Thursday, May 29, 2008

Karnataka poll results: there is cause for worry

The Bharatiya Janata Party's coming to power in Karnataka on its own has strengthened its hopes regarding the next Lok Sabha elections. This is a development which gives cause for worry not only to the Congress but also others who view the BJP’s comeback with anxiety.

Keen observers knew that the BJP would improve its position in Karnataka. But no one expected it to be in a position to form the government without relying on other political parties. Like Mayavati’s Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, The BJP earned the eight to form a single-party government, by making a performance that exceeded everyone’s expectations. The credit for these parties’ unexpected triumph does not really belong to them. It belongs to the voters of the two States. It looks as though they had decided in advance that a hung legislature must be avoided.

Parties pick candidates and plan campaign strategy on the basis that voters are led by such factors as caste, religion and narrow, local issues. But they possess a democratic sense that enables them to rise above such factors when necessary. Their rejecting not only the Congress but also Indira Gandhi in 1977 and welcoming both back after three years prove this. In both those elections, Kerala acted differently from the rest of the country. There is a moral in this: too much enlightenment, like too much cleverness, may lead one astray.

The liberal approach of the Election Commission enables many political parties today to pose as national parties. By getting a foothold in a southern State, the BJP has truly earned the right to be called a national party. But it may not be easy for the party to replicate the Karnataka victory in the neighbouring States. This is because conditions in the other States are quite different from those of Karnataka. If any State offers scope for the BJP to grow fast, it is Kerala. The moves made by the State’s secular parties, including the CPI (M), hoping to make temporary gains, may well help realize the Sangh Parivar’s dream of a Hindu vote.

A two-party system has been in place in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu for some time. The latest election results indicate that Karnataka, too, is ready to move in that direction. It needs to be noted that, like the BJP, the Congress too bettered its position in the State. While the BJP’s strength in the legislature rose from 79 to 110, the Congress’s rose from 65 to 80. Both grew at the expense of the other parties. The worst sufferer was H.D. Deva Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular). Its strength fell from 58 to 28. No other party has representation in the new house.

The CPI (M)’s central leadership had identified Karnataka as a place where conditions are favourable for the growth of the party, whose influence is now limited to three States. It had also asked the Kerala unit to take an interest in party affairs there. A Malayali who has been active in the trade union sector in Bangalore for a long time was recently elected as the State party secretary. The beginning has not been good. The party lost even the one seat it held in the last Assembly. The poor performance of Deva Gowda’s party and the extinction of all other parties is a bigger blow to the party than the loss of that seat. When the BJP and the Congress gain strength and the other parties disappear, the CPI (M)’s hopes of a third bloc collapse.

The Lok Sabha elections are not due until next year. There was speculation some time ago that the Congress may go to the electorate sooner instead of waiting for the term of the house to expire. Recently the Election Commission disclosed that it is ready to hold the Lok Sabha elections any time after August 31. The question before the Congress is whether or not waiting for a year will do it good. If it decides to wait until the term of the present house runs out, it will have to face four Assembly elections before that. Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi are the States where Assembly elections are coming up. In all these States, the contest is essentially between the BJP and the Congress. Of the four, Delhi alone is with the Congress now. It does not have the ability to make a dramatic advance in any of the States.

The issue that frightens the Congress most is price rise. The parties in power at the Centre and the State usually blame each other on this issue. Actually this is not a problem which can be solved entirely by the Central government and the State governments, acting alone or even together. If oil prices continue to rise in the international market, commodity prices will continue to rise in the country.

An issue like price rise can upset electoral calculations. But the Congress is not able to face elections with confidence now not because of problems like this but because of its organizational weaknesses. Sonia Gandhi has been able to avoid division within the party. But she has not been able to strengthen the party. In fact, she has not even taken any fruitful step in that direction. Those around her are people who lack popular support and wide contacts. The Congress cannot get out of its present plight until it creates circumstances conducive to the emergence of able leaders at the lower levels through the democratic process.
Based on column 'Nerkkazhcha' appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated May 29, 2008

Monday, May 26, 2008

In God's Own Country, suspect godmen are on the run

Two weeks after a Dubai-based Keralite set reluctant police officials on the trail of an alleged cheat, establishments run by godmen and godwomen in the State have come under the scanner.

While the police are conducting raids to unearth evidence of possible illegal acts, young men under political banners are attacking suspect institutions on a selective basis, motivated by partisan considerations.

Dispensing spiritual solace has been a flourishing business in Kerala for years.
Sensing the commercial possibilities, scores of young people appear to have rushed into this area, leading to a mushrooming of pseudo-religious institutions.

Over the past fortnight, the print and electronic media have turned the spotlight on them. Information unearthed by them shows that many spiritual entrepreneurs have amassed fortunes in a short period and that at least some of them enjoy the patronage of politicians and police officials.

Godmen attracted attention after a Malayalam weekly revealed that Swami Amrita Chaitanya, head of the Santitheeram Trust, Kochi, was none other than Santosh Madhavan, of Kattappana, Idukki, who was wanted by Interpol in connection with a fraud case in the United Arab Emirates.

The electronic media reported that Santosh Madhavan was also wanted by the Central Bureau of Investigation in connection with an arms smuggling case registered in Mumbai.

Amrita Chaitanya appeared before television cameras at a hideout to deny that he was the person wanted by the CBI. He claimed there was no case pending against him anywhere.

He was trying to take advantage of the mistake committed by the media, which had confused Santosh Madhavan, who was wanted in UAE, with another person of the same name, who was wanted in Mumbai.

After watching him on the television screen, Serafin Edwin, a Keralite working in Dubai, informed the channels that he was indeed the man about whom she had lodged a complaint with the UAE police for swindling her of AED 400,000.

