to intimidation in the office since she raised the issue of sexual harassment in 2005.

A formal decision on the complaint was delayed until a few days before the official's retirement with a view to helping him to escape just punishment. She criticised the employees' organisation for the scant regard it showed to the dignity of woman employees.

Geedha's case parallels that of PE Usha, an employee of the Calicut University, who had lodged a complaint with the police alleging that she had been subjected to sexual harassment by a fellow-passenger while travelling by bus. The police did not move until strong public demand forced it to act.

The offender was subsequently convicted by a magistrate and sentenced to two years' rigorous imprisonment.

The CPI-M-led university employees' organisation used the occasion to settle scores with Usha, who was associated with a rival organisation.

It carried on a vilification campaign against her inside the campus, making it difficult for her to work there. She later took up another assignment on deputation.

Often, there is marked sympathy among the authorities for the offender in sexual harassment cases. This can be explained in terms of the male domination in the Establishment.

The Left movement, too, is not free from gender prejudices.

What is more, unions under its control are willing to go to any lengths to denigrate women who toe an independent line.

Both Usha and Geedha have been associated with movements which the CPI-M considers inimical to its interests.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 1, 2008.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

China allows farmers to sell land titles

In view of the controversy raging in Kerala over provision of land for industry and agriculture, I presume the recent policy changes made by China will be of interest to readers.

Those interested may see a critique of the Chinese Communist Party’s reform proposal, titled “China’s land reform will deepen the gulf between rich and poor” by John Chan, at the World Socialist Web Site.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Builders change strategy; land mafia's plans go awry


THERE is a slowdown on the real estate front in Kerala in the wake of the global financial meltdown and the construction industry has initiated measures to limit the damage.

Under the impact of the massive inflow of remittances from abroad, the State had been witnessing a construction boom for some years.

This attracted big real estate operators from outside the State, who promoted the concept of luxury apartments in and around the major cities.

Simultaneously, a land mafia with high political connections, especially with the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which currently heads the State government, appeared.

It started grabbing land and offering it to builders and industrialists.

The stock market collapse has curtailed the worth of the construction companies.

The general expectation is that the impact of the financial meltdown will be softened by the official efforts to usher in a low interest regime.

The builders appear to have evolved a two-pronged strategy to tide over the looming crisis.

Those with projects in advanced stages of construction have launched high pressure campaigns to sell all expensive flats before things get worse.

Those with projects in early stages are switching to construction of budget accommodation, sensing a drop in the demand for luxury apartments.

The land mafia, which scored spectacular early successes, appears to have run into trouble in recent days in circumstances that are far from clear.

The cancellation of two government notifications which were beneficial to it bears testimony to this.

One of these is the notification issued in September for the acquisition of 1,088 hectares of land in six panchayats of Thiruvananthapuram district, ostensibly for the Vizhinjam harbour project and allied activities.

The notification came as a bolt from the blue to the people as the State government, while promoting the ambitious project, had said there was no need to acquire any land for the proposed deep-sea harbour.

It claimed that only 200 hectares of land was needed for the project and this would be reclaimed from the sea.

The people living in the notified area suspected that the government was trying to take away their land, not for the construction of the harbour, but for "allied activities," which is a euphemism for commercial projects like hotels.

They rose in protest against the eviction move. They vowed not to surrender their land and asked the government to withdraw the notification.

At first, the government made a valiant effort to ride through the storm of protest. Law Minister M. Vijayakumar, who, as one of Thiruvananthapuram's legislators, has been an active promoter of the project, attributed the protest to machinations by a foreign lobby which feared that the Vizhinjam port would cut into the revenues of their own ports.

Last week, he was forced to change tack. He conceded that the government had erred in issuing the acquisition notification. The confession coincided with the government's decision to cancel the notification.

The handling of the Vizhinjam land issue is typical of the way the State administration tackles development projects.

In the absence of a detailed project report, there is no reliable estimate of the land required. In fact, so far there is no clear picture of even the contours of the project. The State government projects it as a major undertaking but the Union government does not endorse this view.

The State government also talks of having a ship-building unit at Vizhinjam, besides the harbour, where big vessels can berth.

A project of the size envisioned by the State government will certainly require more land than the 200 hectares it hopes to reclaim from the sea.

Vizhinjam and neighbouring panchayats are heavily populated, and several thousand families may have to be evicted.

The government is inviting trouble by trying to proceed in a surreptitious manner.
It must adopt a transparent approach. After working out the precise requirements, it must hold extensive consultations with people to work out a scheme which is acceptable to them also.

The other notification that the government felt compelled to withdraw had fixed 'fair' price for land at various places.

Registration authorities were required not to register any land sale at prices lower than what was indicated in it for the area.

The notification invited criticism on the ground that it had fixed very high rates for areas where there was less demand for land and very low rates for areas where there was more demand. This, it was alleged, was done to help the land mafia.

Revenue Minister KP Rajendran, who ordered withdrawal of the notification, has initiated steps to fix new rates.--Gulf Today, November 24, 2008.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Kashmir terror trail vanishes in Kerala’s political sands

Letter from Kerala
Indo-Asian News Service

A month after the Kerala police got on the job, investigators are yet to provide a satisfactory explanation for the presence of youths from the state among those killed in encounters with the security forces in a remote area of the Kashmir valley.When authorities in Jammu and Kashmir said four youths from Kerala were among those killed in two encounters at Kupwara early in October, the state police dismissed it. The Kashmir terrorists must have forged identification papers to create the impression that they were getting support even from distant Kerala, they claimed.

However, the evidence marshalled by the Kashmir authorities compelled a visiting police team to concede that the four men killed in Kupwara were indeed residents of Kannur, Malappuram and Ernakulam districts of Kerala. All four were Muslims, one of them a recent convert from Christianity.

There followed a well-publicized operation to track down various persons who were known to be in touch with those killed in Kashmir or were associated with suspect organizations like the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) or the National Development Front. The political parties announced anti-terrorist campaigns.
The police told the media that terrorist groups might have recruited as many as 300 men from Kerala. This upset the government. Both the chief minister and the acting home minister described the reports as exaggerated.

P.K. Hormis Tharakan, who has been director of the Research and Analysis Wing as well as state Director General of Police, said Keralites who joined terrorist outfits had done so for monetary gain, not ideological or religious reasons.
Four weeks later, seven people are in the police net. They are all from Kannur district, and none appears to be a big catch. It is not clear what charges the police plan to slap on them. And the terrorist hunt has gone into low gear.

The theory about the mercenary character of terror recruits sidesteps the fact that communal sentiments have been on the rise in the state in recent years. The trend is evident in varying degrees among Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike.
Kerala’s Muslims do not suffer from a minority complex. They form 24.7 percent of the state’s population, which makes them the largest single caste/religious group. Christians form 19 percent.

The Hindus’ nominal majority (56.2 per cent) is virtually nullified by the conflicting interests of major groups like the ‘forward’ Nairs (estimated at 19 per cent), the ‘backward’ Ezhavas (21 percent) and the marginalized Dalits and Adivasis (11 percent).

