Monday, May 25, 2009

Ugly incidents reveal deficiencies of police reform

Gulf Today

Efforts to improve the performance of the Kerala police and give the force a people-friendly image lies in a shambles following a series of ugly incidents which left six dead.Four of them died in a firing.

The state police is proud of the fact that two national studies have rated it as the best in the country.

However, local studies have shown that public perception of the state police is far from flattering.

A survey conducted by the Kerala chapter of Transparency International some years ago revealed more than 80 per cent of the people viewed it as one of the most corrupt government departments.

In 2002, AK Antony, as chief minister in the United Democratic Front (UDF) government, tried to free the police from political interference.

He barred legislators from going to police stations to seek release of arrested persons.

Later, complaints arose that faceless intermediaries had filled the void left by the legislators.

A commission, headed by former Supreme Court judge KT Thomas, which evaluated the performance of the police, said that there was some improvement in the police performance during 2002 and 2003 but subsequently there was a disturbing tendency towards deterioration.

The KT Thomas Commission, which submitted its report in 2005, recommended changes in recruitment procedures and training methods and the evolution of a new work culture.

The Left Democratic Front (LDF), which came to power in 2006, did not pursue the commission's recommendations.

It set up a committee headed by Jacob Punnoose officials to draw up measures to enlist people's co-operation in the working of the police force and give it a people-friendly image.

In March last year, the government launched a community policing programme on the basis of its recommendations.

The Supreme Court of India, acting on a public interest petition, issued a set of seven directives to the central and state governments in 2006 with a view to ensuring functional autonomy for the police and raising its accountability.

Following this, the LDF government amended the Police Act. However, it did not fully comply with the apex court's directives.

Later, it came up with a new, comprehensive draft law. It is yet to be enacted. Its provisions, too, fall short of the court's directives. Apparently the government is unwilling to grant full functional autonomy to the police.

A series of ugly incidents which occurred in the Cheriyathura area, on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram, has brought to light the inadequacies of the police reform efforts.

The police handling of the matter was along the lines established during the colonial period. The organisational leadership did everything possible to protect the errant officers.

It all began on Saturday, May 16, with merchants rebuffing a goon's attempt to extort money from them. The goon came back with gang members and indulged in arson.

Violence spread quickly as the police response was slow. The trouble, which could well have been contained by prompting nabbing the goon, got out of hand and developed into group clashes. On Sunday, the police brought the situation under control by resorting to firing.

There are cynics who believe the police remained inactive as someone in authority decided that a law and order incident would help turn public attention away from the ruling front's humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, results of which had come in earlier in the day.

A more plausible reason for the police inaction may be its reluctance to act against goons, who have political connections.

Two years ago, the government had enacted a law which empowers the police to detain goons.

According to official estimates, a few thousand goons are active but only about 75 persons have been put behind the bars.

The Director-General of Police, in a report to the government, justified the police action in opening fire without magisterial sanction, claiming there would have been more casualties if it had not done so.

The report glosses over the police's failure to prevent the situation from deteriorating to the point where firing became inevitable.

Alarmed by the angry public response to the developments, the government ordered a judicial inquiry into the firing and announced a compensation of Rs 1 million each to the families of the dead. This is the highest compensation paid on such cases so far.

The political parties have divided on expected lines. While UDF leaders have accused the police of failure to act in time, LDF leaders have praised the police's handling of the situation.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Poll reverses set stage for fresh faction fight in CPI-M

Gulf Today

THE Left Democratic Front (LDF) has begun a review of the causes of its humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha elections. As was expected, there are indications that the rout will aggravate factionalism in the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which leads the front.

The LDF, which had bagged 18 of the state's 20 Lok Sabha seats in 2004, could get only four this time. All four seats were won by the CPI-M. The CPI, which contested four seats, and the Kerala Congress (Joseph), which contested one, drew a blank.

Neither CPI-M state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan nor LDF convener Vaikom Viswan faced the media after the results became known on Saturday.

CPI state secretary Veliyam Bhargavan said the front's defeat was the result of a nationwide surge in favour of the Congress, which was seen as the most effective bulwark against the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The CPI-M state secretariat put forward a similar explanation in a written statement. It also claimed the impact of the efforts of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the ant-communist media to unify all anti-communist elements was also discernible in the Kerala verdict.

It added the party would look into the loss of some votes which the party and the front had traditionally received and take corrective measures in the working of the party and the LDF. During the long interval between polling and counting of votes, the state secretariat had called for reports from the party's lower units on possible vote losses.

The Pinarayi Vijayan faction, which controls the organisation, is expected to use these reports to take action against Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan's supporters for anti-party activities.