Amrita Chaitanya called on a high police official in Kochi to protest his innocence.
The police later came under criticism for not taking him into custody. There were insinuations that he had links with politicians and police officials.

The police explained that he was not arrested because there was no complaint against him. When Serafin faxed a complaint to Thiruvananthapuram, they were left with no excuse for inaction.

Soon there was a flood of reports in the media on the unseemly activities of several others with spiritual pretensions. The reports indicated that the new-rich swamis have made huge investments in real estate.

One saffron-clad youth flaunted before television cameras a gun, for which he had obtained licence in questionable circumstances. He was seen holding the weapon to his head in a police station, where he was taken after he allegedly threatened to commit suicide.

While talking to media persons, he referred to Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan in terms that suggested intimacy.

The State government immediately ordered investigation of the activities of all godmen and godwomen. It was stated that if necessary the existing laws would be amended or a new law enacted to curb cheating under cover of spiritual activity.

The wide-ranging enquiry appeared to be calculated to live down the charge that the spiritual racketeers enjoyed political patronage. Police swooped down on many establishments. There were, however, few arrests as the presiding dignitaries had slipped out before the police arrived.

The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Hindu Aikya Vedi, which is closely associated with it, accused the Left Democratic Front government of attempting to malign Hindu institutions. They asked that the government look into the activities of dubious characters belonging to all religions.

Partisan considerations became evident when Youth Congress men attacked establishments of swamis, who they alleged were close to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI)- pro-CPI-M youth party-members ransacked the establishments of Hindu swamis and pro-BJP Bharatiya Yuva Morcha workers attacked Christian outfits holding out promises of miracle cure.

Political motivation was also evident in Nilambur panchayat president Aryadan Shaukat's demand that the Panakkad Thangal's miracle cure must also be investigated.
Shihab Thangal of Panakkad is the president of the Muslim League and Shaukat is the son of Congress leader Aryadan Mohammed, who is engaged in a feud with the League in Malappuram.

The Home Minister said no one would be allowed to take the law into their hands, but there was no immediate action against rampaging youths.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Calculations behind food security scheme

The main weakness of the Left Democratic Front government is its inability to take and implement decisions. This has been in evidence from its early days. Since sectarianism was raging in the Communist Party of India (Marxist) at the time everyone assumed that was what stood in the way of decision-making. The fate of the food security scheme shows that even after the State party secretary emerged stronger and the Chief Minister yielded to the party leadership, the situation has not improved.

When the State Cabinet could not take a decision on the scheme because of differences between the CPI (M), which leads the Front, and the CPI, the second largest party, the matter was referred to the LDF. The issue could not be decided even there. According to reports, there are two hurdles. One relates to mobilization of funds for the scheme. The other relates to responsibility for implementation of the scheme. The CPI (M) wants the money to be found from the budget allocations of the departments of Agriculture and Civil Supplies and the implementation to be supervised by a ministerial committee with the Chief Minister as chairman and Agriculture Minister as convener. Agriculture and Civil Supplies are both under CPI ministers. The CPI argues that separate allocation must be made for the scheme since it cannot be implemented with the budget allocations of the two departments and that the guidelines prepared by the Centre envisage supervision by the Agriculture Minister.

While the scheme remained entangled in controversy, there were reports that the CPI plans to go ahead with its own food security scheme. An English language newspaper reported the other day that a scheme to make the State self-sufficient in rice in three years by bringing at least 10 acres of land in each panchayat under paddy was remaining unimplemented because of lack of cooperation from Agriculture officials and that the panchayat authorities have been instructed to go ahead with it without the help of that department. Some pro-CPI (M) source must be behind that fable. It appears the two parties are trying to bolster their positions using the media.

The arguments of both sides are not fully rational. If the food security scheme is to be implemented with the funds of the Agriculture and Civil Supplies departments, what is the need for a committee headed by the Chief Minister? Although Kerala’s coalition politics and the CPI (M)’s power structure have rendered the Chief Minister weak, he has the power to look into the working of all ministers. If V.S. Achuthanandan is ready to use that power, it is not necessary to form a committee which includes other CPI (M) ministers too. The CPI need not view his intervention as interference in its departments.

Statements attributed to the Finance Minister in some newspaper reports suggest that the CPI (M) is using its hold on the purse to persuade the CPI to fall in line. At one place he said that the CPI alone could not find the funds needed for the scheme. At another place he said that money was no problem.

The State’s food security scheme has to be implemented on the basis of the Food Security Mission approved by the National Development Council last year. For some reason, Kerala was not included in the programme in the first year. If the ruling parties continue to quarrel over it, the State may be bypassed again. If that happens, the responsibility will rest with the Communist parties.

As far as is known, there is no dispute between the CPI (M) and the CPI on the content of the scheme. The only issue is who must be responsible for its implementation. The Centre has created a two-level set-up. There is a general council headed by the Union Agriculture Minister and an executive committee consisting of officials. The Centre envisages an executive committee with the Chief Secretary as the chairman at the State level. A committee of officials is proposed at the district level too.

It is the tendency to view power as an opportunity to dispense favours and build up party strength that prompts the CPI (M) and the CPI compete to take the scheme in their own hands. The Centre’s food security mission is a Rs. 50-billion enterprise. As with the Kudumbashree, the State government may be able to add some things to the Central scheme. Actually, implementation of the scheme is not the responsibility of any particular department. The Centre has suggested the establishment of autonomous bodies under the Societies Registration Act at the State level for the purpose. Central assistance for approved programmes will be made available to these bodies directly.