The campaign against the first Communist government of 1957-59 gave a new lease of life to caste and religious organizations, whose influence was on the decline after Independence. Since the United Democratic Front and the Left Democratic Front, currently the major contenders for power, are fairly well matched, the Congress and the Communist Party of India-Marxist, which lead them, spare no effort to gain the support of caste and religious groups.

The Congress deals with the communal parties, some of whom are in secular disguise, quite openly. The Indian Union Muslim League and most of the Kerala Congress factions are its allies in the UDF. E. Ahamed, the lone League MP from the state, is Minister of State for External Affairs in the Manmohan Singh government.

The CPI-M, which had accepted a breakaway League faction as ally at one time, has been less open in recent years. A Kerala Congress faction is the LDF’s only sectarian constituent now. On election eve, the CPI-M strikes private deals with various Muslim and Christian groups to boost the alliance’s prospects.
The 1990s witnessed an intensification of the communal mood, with various Hindu and Muslim organizations queering the pitch. It was at this stage that SIMI first attracted attention with the slogan “India’s liberation through Islam”. The Sangh Parivar organized ritual consecration of bricks at several places for construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. A fiery orator, Abdul Naser Mahdani, set up an Islamic Seva Sangh, patterned after the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).

The period also saw resurgence among Muslims under the impact of Gulf money. About 44 percent of the Keralites in the Gulf countries are Muslims, and they are the major beneficiaries of the state’s remittance-based prosperity. Many religious groups have received funds from benefactors abroad. Secular groups, too, have benefited, although not to the same extent as extremist elements.

As an ally of the Congress, which was in power at the centre at the time, the Muslim League’s response to the demolition of Babri Masjid by Sangh Parivar volunteers was muted. In the process, its extremist challengers gained the upper hand. Most of them were aligned with the LDF in the last assembly elections.

It is well known that there has been extensive political infiltration in the state police. The high court has been looking into the failure of the police to check political violence in Kannur, scene of recurrent clashes between CPI-M and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cadres. A few months ago the Sangh Parivar had struck at CPI-M targets outside the state to check local Marxist attacks. A police raid last week after two RSS men died in an accidental explosion had yielded a haul of 125 country bombs.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Literary academy chief in the garb of party commissar


As the sensation created by Kerala Sahitya Akademi Chairman M. Mukundan’s denigration of Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan subsides, the sectarianism in the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which was believed to have been laid to rest at the State party conference early this year, is raging furiously once again.

Mukundan’s dim view of Achuthanandan’s leadership had first found expression in a short story, which contained an allegoric reference to him as a dinosaur. It was written when the Chief Minister was pushing hard for removal of land encroachments in Munnar, facing opposition from his own party as well as the CPI.

This time he went one step further. In a magazine interview, he described Achuthanandan as “old-fashioned” and “an outdated saint”. He not sonly ridiculed Achuthanandan as an anachronism but also hailed State party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan as the one who can lead Kerala to glory.

Mukundan is undoubtedly a major writer of his generation, but few will give him a high rating as a political thinker. Though not a CPI (M) member, Minister for Culture MA Baby picked him to head the official literary academy. Baby, a leading light of the Pinarayi camp, has been instrumental in drawing several writers and artistes, who were not even fellow-travellers, towards the party with a view to widening its base among men of arts and letters.

Some have uncharitably characterised Mukundan’s criticism of Achuthanandan and praise for Pinarayi Vijayan as a return favour. Since the Akademi post does not in any way curtail his personal freedoms, he is certainly entitled to express his opinion. However, he was being impetuous when he donned the garb of a commissar and pronounced on who should lead the party.

Mukundan merely echoed the views of KEN Kunhahammad, who has been the party’s de facto literary commissar since the late MN Vijayan was deposed after he criticised the party leadership’s line of seeking accommodation with the forces of globalization. In a widely discussed magazine article, he had accused Achuthanandan of being a political godman.

Achuthanandan’s initial response to Mukundan’s interview was one of good-humoured dismissal. People would have different views and they had the right to express them, he told media persons.

A few days later, in a written statement, he addressed the writer’s criticism directly. He acknowledged that as an 85-year-old he could be described as “old-fashioned”. Besides, the ideology that he upheld dated back to 1848. He added, “I am proud of it. I consider it is the ideology of the future too.”

He pointed out that even in the time of Karl Marx, the demons of capitalism had ridiculed Communists as old-fashioned. When Gorbachevism gained ground in the Soviet Union, there was widespread propaganda that history had ended and Communism had become outdated. With a touch of sarcasm, he added, “Even now some post-modernists are taking it up.”

Achuthanandan concluded with another ideological dig. He said it was capitalism’s chorus as well as hope that time would invalidate all values.
The carefully worded response made it clear that Achuthanandan considered Mukundan’s remarks not as personal views expressed casually in an interview but as a calculated attempt to boost the prospects of the party’s official leadership in the renewed sectarian warfare.

The thrust of Achuthanandan’s arguments were directed not against the writer but against Pinarayi Vijayan and his supporters, who, like the Chinese Communist leadership, favour the capitalist path of development.

The link between Mukundan's interview and the sectarianism in the CPI (M) became evident when Achuthanandan's supporters burnt the writer's effigy at a few places. The party leadership has reportedly ordered inquiry into these incidents. Evidently, it views a demonstration against Mukundan as an anti-party activity.

The controversy coincides with acts of revolt by party men at some places. The party recently dissolved a few local committees dominated by Achuthanandan supporters and set up ad hoc committees in their places. Some who have attracted disciplinary action have responded by setting up parallel committees. Such forms of protest have few parallels in the party’s history.

CPI (M) General Secretary Prakash Karat had made decisive interventions before the last party congress to check sectarianism in the State unit. At one point, he had even got the Politburo to suspend both Achuthanandan and Vijayan from that high-powered body. The disciplinary measure was withdrawn when the Assembly elections approached.

Karat has so far maintained discreet silence on the renewed faction fight. With the Lok Sabha elections fast approaching, he does not have much room for manoeuvre. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, November 17, 2008.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Countercurrents.org seeks help

I have been posting material distributed by Countercurrents.org in my blogs regularly.

Countercurrents.org is a Kerala-based effort to create an alternate media. It has been bringing material of a kind that the mainstream media often overlook. It deserves the support of all those who believe in diversity of opinion. I am posting below an appeal issued by Binu Mathew, Editor of Countercurrents.org seeking help.


Countercurrents is in need of urgent funds. We posted a short appeal to support CC on our home page, but just two people responded. That won't do. We have developed a unique subscription programme to support CC. By this programme those who can pay our annual subscription amount of $50 keeps CC going. You can pay in two equal installments. I request all who can spare this amount in this difficult time to pay and support CC. You can make the payment here http://www.countercurrents.org/subscription.htm

In Solidarity
Binu Mathew

Monday, November 10, 2008

Malayalam movie industry creates a splish-splash

For a long time, all the sound emerging from the tinsel world of Malayalam cinema was rather unpleasant. Acrimony among film personalities and bickering among organisations of producers, distributors, actors, directors and technicians generated noises, which sometimes rose above the din of movies crashing at the box office.

For a change, pleasant sounds are now emerging from Malayalam moviedom. The industry is celebrating the grand success of a film, which is truly the result of a collective effort.