The Centre’s guidelines regarding utilization of funds also provide opportunities for dispensation of patronage. Of the funds set apart for the scheme, 33% is to be earmarked for marginalized small farmers and women farmers. The Centre has also suggested that money must be provided for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population in the district. Given our rulers’ expertise in diversion of funds from one head to another, the extent to which these allocations materialize remains to be seen. Official figures show that Kerala has not fully utilized the funds allotted for agriculture in any of the five-year Plans. The political leadership needs to correct the impression that governance is patronage dispensation.
Based on column “Nerkkazhcha” appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated May 22, 2008.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Regular currency fluctuations continue to worry Keralites

A major foreign exchange earner, Keralites suffer when the value of the Indian currency appreciates because every dollar or dirham they earn then fetches fewer rupees. There is, however, no mechanism to compensate them for the consequent losses.

Currency fluctuations directly affect two groups of people: exporters, who include producers of cash crops, and about two million people working abroad, a large majority of them in the Gulf States.

As the rupee declined continuously against the dollar and the Gulf currencies pegged to it in the closing decades of the last century, both these sections were happy as their bank accounts kept swelling.

After the turn of the century, the rupee gained strength, eroding the earnings of non-resident Keralites. However, the extent to which it affected the State's economy was not immediately clear.

KK George, Chairman of the Centre for Socio-economic and Environmental Studies, Kochi, and Remya S, a research assistant in CSES, have now quantified the loss to the State resulting from the rise in the value of the rupee since 2003-04.

They have estimated that non-resident Malayalees (NRM) suffered an aggregate loss of Rs 86.60 billion during a period of four and a half years as the value of the rupee appreciated.

George and Remya are of the view that the rise in the value of the rupee was not entirely due to the growing strength of the Indian economy, as is widely assumed. It was partly a result of the steady depreciation of the US dollar. They believe the large inflow of funds to the Indian capital market, a good proportion of which was of a speculative nature, also contributed to it.

The CSES has published the findings of their study in a working paper titled "Impact of rupee appreciation on non-resident Malayalees".

According to George and Remya, as the Reserve Bank was reluctant to intervene in the exchange market and conduct sterilisation operations, the value of the rupee rose unhindered. The appreciation became steep after July 2006.

The average exchange rate of the US dollar, which stood at Rs.47.69 in 2001-02, rose to Rs.48.40 in 2002-03. Thereafter it fell continuously for three years -- to Rs.45.95 in 2003-04, Rs.44.93 in 2004-05 and Rs.44.27 in 2005-06. In 2006-07, it went up again to Rs.45.28 only to slump to an average of Rs.40.21 during April-December 2007.

"Despite the importance of agricultural commodities and products of labour-intensive traditional industries in the State's exports and the big role played by NRM remittances in the State's economy," they observe, "the steep appreciation of the rupee and its adverse impact have received very little attention among political leaders, policy makers and the media in the State, with very few exceptions."

They put NRM remittances in 2004 at 18.4% of Kerala's gross state domestic product. Non-Resident Indian remittances formed only 2.9% of India's GDP in that year. These figures show that NRM remittances are far more important to the State's economy than NRI remittances are to the national economy.

They point out that the annual loss to NRMs and the State economy on account of rupee appreciation (estimated at Rs.10.26 billion in 2003-04, Rs.13.10 billion in 2004-05, Rs.18.90 billion in 2005-06 and Rs.16.67 billion in 2006-07) exceeded the total Plan grants from the Centre to the State (Rs.6.97 billion, Rs.9.33 billion, Rs.8.00 billion and Rs.9.98 billion respectively).

Business organisations represented to the authorities the case of the exporters who were affected by the appreciation of the rupee. Following this, the Central government offered them relief by way of interest subsidy and other measures. While the exporters got interest subsidy of Rs.83.51 billion, not even a token subsidy was offered to NRI bank deposits.

George and Remya describe the silence of policy-makers and opinion leaders in Kerala in this matter as baffling. "The sheer number of emigrants and remittance receiving households should have made them sit up," they say.

They add, "It appears that despite their importance in Kerala economy, the NRMs have not acquired sufficient clout and lobbying power with the State government, not to mention the Central government."

From the NRM point of view, there was a slight improvement in the situation since the beginning of this year as the rupee declined in tune with the downward trend in the stock market. But financial experts expect the rupee to bounce back when capital inflows rise. Obviously Keralites still have cause for worry. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 19, 2008.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The annual elephant tragedy

Every summer, a tragedy unfolds in Kerala. Somewhere or the other, elephants trained to participate in temple festivals turn on their trainers and the religious congregation around them and stampede. Sometimes, they kill people.

On April 24, an elephant ran amok at a temple near the coastal Thrissur city trampling an elderly woman to death and killing two men, including a mahout (while its own sat atop terrified) who it impaled on its tusk. By the time the elephant was brought to heel 90 minutes later, it had also destroyed portions of the temple.

KA Shaji discusses the recurring elephant tragedy in a report circulated by A Jumbo Tragedy

Friday, May 16, 2008

AHRC takes up case of police atrocity in Kerala

The Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong,has called upon human rights defenders everywhere to take up the cause of a Keralite who was assualuted
by a police official. The following is the text of the appeal issued by the AHRC in this regard:

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from Nervazhy, a human rights organization working in Thrissur, Kerala regarding the case of assault by the local police upon an innocent person. It is reported that Mr. Kuttan while waiting for a three-wheeler to go home on 23 April 2008 was assaulted by a police officer who identified himself as attached to Cherpu Police Station in Thrissur district. After assault, Kuttan who lost consciousness was left on the public road unconscious and with injuries.

On 23 April 2008 at about 9pm Kuttan was waiting for a three-wheeler to go home. Kuttan was sitting on the ground beside a small wall constructed near the Padiyath Service Centre at the Cherpu - Chovoor public road. Kuttan was on his way back home after attending a local temple festival at Pootharakkal. Pootharakkal is about two kilometers away from where Kuttan was sitting. Before waiting for the three-wheeler Kuttan had food and drinks from a neighbouring bar.

While Kuttan was waiting for the three-wheeler, a person in police uniform approached him and asked him why he was sitting there. The officer identified as a police constable stationed at Cherpu Police Station. The officer further asked Kuttan where his house was and whether he was employed. For the questions, Kuttan answered that he was waiting for a three-wheeler to come and that his house was at Chovoor and further that he was working at the furniture workshop owned by Mr.
Sadanandan. The furniture workshop is near Chovoor.

Hearing this, without any provocation the officer shouted abuses at Kuttan and tried to lift Kuttan up holding him by his shirt. The officer pushed Kuttan on to the ground shouting at him that why he was working at Sadanandan's furniture workshop. Kuttan fell down on the ground, face down. The officer them assaulted Kuttan using his baton and also kicked him.

Kuttan started bleeding from the injuries that he sustained from the fall and from the assault. By the time Kuttan was on the public road and was crying out to the officer not to assault him. Soon Kuttan lost his consciousness. He regained consciousness after a while and he found that he was seated on the roadside and somebody had kept him in a sitting position with his back leaning a telephone post. This place was about 5-6 meters away from where Kuttan had fallen down.

When he regained consciousness Kuttan realised that he has suffered severe injuries from the assault and that he was bleeding from the injuries caused to him from the fall and from the assault. He also felt severe pain all over his body. Unable to go home due to pain, Kuttan spent the night in the varanda of a shop nearby. The next day morning Kuttan went to his employer and informed him what happened to him the previous night. Kuttan then went to the Cherpu Government Hospital along with his friend. The medical officer at Cherpu hospital referred Kuttan to the District Government Hospital for further treatment.

However, soon Kuttan started vomiting blood. He was later admitted at the Mulankunathukavu Medical College Hospital. At the hospital, the doctors have diagnosed that Kuttan has suffered several injuries on his body, including lacerated wounds above his right earlobe and other aberrations all over his body as if he was injured while being dragged around on a rough surface. The medical certificate also shows that Kuttan has suffered blunt trauma injuries as if those inflicted by a blunt edged weapon.

It is reported that the Cherpu police had a previous incident where Sadanandan, Kuttan's employer, had complained about the police officers stationed at the Cherpu Police Station, in which the officers had to publically apologise to Sadanandan. It is suspected that the constable who assaulted Kuttan was one among the police officers who was involved in this earlier dispute with Kuttan's employer. Even though Kuttan does not know the name of the officer who assaulted him, he is able to identify the officer on sight.

It is common practice in Kerala for the police officers to quiz around people during evening hours. Incidents of theft, which is in record high numbers in Kerala, is posed as an excuse for police officers to conduct random check among the public. However, this opportunity is often misused by police officers. Cases where police officers assault persons to instill fear among the local public as part of this questioning are also reported from Kerala in high numbers. In fact law enforcement in Kerala and rest of India has become the synonym of use of unwarranted force by law enforcement agencies.

The local police however deny these incidents and often pose resistance by a suspects as an excuse for use of force. These days more and more cases implicating police officers in Kerala and their connection with criminal elements in the state involved in fraud, murder, rape, women trafficking and bootlegging are being exposed in the local media.

This week, the Kerala State Police Association is holding its annual conference at Thrissur. The police have used their influence to erect sponsorship posters throughout the town from private enterprises in support of the conference. Nervazhy had also posted a poster of its own in front of the conference venue in a public place, demanding the police association to discuss issues concerning use of force and torture as one of the subjects of the conference. The poster was however removed by unknown persons within a day.

Please write to the authorities below to ensure that the incident is investigated and the officer who assaulted Kuttan be punished. The AHRC has also written to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture calling for an intervention in this case.


Dear __________,

INDIA: Please take actions against the police officer who assaulted an innocent villager in Thrissur

Name of victim: Mr. Kuttan, aged 44 years, son of Chathan, Tharayil house, Sawmill Raod, Chovoor post, Thrissur district, Kerala state

Name of alleged perpetrators: Police officer (identifiable by the victim) stationed at Cherpu Police Station, Thrissur district, Kerala state

Date of incident: 23 April, 2008

Place of incident: Cherpu - Chovoor road, near Padiyath Service Centre, Thrissur district, Kerala state

I am writing to express my concern regarding the case of Mr. Kuttan, who was assaulted for no apparent reason by a police officer stationed at Cherpu Police Station, in Thrissur district of Kerala state. I am informed that the officer assaulted Kuttan while Kuttan was waiting to get home in a three-wheeler on 23 April 2008 at about 9pm.

I am informed that the police officer who approached Kuttan while he was waiting for the three-wheeler started asking questions to Kuttan about his place of work and residential address and later started assaulting Kuttan for no reason at all. I am informed that the same officer along with his colleagues had to publically apologise to Kuttan's employer, Mr. Sadanandan, a furniture workshop owner in a complaint lodged by Sadanandan against the police officers stationed at Cherpu Police Station.
I am informed that Kuttan suffered serious injuries in the assault and was treated at the Thrissur Medical College. I am also informed that the injuries suffered by Kuttan has been recorded in the medical certificate issued to him at the Cherpu Government Hospital where he was treated first and later at the Thrissur District Government Hospital and at the Mullankunathukavu Medical College Hospital.

I therefore urge you to take all possible measures to ensure that the case is investigated thoroughly and the erring officer punished in accordance with law. In this context it is important that the investigating agency to first record Kuttan's statement. I also urge you to ensure that Kuttan is not threatened by the police officer during the course of enquiry and that all necessary action is taken so that Kuttan remains safe during the course of investigation of the case.