The film “Twenty:20” is quite unlike anything has been produced before not only in Kerala but also elsewhere else in the world. It has set records which may remain unbroken for long.

Produced by actor Dileep for the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA) and directed by veteran Joshi, the film brings to mind the lines of the nursery rhyme about all seas being one sea, all trees being one tree, all axes being one axe, and all men being one man. The rhyme goes on to say:

And if the great man took the great axe,
And cut down the great tree,
And let it fall into the great sea,
What a splish-splash that would be!

It is such a splish-splash that the Malayalam industry has created by bringing together a host of actors and playback singers.

Superstars Mammootty, Mohanlal and Suresh Gopi head the glittering cast of more than three scores of actors. They appear in roles that they have played with consummate skill in a number of movies previously – as lawyer, rowdy and police officer respectively.

Also in the cast are veteran Madhu, Dileep, Jayaram, Indrajeet, Prithviraj, Jayasurya and Boban Kunchacko. Viewers may well miss some of them unless they are quite attentive. Jayaram’s is just a guest appearance. Prithviraj, who has already demonstrated the potential to evolve into a superstar, figures along with Jayasurya and Boban in a dance sequence presented by Nayantara.

The comedy brigade is present in full force. Innocent, Jagathy Sreekumar, Jagdish, Cochin Haneefa, Harishree Asokan, Salim Kumar, Suraj Venjarammood and Bijukuttan are all there, along with the indispensable Kalpana.

KJ Yesudas and Jayachandran lead the 17 playback singers. All of them come together to sing one song, which was penned by Gireesh Puthencherry and set to music by Benny Ignatius.

The one weak link in the chain is the feminine department. There are only three women stars, Bhavana, who is cast against Dileep, and Gopika and Kavya Madhavan. As one critic has observed, Gopika and Kavya vanish from the scene very quickly. Meera Jasmine, Malayalam’s most talented actress, is conspicuous by her absence.

The low-key female representation in the star-studded extravaganza is in conformity with the industry practice of devaluing young artistes who are reluctant to be paired with the ageing superstars.

A movie of this kind calls for considerable dexterity on the part of the director, the script writer and the cameraman since they have to achieve a careful balance, keeping in view the sensitivities of the superstars’ fans who will not tolerate a situation where their favourite hero appears to be only the second best.

Joshi has repeated in this film the difficult feat that he accomplished in 1990 when he cast Mammootty and Mohanlal together in his movie “Number 20 Madras Mail”. First reports indicate that the fans are quite pleased with the work of Sibi K. Thomas and Udayakrishna, who wrote the script, and Sukumar, who handled the camera.

The initial response of critics, too, has been favourable. Reviewing the film for rediff.com, Paresh C. Palicha wrote: “We may have heard that too many cooks spoil the broth but, if handled with care, they can spread interesting smorgasbord. And ‘Twenty:20’ proves this fact.”

AMMA produced the film to raise funds to help needy film artistes of yesteryears. To ensure good initial collections for the big budget film, it approached the State government with a request to allow the theatres to raise the ticket rates for the first few days.

The government conceded the request. However, the High Court subsequently stayed the decision on a petition challenging its validity.

The government’s bonanza enabled the 115 theatres, where the film was released on November 5, to make a record first-day collection of Rs.17.4 million. Following restoration of normal rates under court order, the collection dropped by about 20 percent on the second day, but by all accounts the film is well on its way to setting a new box office record.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ayyankali: Legacy Of Organic Protest

By Muhammed Nafih
03 November, 2008

The history of religious reform movements that claimed to have played a defining role in revolutionising the socio- religious fabric of pre-independence Indian society is replete with descriptions of mainstream movements led by upper caste reformers. Those reformers sought to modify Brahminic Hinduism making it competent enough to co-exist with the changed social milieu installed by the colonial apparatus. These movements, besides enabling the upper caste segments to utilise better prospects of colonial modernity, did virtually nothing for the emancipation of the lower caste people who were victims of both an oppressive caste system from within and an exploitative administration from without. Till Mahatma Jotirao Phule took up some bold initiatives in Pune in later decades of the 19th century for empowering Shudra and Ati-shudra communities, Indian Dalits were unable to claim their share of the pie in the much-vaunted reform movements.

In Kerala too, the mainstream reformist movements of the earlier 19th and later 20th century were cast in this patterned mould. Being led by the middle class caste groups who occupied the ‘public sphere’ and driven by exclusivist interests, those movements did never seek to address the acutest social malaises such as poverty and inequality and problems of women and Dalits. Western education and colonial modernity have so profoundly influenced those movements and manipulated their goals that they ended up as mechanisms for caste consolidation. The book under review critically examines how those movements got narrowed down to caste groups and how this plight fuelled the emergence of Dalit agitations under the charismatic leadership of Ayyankali.

Emerging as the Dalit voice of rebellion in the later decades of the 19th century when Kerala was agog with dissenting voices against caste and social inequalities by the upwardly mobile middle class of the Ezhavas, Syrian Christains and Nairs, Ayyankali waged a spirited battle for bringing the Dalits, especially the pulayars, on a par with the status of the domineering middle class. The Dalits were never considered as part of the public and were least represented in the public opinion to the extent that they, despite bearing the brunt of a lumpen exploitative system, were never in the picture in the discourses of reformation and social integration.
The spirit of Ayyankali’s spontaneous revolt was his bold attempt to lay claim for, or to make a forceful entry into, the public space which he believed will enable the oppressed people to brave all forms of oppressions and brutalities. Ayyankalippada, the small band of revolutionary youths organised by him, spearheaded an all out war against all forms of exploitations. By bravely violating the caste diktats which brazenly denied Dalits entry into public roads and marketplaces, this movement sought to subvert the symbolic world of Jati maryada.

In a symbolic gesture, in 1898, Ayyankali led a historic pedestrian march through all forbidden roads to a market place. Though the march erupted into gory violence when the outraged upper caste Hindus tried to block its way, it helped bring about an enhanced consciousness of Dalit’s status and mobilize the various Dalit groups in Travancore.

Though influenced by an array of his contemporary reformists, including Sree Narayana Guru, Ayyankali displayed exemplary practical wisdom and employed genuine revolutionary methods. His Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham(SJPS) was a bold initiative to create a unique platform for the oppressed. Within a shorter span of its formation, the SJPS emerged as a bulwark in the struggle against all forms of exploitation meted out to the Dalit community. Apart from strongly advocating the cause of egalitarianism, the SJPS helped Dalits improve their socioeconomic conditions and instil self-confidence in them through a wide range of programmes.
Its representation in Srimoolam Praja Sabha, especially Ayyankali’s own nomination to it, was a landmark event in the history of Dalit empowerment in Kerala. This paved the way for a wide range of Dalit issues including housing, distribution of the agricultural land, educational facilities and the right to use public roads being debated in the Sabha. The criticism that Ayynkali’s induction to the higher echelons of power weakened his revolutionary fervour letting the state to patronise much of his agendas does not hold water, because mass mobilisation programmes to get admission for Dalit students in schools and to prevent Pulayar women from wearing the mandatory stone beads were held after he assumed the office.