Yours sincerely,


1. Director General of Police
Government of Kerala
Police Head Quarters
Fax: +91 471 2729434

2. Mr. V. S. Achuthanandan
Chief Minister
Government of Kerala
North Block, Secretariat
Fax: +91 471 2333489

3. Mr. Kodiyeri Balakrishnan
Minister of Home Affairs
Government of Kerala
Room No.216, Third Floor
North Sandwich Block
Govt. Secretariat
Thiruvananthapuram 1

4. Mr. Oomen Chandy
Opposition Leader
Puthupally House, Jagathy,
Fax: +91 471 2315625

Thank you.
Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Double standards in social justice

The bill seeking to amend the Constitution to provide for 33% reservation for women in Parliament and the State legislatures is again before Parliament. Passage of this bill is one of the items on the common minimum programme adopted by the ruling United Progressive Alliance and the Left parties supporting it from outside. The bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha last week, under pressure from the Left, to make it appear that an effort was made to implement the promise. Lalu Prasad Yadav's Rashtreeya Janata Dal, an important constituent of the UPA, has made it clear that it will not allow passage of the bill in its present form. In the circumstances, its introduction can be viewed as play acting.

This bill was introduced earlier too. It was introduced first in 1996 at the time of the coalition government headed by H. D. Deva Gowda. On earlier occasion, the bill was brought before the Lok Sabha. All bills pending in that house lapse when its term ends. Since the Rajya Sabha is never dissolved, the bill will not lapse. What consolation can one find in this?

The RJD and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party which endorse the women’s reservation bill in principle oppose its passage. Saying it will adversely affect backward class representation. Since the forward castes dominate all major parties, including those of the Left, a large majority of their candidates for the reserved seats are certain to be members of that group. To that extent, the Yadavs’ fear is not misplaced. To overcome this problem they have proposed that there must be backward class reservation within women’s reservation. This proposal will only help to delay women’s reservation. The parties may not worry about this. After all, male domination prevails in all parties, regardless of caste composition.

The stand of Lalu and Mulayam reflects an approach which attaches more importance to disability based on caste than to disability based on gender. The other day, during a discussion on women’s reservation in an English-language channel, the moderator asked sought the views of two young women, who, by their very looks, could be identified as city-dwellers. They said there should be more women legislators, but they did not favour reservation for women. If we support reservation for women how could we oppose reservation in institutions of higher learning, they asked.

As social disabilities, caste-related disability and gender-related disability must be viewed the same way. The Yadav leaders and the urban youth cannot view them that way because they are interested more in perpetuating their privileges than in ending injustice. The Yadavs want to protect the privileges that male domination gives them. The young women want to protect their privileges as city=dwellers and members of a ‘high caste’. A constitutional provision is needed to check this tendency to protect narrow interests.

Our Constitution was drafted after studying the constitutions of all major countries, incorporating all their good elements. The principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity mentioned in its Preamble were borrowed from Western political traditions. These principles are totally alien to the Indian mainstream religious traditions. Yet the judiciary, which has been charged with the task of interpreting the constitutional provisions, frequently looks back to these traditions. A computer study shows that the Supreme Court has relied on the Code of Manu in more than 300 judgments. The judges’ reliance on that ancient text, which gives scant regard to the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, can be viewed only with anxiety.

From the lines written above the three principles taken from the Western traditions, we can gather that the primary objective of the Constitution is to ensure justice -- social, economic and political. That is the testing stone by which everything must be judged. Manu cannot survive there. The Supreme Court must survive there.

If the report that backward class representation in Central Government departments has come down after the creamy layer principle was introduced is correct, it means the principle invented by the Supreme Court is obstructing social justice instead of ensuring it. A creamy layer, comprising individuals who get the benefit of favourable circumstances, emerges quite naturally in all social groups, not just the backward classes. This leads to loss of opportunity to other members of the groups concerned. How this situation can be remedied is a matter that certainly merits consideration. The court erred in evolving a solution applicable only to the backward classes, viewing the problem as one that affects them alone.

This mistake arose as the arrangement made to render justice to a class of people who were suffering social disabilities was seen as one that dispenses favours to individuals belonging to that class. If it is right to separate the individuals in this manner from the class, must it not apply to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as well? The court itself has made it clear that the creamy layer principle will not apply to them. However, if the creamy layer principle remains in the case of the backward classes, in course of time it is certain to be extended to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. If the court does not correct the mistake on its own, the government has the responsibility to do it through legislative action.

Based on column “Nerkkazhcha” appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated May15, 2008

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Keralite is first woman head of Agni missile project

Tessy Thomas, 45, has been named head of the crucial project to upgrade the Agni missile which is capable of carrying warheads. She is the first woman scientist to head a missile project.

In this capacity, she will supervise upgradation of the Agni missile, which now has a range of 2,000 km, to achieve a range of 5,000 km.

An expert on solid systems, Tessy Thomas entrusted with the task of analyzing the failure of the Agni III. Her study helped the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) to identify and overcome the shortcomings and conduct a successful launch later on.

Tessy Thomas, who belongs to Alappuzha, joined DRDO in 1985 after taking the B Tech degree in Electrical Engineering from the Thrissur Engineering College. She later took the M Tech degree from the Institute of Armament Technology, Pune, and was a member of its faculty.

Since 1988, she has been involved in missile development activities as a staff member of the Defence Research and Development Laboratory, Hyderabad. Her primary area of responsibility was design of the complex guidance system.

She is married to Saroj Patel, an Orissa-born armament engineer working with the Indian Navy. They have a son Thejas.

DRDO has a number of women scientists working on the missile project as well as other projects like development of the main battle tank Arjun.

Photo: Malayala Manorama

Monday, May 12, 2008

LDF government completes second year on dull note

Five years ago, as the United Democratic Front government was entering its third year, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) organised a conversation between its State Secretary, Pinarayi Vijayan, and Professor Ninan Koshy, educationist and social activist. The party newspaper reproduced the dialogue under the headline "Two years of UDF misrule."

It is now the UDF's turn to return the compliment. As the Left Democratic Front government prepares to celebrate its second anniversary, which falls on Sunday next (May 18), the UDF is getting ready to observe "betrayal day".
"Since the LDF has failed to deliver, we have no option but to protest," UDF Convener PP Thankachan had said last month.

Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan described the UDF "betrayal day" as routine mourning. However, the upbeat mood that prevailed in the LDF camp as the government entered the second year is clearly lacking as it enters the third year.
The government's first year was marked by infighting in the CPI (M). Ministers belonging to the Pinarayi Vijayan faction appeared to have an agenda of their own. Emboldened by the party secretary's patronage, they even defied the Chief Minister on some occasions.

Yet the government had two major achievements to its credit: the Smart City deal with the Dubai Internet City authorities to set up an IT park and the Munnar evictions which raised hopes of putting an end to land grabbing.

On the eve of the second anniversary, the sectarianism that raged on the CPI (M) a year ago has subsided. The Central leadership has made it clear that the dominant faction cannot dislodge the Chief Minister.

However, there is no new achievement to create the kind of euphoria that was in evidence a year ago. In fact, no significant project has taken shape in the past year.

A few days ago the Chief Minister announced plans to launch or commission a number of schemes as part of the anniversary celebrations. It is difficult to feel enthused by the planned events.

Take, for instance, the foundation stone laying ceremonies. One of the institutions for which foundation stone is to be laid is the Space Research Institute. It is a project of the Indian Space Research Organisation.

The foundation stone lying ceremonies of the Indian Institute of Science and the International Convention Centre on the banks of the Akkulam Lake are premature. Work on these projects cannot be taken up immediately as the necessary formalities are incomplete.

The State can take credit for the Neriamangalam hydro-electric extension project, which is to be commissioned during the anniversary celebrations. But the LDF has to share it with the UDF. It was the UDF government that launched the project, which has raised the State's power generation capacity by a modest 25 MW.

Another anniversary scheme envisages writing off agricultural loans of up to Rs. 25,000, which will reportedly benefit 41,000 farmers of Wayanad district. Critics have pointed out that the loan waiver is under a Central scheme, not the State scheme announced earlier.

On the agricultural front, the government's record remains dismal. Differences between the CPI (M) and the CPI have stalled the food security scheme proposed by the Centre.

The draft scheme circulated by the Centre envisages the formation of a committee under the State Agriculture Minister to oversee its implementation. The CPI (M), however, wants a committee of ministers, headed by the Chief Minister, to be in charge.

Apparently the CPI (M) wants to have control over this scheme and is not willing to leave it to the CPI, which holds charge of Agriculture. The LDF could not resolve the dispute as both the parties were unrelenting.

Meanwhile there is reason to think that the LDF mandate has started running out. In a set of 24 panchayat by-elections held last week, the UDF grabbed five seats from the LDF, one from the Bharatiya Janata Party and two from independents to chalk up a total of 12 seats. The LDF got 11 seats, of which only one was previously held by the UDF. One seat went to an independent.

The UDF lead may be slender but this is the first time in two years that it has had an edge over the LDF in panchayat elections. In the by-elections held earlier, the LDF had fared better than the UDF. –Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 12, 2008

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Hartal day surrender: how did we come to this pass?

The Bharatiya Janata Party wields power in the largest number of States. In Kerala, it has not been able to win a single seat in the Assembly so far. Yet when the party called a nationwide hartal on the issue of price rise it was Kerala that responded most enthusiastically. There was no comparable response in the States known as its strongholds.

It is not possible to conclude that the hartal was a success in Kerala because all people suffering as a result of the price rise responded whole-heartedly. After the national hartal, the BJP had organized a local hartal in Thalasseri. That hartal was in protest against some Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh workers in connection with the recent violent incidents there. Thalasseri is a fortress of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Yet the BJP hartal was a complete success.

Some observers are of the view that Malayalis welcome hartals as they can stay at home without going to work. It is said that liquor sales go up just before a hartal. That indicates how the people spend the hartal day. Apparently taking into account these facts a newspaper headline of May 3 proclaimed that Kerala celebrated hartal.

It can be assumed that this hartal ritual was developed by salaried middle class employees who can write a leave letter to cover the day’s absence. If there is a strong union, the leave application formality can even be dispensed with. Workers who toil to earn wages on daily basis cannot celebrate hartal in this manner. For them, hartal means loss of work or loss of wage. Yet they too observe the ritual. Thus CPI (M) men let the BJP hartal succeed. And BJP men likewise let the CPI (M) hartal succeed. That is the etiquette of hartal.

It is not political parties and trade unions alone that organize hartal here. Organizations of trade and industry also organize hartal. On such occasions the employer and the employee take a break from class war and join hands to make it a success. There have also been occasions when religious heads, in their capacity as religious heads or as teaching shop owners, called hartal. They too have been great successes.

Whatever the problem, whoever issues the call, we are ever ready to participate in hartal. Maybe such generalization is not in order. I believe some do not venture out on hartal day because of fear. Vehicle owners have to be afraid of those with stones in hand. However, one facts needs to be acknowledged. The middle class Malayali loves hartal. It is another matter whether laziness or cowardice is behind it.

How did we reach this state? Who mentally prepared us to surrender at the very mention of hartal? Why do we, who acquired strength through organization, turn into jelly in the presence of all organized forces? These are not questions that can be answered in one word. To arrive at right answers we have to sift through the history of the last five or six decades. That cannot be done within the limited framework of a newspaper column. But extensive research is not needed to understand that political parties have a clear responsibility in this matter.