By closely examining the social dynamics that fuelled the emergence of Dalit leaders of Ayyankali’s stature, the book also sheds light on the inherent fallacies of an exploitative system that always sought to rein in attempts for Dalit revival by hook or by crook.

Name of the book: Ayyankali:A Dalit Leader of Organic Protest

Author: Nisar.M.& Meena Kandasamy

Published By:Other Books,New Way Buiding,Railway Link Road,
Kozhikode, Kerala-673002, India.
Phone- 04952306808.
Pages: 104
Price: INR 150, € 16

Monday, November 3, 2008

Maya magic may not help CPI-M to stem Dalit desertions


WHAT prompted the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) to align with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was the Samajwadi Party's (SP) going to the aid of the Congress-led government at the Centre, virtually nullifying the effect of its withdrawal of support.

Since both the SP and the BSP are non-entities in Kerala politics, the switch of allies at national level made little difference to the State party. But there was reason for hope that Mayawati's clout among the State's Dalits may help stem the party's growing alienation from the community.

Caste and religious groups have been active political payers in Kerala even before independence. In 1946 the undivided CPI-M sent selected senior leaders into their respective caste organisations with a view to extending its mass base among the respective groups. The strategy paid dividends at the highest and lowest levels.
EMS Namboodiripad became president of the Yogakshema Sabha and many younger members of the Namboodiri community followed him into the party.

The Congress, on assuming power in the erstwhile Travancore state in 1948, accommodated the leaders of the Nair Service Society, the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam of the Ezhavas and Pulaya Mahasabha of the largest of the Dalit groups in its ranks. Yet the party was able to cut deep into the backward Ezhava and Dalit community on the strength of the appeal of its ideology.

It is now on record that shortly before the elections of 1957, the CPI-M leadership sent emissaries to NSS chief Mannath Padmanabhan seeking the Nair community's support. His response to the request was positive, and the party rode to power for the first time.

Ironically, Mannath Padmanabhan later became a major rallying point of the so-called liberation movement, which led to the Communist government's ouster and gave new life to the dying political ambitions of communal organisations.

The short-lived Communist government yielded a big benefit to the Dalits, most of whom were landless farm workers, constantly living under the threat of eviction by landlords. Its very first legislative enactment put an end to evictions, removing a threat under which they had lived for generations.

The Dalits remained grateful to the Communist movement. However, some who had placed implicit faith in the CPI-M have started questioning the sincerity of its leadership's approach to their problems.

What brought about the change in mood is the burning land issue. On reassessing the Communist government's land reform, many scholars have pointed out that it was not the revolutionary measure it was made out to be. Abolition of landlordism, which was its biggest achievement, benefited the tenants. It did not benefit the Dalits, who were only farm workers.

Dalit intellectuals are in the forefront of a campaign that exposes the weakness of the land reform. They have argued that the Dalits were betrayed while implementing the party's "land to the tiller" programme.

Land having become a scarce commodity in the State, its apportionment has become a major issue. A powerful mafia is on the prowl grabbing land to build industrial estates, commercial complexes and luxury apartments. Adivasis and Dalits are engaged in agitations demanding allotment of sufficient land for each landless family to make a living through farming.

Since the LDF came to power two and a half years ago, Industries Minister Elamaram Kareem, who belongs to the CPI-M has been vigorously championing the cause of the industrial land grabbers. So far as the landless are concerned, the government has shown no inclination to concede anything more than a housing plot.

Recognising that Dalits and Adivasis have been moving away from the party, the State leadership recently decided on a strategy to check desertions.
Breaking with past practice, it organised meetings of these groups in a bid to tighten the grip on these sections.

The agitation which landless people have been conducting at Chengara demanding agricultural land has proved to be an acid test for the CPI-M. As the agitation entered the second year the party organised a blockade of the area by mobilizing estate workers, to deny any kind of succour reaching the squatters.

Many squatters have fallen ill due to lack of nutrition. The district administration deputed a medical team to the estate. The musclemen enforcing the blockade did not allow the government doctors to go in. Last week Health Minister PK Sreemathi the told the media that the cabinet had decided not to send doctors to the estate to attend to the sick.

For Mayawati's magic to work, Kerala's Dalits must be ready to overlook their own experience, which seems unlikely. –Gulf Today, November 3, 2008.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Kerala police caught unawares by local links of Kashmir militants

When security forces in Kashmir claimed two young men from Kerala were among those killed in separate encounters in the remote Lolab Valley early in October, the state police did not give the information much credence.

According to the Kashmir police, the two were members of a group, which was trying to cross the line of control to train with a Pakistan-based militant organisation.

On the basis of voter identity cards found on the bodies, they identified one as a resident of Kovalam and the other as a resident of Malappuram.

Initially, the Kerala police assumed that if there was a Kerala link at all it must be with the small community of Kashmiri traders based at the tourist spot of Kovalam, not with the local people.

When preliminary investigations showed that the men whose names appeared on the cards were alive, they assumed they had no cause for worry.

They theorised that militant organisations operating in Kashmir had asked their cadres to carry forged voter's identity cards, purportedly issued by governments of southern states, to mislead the authorities and create the impression that they received support from all over the country.

Their theory collapsed last week when the Kashmir authorities placed before a visiting state police team the evidence in their possession.

Local investigations in the light of material received from Kashmir led them to acknowledge that the two men killed in Kashmir were indeed from Kerala.

Although contradictions abound in the information made available to the media by the authorities, it is now generally agreed that the two are Muhammad Fayaz of Kannur and Abdul Rahim of Parappanangadi in Malappuram district.

On Sunday, the police said they had identified two more persons killed in Kashmir recently as Keralites.

One of them was from Kannur and the other from Kochi Apparently, they were in Kashmir for their date with death even as half a million Muslims, gathered at a dozen congregations in Malappuram, took a pledge to work for peace and against terrorism on the 27th of Ramadan.

Ma'dinu Saquafathil Islamiyya, which runs a number of schools, colleges and orphanages in the State, has been organising such congregations regularly for the last 22 years.

According to the Kashmir police, they were part of a large group operating under the banner of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).

They believe it is possible that the group includes other Keralites as well.

LeT, formed in 1990 in Afghanistan, later moved its base to Lahore and was reported to be running terror training camps. Its presence in Kashmir was first noticed in 1993.

LeT is a banned organisation in both India and Pakistan. It also figures on the US government's "terrorist exclusion list."

According to Fayaz's mother, Safiya, he left home in early September with Faisal, also of Kannur, who had offered to find him a job in Bangalore. She did not hear from him subsequently.

When she checked with Faisal, she was told he was receiving religious instruction in Ahmedabad.

The police say Faisal, who is in custody, was looking for recruits for LeT. Under questioning, he reportedly admitted to sending some others, too, to join the militants' ranks.

They are trying to ascertain the whereabouts of several young men who are away from home.

They are specifically looking into the activities of some persons who were associated with the National Democratic Front and the banned Students Islamic Movement of India.

The NDF, formed in the wake of the demolition of Babri Masjid, has been the major constituent of the Confederation of Human Rights of Kerala.

On its initiative, two national organisations were set up recently: the Popular Front of India and the National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations.