Many of the problems Kerala faces today are the result of short-cuts taken by the parties to establish their supremacy. The Chief Minister drew attention to one such short-cut recently. He said the Congress’s ties with religious and casteist forces had led to the growth of communalism. His party, too, had tried to capture caste organizations and establish relations with them. This is something its own leaders have revealed. When Pinarayi Vijayan said that “nokkukooli” (wage for looking on) is extortion Oommen Chandy and K. Karunakaran ridiculed it as belated wisdom. Who does not know that Congress unions too collected “nokkukooli”, although the CPI (M) unions initiated the practice? Even after Pinarayi Vijayan’s public rebuke, CITU, INTUC and BMS unions were reported to have jointly extracted “nokkukooli” from a public sector undertaking. This means the problem will not get resolved merely because the leadership is ready to admit a mistake. Strenuous effort is needed to rectify many mistakes.

Our main problem is that there has been no significant change in the feudal character of the society. I remember reading somewhere that man does not give up anything; he only goes in for substitutes. That seems to be correct in our case. We have installed new masters in place of the old ones. The minister who orders the arrest of the driver who overtook his car and the trade union leaders who get hold of 30 acres by facilitating a 70-acre deal are part of the band of new masters. The real issue involved in the arguments between the priest and the party secretary over whether or not an unconscious man had received the sacraments is ‘who owns the slave?’. There is no salvation for the slave who loves his chain;
Based on column “Nerkkazhcha” appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated May 8, 2008.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Ambitious project to popularise football at school level

An ambitious project to restructure football in Kerala and popularise it among school children has just been launched. It was formally kicked off on Sunday with selected school children giving a demonstration of football skills.

Football has been a passion in Kerala for years. It was reckoned the most popular game in the State by the 1930s when several football clubs were active in Travancore and Malabar areas. 'Sevens' football was quite popular in those days.

Kerala won the national championship and lifted the Santosh Trophy for the first time in 1973. This gave the game a big boost. The State soon became a favoured venue for staging major national tournaments since the local popularity of the game was a guarantee of financial success.

Several private and public sector undertakings in the State have promoted football.
The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation built up one of the strongest teams.
Kundara Aluminium Industries, Premier Tyres, Keltron, FACT and Titanium Products also helped in the emergence of good players.

A majority of the players in the team that won the Santosh Trophy in 1973 were from the Premier Tyres.

Tournaments like those for the G.V.Raja Trophy, Sait Nagjee Trophy and Chakola Trophy played a significant part in the development of football in the State.
However, it had to wait for nearly two decades to lift the Santosh Trophy again -- in 1992 and 1993.

In the 1990s, the Kerala Police team, which took shape after 1985, contributed to the State's football glory. IM Vijayan and Pappachan were among the top Police players.

The State, however, lacked facilities for proper training in modern techniques of the game. After satellite television arrived in 1986, the people got the opportunity to watch the World Cup matches live. This resulted in renewed interest in football.

A commentator recently wrote that the State's football lovers were familiar with Brazilian players even before satellite television brought world football into their homes. They had been following newspaper and magazine accounts of the Brazilians' exploits in the game.

The Brazilian footballers are household names even in the villages of Kerala. Pelé is revered as the greatest player ever, and a talented local player is compared with him. The highly talented Vijayan, for instance, is often described as Kerala's Pelé.

Sadly, local training facilities did not match the people's interest. The State has been able to produce some of the country's best known footballers in spite of this shortcoming mainly because nationally, too, the standards remain way below international levels.

The training programmeme which has just been launched is a part of the Asian Football Confederation's Vision India scheme. It is expected to be followed by the launch of an under-11 Kerala Schools League.

The Kerala State Sports Council and the Kerala Football Association have already identified 56 school teams from seven of the State's 14 districts to take part in the league. In the competitions at the district level 2,240 identified talents will participate.

The Asian Football Confederation conducted several workshops and preparatory courses as a prelude to the launch. Three grassroots and youth workshops were held at Kochi, Kozhikode and Tiruvalla. Two introductory coaching courses for physical education teachers and Grade III referees were conducted for the benefit of officials from the identified schools.

Some private efforts to discover football talent are also afoot. Kochi is one of the eight cities in the country where the soft-drinks giant Coca Cola, in association with the Brazilian Football Academy, screened 3,000 young footballers, aged 12 to 15 years.

In all these cities inter-school tournaments were held. Twenty-four schools participated in the preliminary rounds in Kochi. The winning teams from all the cities will figure in the finals to be played in Mumbai late this month.

Sixteen players selected on the basis of their performance in these matches will be sent to Brazil in July for a week's training.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is making its own contribution to football.
Thanks to its initiative, Kannur now hosts an annual football tournament in memory of late Chief Minister EK Nayanar.

The present effort to revive interest in football comes in the wake of fears of a decline in its appeal. Some observers have linked this development to the growing interest in cricket as a result of TV patronage, especially after the emergence of Shreesant from Kochi as a cricket celebrity. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 5, 2008.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A "Vimochana Samaram" in Nepal?

On May 1, Labour Day, a Maoist group in Chicago handed out at a rally by immigrants a flyer in English and Spanish, which hailed the electoral victory of Nepal’s Maoists and voiced fears of the US, the Indian and Nepalese armies and the parties lost the elections attempting to upset the people’s mandate.
The Maoist statement brings back memories of the so-called "Vimochana Samaram" (Liberation Movement) which brought down Kerala’s first elected government 50 years ago.
The following is the text of the statement:

On May First, International Workers Day:

Revolution is Happening in Nepal!
The world's first communist revolution in decades is on the horizon. Look to Nepal in the foothills of the world's highest mountains, the Himalayas. It is one of the very poorest countries in the world.

But the people of Nepal are leaping forward in their millions -- daring to make a revolution – to challenge the old ways, to overthrow their king and all the old
parties. To remake all of society!