While coming to terms with the tragic end of Fayaz and Rahim, their families have shown no interest in getting the bodies home.

They have informed the police that the bodies may be buried in Kashmir. Media reports quoted Fayaz's mother, Safiya, as saying, "If he worked against the country, he must pay for it. For me, the country is greater than son." State Muslim League President Syed Mohammed Shihab Thangal has said her words echo the sentiments of the Muslim community.

Hindu communal groups claim their warnings of the growing influence of extremist elements in Kerala have been proved right. The political parties are engaged in a blame game on the basis of electoral calculations. Sadly, there is no attempt to identify the factors that render young men prey to terrorist influence, let alone counter them. --Gulf Today, October 27, 2008.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Rival fronts launch agitations with an eye to elections

The season of pre-poll agitations has begun in Kerala, which arguably has the most polarised polity in the whole of India.

Even as the Left Democratic Front staged a sit-in in New Delhi against the Centre's alleged neglect of the state and the United Democratic Front staged demonstrations in the state capital against the LDF government.

The Congress-led UDF and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led LDF, traditional rivals in state politics, have been alternating in power in the state for nearly three decades.

The Bharatiya Janata Party's emergence as a contender for power at the Centre, forced the Congress and the CPI-M to come close at the national level. While the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance wielded power in New Delhi, the Congress and the CPI-M were both in the opposition.

After the Lok Sabha elections of 2004, the CPI-M and other Left parties extended support to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance from outside to prevent the BJP's return to power.

The Left parties ended the marriage of convenience when the UPA government went ahead with the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement, ignoring their objections. They reckoned that anti-US rhetoric would pay electoral dividends. Apart from being popular with their traditional supporters, it could attract support from the state's large Muslim community, which is resentful of the anti-Islamic character of America's war on terror.

The CPI-M coined the slogan of "neglect by the Centre" in the 1960s. The party used it with a good deal of success in many campaigns. The charge of neglect carried conviction with the public since Central investment in the state under successive five-year plans was negligible.

The party has revived the charge, hoping to rekindle old political animosities. Ironically, the new campaign comes at a time when the Centre has sanctioned a number of major projects in the state such as the container terminal near Kochi, the Naval Academy at Ezhimala and the Indian Space Research Institute near Thiruvananthapuram.

A feature of the new anti-Centre campaign is that it is not limited to the party level, as in the past, but has been extended to the governmental level. Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan personally led the protest march and sit-in in New Delhi. His cabinet colleagues followed him, holding aloft placards.

As soon as the LDF announced plans for the New Delhi protest, the UDF said it would stage demonstrations in the state capital and various other centres on the same day to expose the failures of the state government. Leader of the opposition Oommen Chandy led the UDF sit-in outside the state secretariat.

The CPI-M did not leave the State arena entirely to the UDF. As the UDF leaders staged the sit-in outside the Secretariat, state party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan addressed a mass rally outside the Governor's residence.

The state government paid for the ministers' travel to New Delhi. A few of them also had official engagements there, which may justify the government bearing the expenses of their travel. The others did not even bother to provide such justification.

Oommen Chandy asked whether it was proper for the chief minister to go to New Delhi at the state government's expense to protest against the Central government, Achuthanandan countered with another question: who pays the bill when Oommen Chandy travels on political business? Oommen Chandy responded by saying his travel expenses were being met the same way as those of Achuthanandan were met when he was the leader of the opposition.

Like the members of the council of ministers, the leader of the opposition draws pay and allowances from the state government.

Political parties and political activities are a necessary part of democracy. The basic issue arising from the demonstration staged by the chief minister and his colleagues in New Delhi is one of constitutional propriety, not political or financial propriety.

All constitutional functionaries must act according to the provisions of the constitution. That, in fact, is what members of the council of ministers at the Centre and in the state promise to do when they enter upon their duties.

The CPI-M, as a political party, has every right to agitate against the Central government. But the government of Kerala, as a constitutional entity, has no right to agitate against the government of India. In deputing the chief minister and his colleagues to stage the sit-in, the CPI-M has set a bad precedent. --Gulf Today, October 20, 2008.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Denial of democratic rights in the name of fight against terrorism

The Naxal era is taking rebirth in Malayalam cinema. As the the thunder of spring echoes belatedly in Jairaj's Gul Mohar and Madhupal's Thalappaav, some questions arise naturally. Also a reminder that the problems the Naxalite movement highlighted are remaining unsolved.

Is the Naxal era taking rebirth in the Kerala police too? What prompts this question is the arrest of M.N.Ravunni and the case the police has registered against him. When we remember the experience of P. Govindan Kutty, Editor of People's March, who was arrested some months ago, this cannot be seen as an isolated incident.

Police arrested Ravunni when he went to the office of the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Agali,on September 29 in response to a summons to record his statement in connection with a complaint lodged with the State Human Rights Commission. Sunil Babu and Vinod, activists of Porattam, had been taken into custody by the Agali police on August 31. In the complaint to the Human Rights Commission, Ravunni, who is General Convener of Porattam, had stated that their arrest was illegal and that they were subjected to torture.

There is an investigative wing under the Human Rights Commission. Its members are on deputation from the State police. An investigation wing has been set up under the Commission to facilitate independent and impartial inquiry under its direct control in matters that come up before it. The Commission's action in asking the impugned Agali police to investigate the complaint instead of entrusting the responsibility to its own investigative wing can only be described as strange. The Agali police made the complaint the accused. It made Ravunni also an accused in the case registered against the Porattam activists.

The main charge against Ravunni and his colleagues is sedition. Sunil Babu and Vinod were arrested for being in possession of videos of arms training by Maoists in Nepal. Videos of this kind are widely seen on television in the 21st century. To put it mildly, it is infantile to charge one with sedition for seeing or possessing them invoking a provision written into the law by the colonial rulers in the 19th century. In the feudal era, those who challenged the rulers were charged with treason. The Indian police has a tradition that goes back one and a half centuries. In this period, it has prosecuted people for waging war against the King of England leading to their imprisonment or transportation. With the king, treason disappeared, but sedition remained. Although police has charged many people with sedition after Independence, it is doubtful if any of them has been punished. Let us be grateful to the judges who liberated themselves from the colonial traditions.

A fact-finding team with PUCL State Secretary Adv. P. A. Pauran, National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations State Secretary Dr. Abdul Salam and Janakeeya Manushyavakasa Prasthanam Convener Adv. Thushar Nirmal Sarathy as members, which conducted an open investigation, concluded that the arrest of the Porattam workers was illegal and the case against them was false. The observations made while granting bail to Ravunni indicate that the court too is not impressed with the police story.

It was a similar case that the police had registered against Govindan Kutty, who was arrested in December 2007. He was arrested after a police team from Andhra Pradesh apprehended a top Naxalite of the State from his hideout in Kerala. His publication used to carry reports on the activities of Naxalite groups active in different parts of the country. The state has the power to cancel the licence of the publication and take action against the editor if it did anything unlawful. Instead of taking this course, the police arrested the editor, seized his professional equipment including the computerand threatened the owner of the press. This was done on the strength of the old traditions.

The ruling class has turned terms like Naxalite and terrorist into code words that can be used to keep the administration at the feudal-colonial stage overriding the concepts of democracy, secularism and socialism enshrined in the Constitution. This has been made possible as terrorist activity has spread and the commonsense logic that counter-terrorism is needed to deal with terrorism has gained currency. The mainstream political parties, both Right and Left, subscribe to the belief that if elections are held once in five years there is democracy; if a non-Hindu is installed as President in alternate elections, there is secularism; and if concessions are offered in the name of those below the poverty line there is socialism.

The media reported in 2004 that Naxalite violence and the insurrection in the Northeast have replaced terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir as the main challenge to internal security. Based on statements of Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan, they said Naxalites were active in 125 districts of 12 States. According to data furnished by Narayanan last year, Naxalites were active in 186 districts of 16 States. The spread of Naxalite activity to more areas shows that the government measures are not succeeding.

Narayanan is of the view that our security agencies do not violate human rights. In support of this claim, he points out that they do not use helicopters to fire at Naxalites hiding in the jungles. The government can also take pride in the fact that it has not used tanks as the Communists did in Hungary and China. But the claim that there are no human rights violations is not in accordance with facts. There are human rights violations, and human rights organizations have been raising their voice against them. Narayanan's own words show that though their voice is feeble, the government finds it disturbing. In an interview given to the Strait Times of Singapore recently, he accused the 'intellectual elite and civil liberties groups' of helping Left extremists in the area of agitprop and other activities. He added it would not be easy to defeat the Maoists without divorcing them the intellectuals.

Viewed in the light of these observations, the sedition charge flung at a number of persons from Dr. Binayak Sen, who was arrested in Chhattisgarh last year, to Ravunni has to be seen as part of a conscious attempt to brand human rights defenders as troublesome elements and get them out of the way. All terrorism have definite political character. The police can only tackle the law and order problems that they create. The political issues that they raise have to be handled by the political leadership. It must be able to understand that democracy cannot be saved by denying civil rights. Tanks and helicopter guns may be able to exterminate rebels. They cannot sustain an establishment that has lost its credibility.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Chengara's Dalit-Adivasis call to restore their fundamental rights

by Vidya Bhushan Rawat

17 October, 2008

Bharathi Sreedharan could not resist taking risk on her life through dense forest as her children suffered in hunger and starvation in the Chengara village which has been unconstitutionally and unethically blocked by the trade union gangs of all the political parties including the ruling CPI(M) in Kerala. Her agonizing face reflected the happenings inside the village as for more than two months; it is completely cut off from rest of the country. No outsider is allowed to venture into the village and no villager is allowed to come out of it. CPM's goons attack people from the buses once they recognize that they have sympathies with Chengara people. Many families are on the verge of hunger death if in the next few days no arrangement of food supply is done. 'They want us to get out of the place but we are determined, says Bharathi, we won't allow them to take over the place. We are ready to face any eventuality'. We are ready to die for the cause of our children'.

Bharathi came hiding to get some ration from her brother. When the road is blocked from all the way, it is possible only through walking around 10 kilometers in the forest to come and reach the office and wait for him to be there at Laha Gopalan's office who is the leader of ' Sadhu Jan Vimochana Samyukta Vedi', the organization fighting for the land and livelihood rights of the Dalits and Adivasis in Chengara. It is remarkable that people have united in this struggle and are determined to sacrifice their lives for the land. Interestingly, it is for the first time, that Kerala is witnessing an assertive emerging Dalit Adivasi struggle independent of the influence of dominating communities irrespective of religion.

Gopalan hails from a trade union back ground as he worked in Electricity department and now swears by the legacy of both Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Ayyankali, another Dalit revolutionary from Kerala. The semi constructed office in Pattthanamthittha is a place where all the Dalit-Advasis in the Chengara struggle come and stay. According to Laha Gopalan, they ventured into the area some fourteen months back, as it was legally a government land which should have gone to the landless Dalit-Adivasis of Kerala. The government of Kerala was never interested in the land reform and whatever happened in the name of land reform was eyewash. The tragedy is that there are villages where the Dalits do not have land for even cremating their people. The issue of Dalits and tribal has been neglected by the national and state level parties and hence we decided to make our own destiny.

About 10 kilometer away towards Tiruwala lives the big family of Sabu who are five brothers. Each brother has a big family of his own to support. They have no land. Sabu and his wife have small tea shop. The number of children in the family and the small kitchen that they have for their survival tell the story as how the successive Kerala governments failed to give land to the Dalits. ' Sabu was happy that Chengara's vast track could have provided him a source of independent living and some land for agriculture work. He went there with other families. The real assault came from the trade unions this year when people refused to leave their land. ' The union felt that they can coerce us to accept their issues but at the moment people are ready to die. They will commit mass suicide if police and other forces are sending to evict them. We are not ready to accept anything less than a decent land package for our children', say Sabu. He adds that situation is worsening as there is no food, no water and no sanitation in the entire area. Particularly, it is becoming difficult for children and elderly people to stay. Because of the blockade, we can not provide emergency treatment to any of the villagers as vehicles are not allowed and there is every chance of a bloody fight if we come in touch with the trade union people. Children are facing the malnutrition as there is nothing to eat and drink. We can not go to market to buy milk and rice. Moreover, because of no work in the past two months, there is no money to buy anything'.

How come he is here in the village. ' Sir, the union people allowed us 5 days leaves during the Onam festivities. We were allowed to move in and out and hence I came here. I have overstayed here and hence it is difficult to go there because of blockade'. I can not speak to my relatives and friends there, I am really worried as if food is not provided to people soon, they will start dying soon. I am concerned about children and elderly people. They are completely cut off from the rest of the world. It is shameful.'

The seize of Chengara went off well until one day the government which was keen to revive its lease to Harrison Plantation decided that the Dalit and Adivasis could only be evicted if they push it through other routs which is 'right to live' issue of the 70 odd plantation workers who were working there. The issue is the Chengara's tea plantation was already defunct years ago and hence to blame the current situation for the crisis is absolutely wrong. Harrison Plantation cannot use these 70 workers as a shield to deny land rights of the people. The tactics they adopted are fascistic in nature as from the August this year, the situation worsened after the plantation trade union and CPM in particular started blockade. Now the parties have not only used the local tea plantation trade unions but people have been invited from other parts of the state also against the landless people. All the ways going to Chengara were blocked by the party men and no material including medical aid was allowed to go into the village. Only allowance given to people was during ONAM festivities when the blockade was lifted for 5 days to let the people celebrate the festival. But after that the blockade has become functional and harsher and it might turn into a bloody war. Now the situation has gone out of hand. People inside the Chengara area have no source of livelihood; there is no supply of food and water. Some Muslim youth organizations of the area wanted to send rice for the families but but never allowed to do so. It is violation of their rights to food and free from hunger. The state government has shamelessly allowed the situation to go out of hand which has given strength to the trade unions.