Fighters led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), waging guerrilla war for ten years, liberated over 80 percent of the countryside. To win over the urban people of Nepal, they took part in elections for a "Constituent Assembly" – a historic gathering expected to throw off the hated king and create a new political order.

Already there are rumblings that the U.S., the Indian and Royal Nepalese Army and the old political parties will try to prevent this change. A sharp test of strength --a seizure of power -- may lie just ahead.

The people have said "ENOUGH!" to:

--The bitter poverty of scratching crops from hillsides without sanitation, electricity, communications or even roads – controlled by a feudal state and landlords.
--The vicious power of the capitalist world market that drives so many Nepalese farmers to leave families and homes – to travel to India seeking work.
--The subjugation of women, the arranged marriages and thousands of girls forced into sexual slavery in urban brothels.
--The domination of foreign powers that keep Nepal dependent, poor, and under constant military threat.

Billions of people around the earth suffer all this too! Hundreds of millions drawn across borders trying to find a way to live – a way out of the poverty of farm labor and deep debt. All over the world countries suffer the domination of imperialism – especially US imperialism and the demands of its power.

How many of us, marching today in the streets on May First, know exactly what the people of Nepal are suffering?

Do we share their dreams of revolution and a new world?

Is revolution really impossible? Is capitalism permanent? In this distant corner of the world, our brothers and sisters raise the red flag. This is hidden from us.

The world must know of this Maoist revolution.

The people can make revolution and fight to create a new world!

Stop U.S. moves against the revolution in Nepal!

Learn about Nepal's revolution:
Contact Kasama, a new communist project:

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Food crisis offers Kerala opportunity to make a new beginning

Is the fracas among the political parties belonging to the ruling and opposition fronts over the responsibility for the rise in rice prices a continuation of their usual shadow fighting The two sides always try to make it appear as though they were responsible for all the good things that have happened here and that the other side was responsible for all the bad things. Since the Congress ranks are by birth anti-Communist and the Communist ranks are by birth anti-Congress, the crowds keep cheering their respective sides and enjoy the game.

The war of words between the fronts is rather like a quarrel among frogs in the well. The rise in rice prices did not happen suddenly. The prices of foodgrains were rising continuously during the last few years. World Bank vice-president Praful Patel, who is in charge of this region, recently said that grain prices recorded an increase of 70% in the last seven years

The Food and Agriculture Organization kept recording the increase in price year after year. Last year's report said that grain prices rose steeply in 2006 and that the trend was continuing. FAO revealed that in March this year prices reached the highest level in three decades. All this information did not reach the frogs in the well.

Kerala gets the good effects of the globalized system as well as its ill-effects in abundant measure. We must, therefore, know what is happening in the world. We don't produce our requirements of foodgrains. We must, therefore, know what is happening in the rice-growing countries. In last year's Economic Review, the Planning Board had referred to the decline in the area under rice as well as production in the other southern States and described it as a matter of concern. It did not refer to developments in the world market probably because India is self-sufficient in foodgrains and it is the Centre's responsibility to meet the State's needs.

Experts cite three major reasons for the worldwide rise in grain prices. One is the rise in energy prices. Many countries, including the United States, are giving priority to crops needed for manufacture of ethanol which is being used as a substitute for oil. As a result, food production has declined. Climate change and natural disasters constitute another cause of price rise. Over and above these comes
hoarding by traders hoping to make huge profits. This is probably the only area where the State government can do something. However, it may not do anything more than holding out threats of action. After all, barking dogs don't bite.

The Government of India has banned the export all varieties of rice other than basmati to prevent the world food crisis making its impact on the domestic market. This has adversely affected overseas Indians. Rice has reportedly disappeared from US shops patronized by Indians.

India's problem is not food scarcity but high prices. The worst sufferers are the poor. Kerala experiences both scarcity and rising prices. The worst sufferers here are those who do not get the benefit of the foreign remittances flowing around. The majority of the Dalits and the Adivasis are among them.

FAO expects the present food crisis to persist for years. It has put forward some proposals to deal with the situation in cooperation with national governments and international agencies. It asks that steps be taken to increase food production and make grains accessible to the weaker sections. This week UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called a meeting of representatives of 27 agencies of the world body at Berne, capital of Switzerland, to discuss an action plan to meet the situation. It is at this time that the ruling and opposition fronts here are trying to amuse us raising controversies.

Our rulers' tradition is one of destroying agriculture. They did it through revolutionary land reforms. Shortly before the first Communist government fell, the Governor, addressing the State Assembly, said, "Unless food production is increased two or three fold Kerala's food crisis cannot be solved permanently. I am glad that, realizing this, my government has taken steps to augment food production. Some success has already been registered in that direction." We now know that his
expectations did not materialize. Now the area under food crops and production are both shrinking continuously. It was the revolutionary thought that transferred land from the landlord to the tenant, who was standing on the border, instead of the farm labourer, who was working in the paddy-field. Even before he got the land he had decided to give his children a modern education so that they can join the
ranks of the emerging middle class. In his hands, land became an asset that can help realize his middle class hopes. As he realized his ambition, the State's food security, which was already in peril, was lost completely.

The lesson we have to learn from the present crisis is that we have to do certain things to ensure food security. If we can think constructively, we can turn this crisis into a new opportunity. All cultivable land must be brought under the plough. The government must draw up a plan for this purpose urgently. The task of implementing the plan must be entrusted with the sections of people who have not lost interest in farming yet. That way the government can do justice, even if belatedly, to the Dalits and Adivasis who were denied justice at the time of land reform. As far as possible they must be encouraged to do farming on cooperative basis. The government must ensure that the financial institutions give them the help they need. It must acquire at pre-determined prices all the grains they produce under the plan and distribute them to the weaker sections through the public distribution system.
Based on column "Nerkkazhcha" appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated May 1, 2008