It is unfortunate that in this war against their Dalits and tribal the organized gang of the trade union is taking action irrespective of ideology. It is a rare combination of how the upper caste communists and the Hindutva people can come together to wipe out the legitimate demands of the Dalits and tribals. The duplicity of the CPM's idea comes that the same party launch movement for restoration of land in Andhra Pradesh but want to say that all the Dalits and tribals who have now settled in Chengara are encroachers. Perhaps they have forgotten their own slogan of ' Jo jameen sarkari hai, woh jameen hamari hai ( the government land is our land. Land struggles historically invoked this slogan. Harrison Plantation Company did not have legal rights to the acquired land. The lease expired long back. The dalits and tribal who did not get benefited under any programme of the government rightfully acquired the land and asked the government to redistribute it to them. How come the communist government of Kerala kept quiet and turned hostile to Dalits who have just extended the slogan what the communist parties have been raising every where else except in the states they have been ruling. Is it because this land struggle is first of its kind being led by the Dalits and have organized both the Dalits and tribal together in the state.

Dalits have been asking the government to allot them land. In 2006 in the Patthanamthitta district after five days struggle in the government land of rubber plantation area, the land was given to the Dalits on the papers only. Many people are still trying to find where there land is which was given to them on papers by the state government. Says, Raghu, one of the members of the Solidarity Committee, 'we do not want papers, we want land'.

Patthanamthitta is a district about 60 kilometers from Kottayam, the heart of the Syrian Christian, the original brahmanical convert to Christianity. About 40 kilometer from the town is the heart of Ayappa, the Hindu God. The land relations here are different as the dominant community here is the upper caste Christians. What their role is in the entire struggle of the Dalits, I ask Raghu. ' Oh, like any other feudal, the Syrian Christians also are not interested in the battle of Dalits. Dalits here have separate churches for them.' The Solidarity Committee members like Simon John, who is also Chairman of Backward People Development Corporation, Kerala concede that the original Brahmin converts to Christianity have not left their old prejudices in the Church and therefore are not very keen in supporting the movement of the Dalits and tribal in Chengara. Like the CPM cadre, many of them too feel that the Dalits and tribal have 'encroached' the government land, though it is another matter that they all forgot that Harrison Plantation has been the biggest encroacher and was overstaying at the place. It is also shocking that Kerala did not have substantial land reform and all talks of a Kerala module in the developmental text books are big farce if one visit the rural areas of Kerala and speak to Dalits and tribals. A lot is written about Kerala model as a state. Recently a friend wrote to me from London about casteless, dowerless society in Kerala. Yes, I said, Kerala's caste prejudices are hidden underneath like West Bengal since the first thing the communist regime does is to stop the export of information to outside world. More importantly since a large number of writers and authors actually have been sympathetic to the CPM's policies with upper caste mindset, they do not really expose the Kerala myth. It was not just Bengal, Tatas have huge track of land in Kerala in the name of tea gardens and plantation. One should not forget that great Dalit revolutionary Ayyankali emerged in Kerala to fight for the rights of Dalits. It is not for nothing that both Patthanmthitta and Trivendram represent two different kind of dominations that Kerala has : the Christian domination and the Hindu domination. Both these upper elites interest are against the rights of the Dalits and other marginalized communities. They remain caged to their old prejudiced worldview.

Laha Gopalan is a determined man. He has seen the traumas of the Dalit communities in the villages where they do not even have land for funeral leave alone for education and houses. ' The political parties, both at the national and state level have betrayed the cause of the Dalits and tribal,' he says. ' We started our struggle when people failed to get land by any request. We found that there is no land to them and the government wanted to further the lease at the area which was being used by the Dalits and tribal. Our historic struggle started last year as 7000 people captured the area and started living there. One should have expected that the communist parties which have raised the slogans of ' jo jameen sarkari hai, wo jameen hamari hai, ( Government land is our land) today are strangely at the other end. There is no hope in the sight as the trade unions are determined to take law in their own hand and kill people with chief minister virtually becoming a 'Dhritrastra'.

Says Laha Gopalan, ' when we started our first struggle the government termed that they were genuine demands. In June 2006 about 5000 families were living in another plantation area when the revenue minister interfered and promised them land. Chief Minister Achutanandan promised about 1 acre land to each family of the landless but nothing happened. Since August 4, 2007, there are over 7000 families and the government has so far neglected their demand. The unions have surrounded the area and are beating people who are showing solidarity. The lives of the solidarity committee members are in deep threat in the area. They are being identified in the buses, taxis and even in the press conferences and targeted.'

' Even in the war zones people allow doctors and medical teams to visit the victims but here the goons of CPM and other trade unions have denied that too to the people,' says Simon John. They are not allowing the food supply in the village. There is a hunger and starvation situation prevailing in the 'samarbhoomi' and one person is already dead due to hunger. It is violation of people's right to life', add John. ' We are deeply disturbed at the turn of events as government and political parties led by the upper castes are not at all bothered about the growing marginalization of the communities says another activist in Patthanamthittha.

Is it not strange and ironical that CPM and other communist parties who have been in the forefront of agitation against any kind of exploitation in the organized sector do not find that the landless people in Chengara are struggling for a genuine cause? The party leaders termed the entire struggle as unwanted and felt that the local goons and land mafias have taken over the Chengara land struggle. Ofcourse, Party's anti Dalit stand is visible anywhere. One does not blame the top leadership of the party for being anti Dalit as it would be too much to blame but definitely party's local leaders are not really that radical Dalit supporters as they should have been. CPM for that matter is like any other political party ( we wanted it remained a different political party) whose cadres hail from dominant communities and serve their local interest as we have seen in West Bengal and how the party remained mute to the displacement of about 700 Valmiki families in Belilius Park in Howarah several years back. Today, party's proud MPs have made use of the entire space for private properties and shops. Ofcourse, the poor Balmikis never got support from any other Bhadralok parties in Bengal and living in Bengal in highly uncivilized and unacceptable conditions near the waste-mountains, on sewerage lines and on the railway tracks. Similar thing happen in Kerala where the Dalits and Adivasis of Chengara have not got support from any other political outfits. That gives strength to fascistic tendencies of the ruling party and their leaders. But the fact is this nationalism of the communist parties is more dangerous. Our problems with the Hindutva fascist is that we know that they are against the people but when the so called leaders of the proliterariat start behaving neo Hindutvavadis then situation need special remedial measures otherwise people's frustration would explode soon.

Chengara's land struggle is historical. It shows that people can not really depend on government dole out for land. Political parties in connivance with the defunct industrial houses are keeping people landless. New landlessness is on the rise. Courts are being used as an excuse to evict people. The marginalized have understood this and are ready to fight till end. If the government of Kerala think it is wrong, let it come out in open and say that they oppose people's movement for land right. The government cannot use trade unions and other goons to threaten people and evict them. Life in Chengara has become miserable and any further delay will turn Chengara into another Nandigram. The situation in Chengara would become more dangerous and bloody if the government does not behave responsibly. All national and international rights bodies should take care of this note that denying people free movement is denying them right to choice and livelihood. Kerala government has failed to protect Chengara's Dalits and Adivasis right to move free from one place and other. The inhuman blockade has created unprecedented situation where children and elderly people in Chengara are suffering. Any further delay would escalate the crisis and only government of Kerala would be held responsible for this. The government must act fast and negotiate with the struggling masses of Chengara. The trade union blockade is unconstitutional and illegal and must be removed immediately as it violate the fundamental rights of the people living there who are victim of the criminal silence of the government and civil society.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Storm gathering over Kerala's dream port project

EVEN as the government of Kerala is going ahead with the ambitious Vizhinjam port project, there are signs of trouble ahead. Fishermen using the existing harbour in the area and villagers whose lands have been notified for acquisition have raised banners of protest.

Vizhinjam, south of Thiruvananthapuram, has long been talked of as an ideal location for a deep-water port for two reasons. One, it is located close to the international shipping route and there is easy access to the national road and rail network. Two, large container ships can berth there since the sea is 23 to 27 meters deep.

At present, large vessels unload India-bound containers at Colombo, Dubai and Singapore, and from there they are transhipped to Indian ports in small vessels. Even after the Vallarpadam container terminal, being built near Kochi, is commissioned, this situation will remain unchanged.

As the Central government was not ready to commit funds for the Vizhinjam project, the state government decided to take it up on its own with private sector help. A Mumbai firm offered to form a consortium to execute the project. The Centre denied clearance for the project apparently because the consortium included two Chinese firms.

Subsequently the state government incorporated a company, Vizhinjam International Sea Port Limited, to provide external support and infrastructure. It also picked a consortium led by a Hyderabad firm through global bidding for execution of the project on Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) basis. This consortium includes a Malaysian company.

Last month the Centre cleared the project. Ports Minister M. Vijayakumar said later the state government and the consortium would form a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for executing the project, which was estimated to cost Rs53.48 billion.

The state government would hold 24% shares in the SPV and the consortium the rest, he added. The consortium would operate the port for 30 years. Thereafter it would be turned over to the state.

Last week, striking a different note, the minister said an international port lobby and some vested interest groups were trying to scuttle the project. The port lobby, which had interests in the Colombo, Dubai and Singapore ports and were worried that they would lose a big chunk of their business to Vizhinjam, had got hold of some sections of the people, like real estate agents and resort owners in and around Vizhinjam, and from neighbouring Tamil Nadu and were pumping in money to spread the canard that thousands of families would be evicted, he alleged.

The minister's allegations came in the wake of growing unrest in Vizhinjam and neighbouring panchayats following a state government notification for acquisition of land in the name of the project.

When the project was announced, government spokesmen had said there would be no evictions as the entire land needed would be found by reclaiming 200 hectares from the sea. Later the minister said 86 families would have to be relocated. Still later the number of families to be displaced rose first to 174 and then to 227.

On Sept. 3, the government issued a notification calling upon people in possession of 1,088 hectares in Vizhinjam and five other panchayats to be ready to surrender their land for the port project and related activities. As many as 10,382 families live in the notified areas.

A people's resistance committee, styled as Vizhinjam Janakeeya Prathirodha Samithi, has launched a campaign against the notification, raising the slogan, "Allow us to live in the land of our birth."

The Kerala Swathanthra Matsya Thozhilali Federation, which represents the fishermen living in the coastal areas, has asked the government to publish immediately the survey numbers of the land to be acquired so as to dispel fears of eviction. It has also demanded proper rehabilitation of those who are to be evicted.

Janapaksham, a non-official organisation which was in the forefront of the campaign for implementation of the Vizhinjam project, has suggested that a satellite survey be undertaken to identify areas with low population density.

By and large, the protests are muted at present because there is wide popular support for the project, which is expected to benefit the state in general and Vizhinjam and nearby areas in particular. However, if the government pushes ahead with the scheme without addressing the concerns of the local people, the gathering storm may grow in intensity and create serious problems since the project area is heavily populated. –Gulf Today, October 13, 2008.

Monday, October 6, 2008

University appointments scandal exposes a malaise

The public has long suspected that political corruption and nepotism are widespread in Kerala. However, in the absence of hard evidence, the extent of the malaise has been a matter of conjecture. Last week, the Lokayukta handed down a decision which reveals the extent to which appointments made by the University of Kerala are vitiated by this malaise.

Nearly 40,000 candidates had taken the examination conducted by the university in July 2005 to select candidates for appointment as Grade II Assistants. Those who qualified in the written test were interviewed between November 2007 and February this year.

In April, the university published a rank list of 1,401 successful candidates. Nearly 200 appointments are believed to have been made from this list so far.

The Upa-Lokayukta, Mr. Justice N. Krishnan Nair, who heard a complaint about gross irregularities in the examinations and interviews, concluded that there had been political interference in the selection process in favour of candidates in whom the political establishment was interested.

He recommended to the government to scrap the rank list, rescind the appointments already made and order fresh examinations. Holding that M.K. Ramachandran Nair, who was the Vice-Chancellor until recently, V. Jayaprakash, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor, and four members of the University Syndicate, were responsible for the irregularities, he asked that criminal proceedings be instituted against them.

The Lokayukta Act vests in the government the power to punish those found guilty of irregularities. The Lokayukta and Upa-Lokayuktas can only make suitable recommendations in this regard.

The University of Kerala established in 1937 as the University of Travancore, is the State’s oldest institution of higher learning. The appointments scandal is the worst of its kind in the history of not only the university but any major institution in the State.

Politically, the Lokayukta’s decision is a stinging indictment of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which heads the ruling Left Democratic Front. The party controls the Syndicate, and the alleged irregularities were committed to favour relatives of its leaders or members of its students’ organization.

The credit for bringing the scandal to light belongs to Sujith, of Venjarammood, who was a student representative in the University Senate when the written examination for recruitment of Assistants was held.

As word spread in the university corridors that the examination records had been tampered with, Sujith sought access to the answer books under the Right to Information Act. His application was turned down. He then persuaded a candidate who had taken the examination to make a similar request.

The university informed the candidate that the relevant papers were with an institution outside the State, which had processed the matter, and the papers would be made available when they were received. However, the Syndicate decided not to give anyone access to the answer books.

Sujith then investigated the background of the successful candidates. He found that many of them were connected with the CPI (M) or the Students Federation of India.

Despite repeated directives from the Upa-Lokayukta, the university authorities did not produce records relating to the written examination. The Hyderabad firm, which was engaged to evaluate them, said it had returned all the papers with the results sheet. However, the Vice-Chancellor and the Pro-Vice-Chancellor insisted they had not received them.

The Upa-Lokayukta observed that the disappearance of the answer books indicated there had been irregularities. The interview process was used to help political favourites.

The former VC said the Upa-Lokayukta took a decision without considering all relevant material. The PVC said that he had only a small role in the recruitment process.

The University Syndicate resolved to approach the High Court with a plea to quash the Upa-Lokayukta’s decision.

When the issue came up in the State Assembly some time ago, the Education Minister had said the government would act when the Lokayukta’s report was received. However, in view of the university’s decision to move the High Court, it is expected to await the legal verdict.

According to the Syndicate members whom the Upa-Lokayukta has indicted, they cannot be blamed for the irregularities since they took office only in August 2006. The written examination was conducted and the answer books were evaluated during the tenure of the previous Syndicate, which was constituted by the last United Democratic Front government.

This argument may not save them in court since the interviews, which were apparently used to manipulate the rank list, took place after the present Syndicate came into being and its members were directly involved in the process. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 6, 2008.