Findings by the lower committees that the Achuthanandan faction had neutralised party votes or even diverted them to the UDF would provide fresh ammunition for the demand for his resignation as chief minister.

Pinarayi followers had raised the demand at a recent meeting of the party state secretariat.

Achuthanandan, who talked to media persons after the results were declared, was asked whether he would assume responsibility for the election reverses "What for?" he asked.

He denied that the election results were a verdict against the state government.

In response to a pointed question as to who was responsible for the reverses, he said the Politburo and the central committee, which meet in New Delhi this week, would decide that.

On Sunday, the national leaders of the CPI-M and other Left parties met in New Delhi for a preliminary discussion on the outcome of the elections, which had dashed their hopes of playing a major role in the formation of the new government at the Centre.

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, which is only ten seats short of an absolute majority in the new Lok Sabha, is in a position to form a new government without the help of the Left, which anyway has been crippled by its losses in Kerala and West Bengal.

There are no doubt some common causes for the poor performance of the CPI-M and other Left parties in West Bengal and Kerala.

However, the reverses in Kerala have additional dimensions. They represent failure of Pinarayi Vijayan's policy of forging new alliances with parties of dubious background.

When former chief minister K. Karunakaran walked out of the Congress, Vijayan was keen to enter into an alliance with him. Achuthanandan, who opposed the move, was able to get the national leadership to scuttle it.

On the eve of the Lok Sabha elections, Vijayan struck a deal with People's Democratic Party (PDP) chairman Abdul Naser Ma'dani behind the back of the LDF partners.

Under the agreement, he gifted the CPI's Ponnani to an independent candidate of Ma'dani's choice in exchange for PDP's support in the remaining 19 seats.

The election results show that Vijayan's calculation that PDP help will help weaken the hold of the Muslim League in Malappuram district, has not worked out. The alliance with the PDP apparently alienated other Muslim groups from the party.

Unlike in West Bengal, the CPI-M faced a serious challenge in the state from members thrown out for anti-party activities. They worked against the party's candidates and put up their own candidates in some constituencies.

Achuthanandan is expected to draw attention to these factors and demand a change in the state party leadership. The party's national leadership, which is itself in the dock after the reverses, will not be able to meet his demand.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

TN Malayalees’ confederation launches website

Mr. P. A. Sureshkumar, Secretary, Confederation of Tamilnadu Malayalee Associations, Chennai, writes:

On behalf of CTMA we are very proud to inform you that Confederation of Tamilnadu Malayalee Association has launched its website

It was inaugurated by the Chairman of CTMA, Gokulam Gopalan, at a very simple function on Monday, 11th May 2009 at the Malayalee Club, Chennai.

The website has been started with the intention of linking CTMA with the Member Associations and Malayalees in the world. We think that the culture of Malayalees stands apart from that of other communities in the world and we wish to preserve this culture for generations to come. As the world changes faster, people tend to move to far-away lands for better prospects, so separations of families are inevitable, and wherever we go, we form a Malayalee association and try to preserve our interests. But over a period of time we lose our links with other Malayalees or associations who are placed in different states or countries. We at intend to bring all the Malayalee associations together where we can exchange ideas and achieve togetherness in this fast-moving turbulent world.

The website has several features, including facilities for photo uploading, Visitors book etc. It also provides the details of Member Associations, Executive Committee of 2008-2011, CTMA events, work centers and their activities, information on CTMA's interventions in various public issues etc.

This website has been dedicated to the great souls who have contributed significantly to the growth of CTMA, like M. A. Abraham, V. Abdullah, Balakrishnan Mangadu, Gopalan Nair and Thalaseri Raghavan who are no longer with us.

Viewers can send their suggestions/observations to , ,

We invite the participation of all Malayalee Associations and friends to build this website into a comprehensive and effective portal useful to our community.

Secretary, CTMA

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sectarianism dampens mood on the eve of LDF anniversary

Gulf Today

As the third anniversary of Kerala's Left Democratic Front (LDF) government approaches, sectarianism in the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) is in full swing again and the knives are out.

Neither Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan nor his party appears to be in a mood to celebrate the anniversary, which falls on next Monday.

Much will, of course, depend on the results of the Lok Sabha elections, which are expected on Saturday (March 16), the date set for counting of votes.

Both Achuthanandan and state party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan had said before the elections that the results would be a verdict on the state administration too.

Early in the campaign, LDF spokesmen asserted the alliance would do better than last time, even though there was little room for improvement since it had made an almost clean sweep in the Lok Sabha elections of 2004.

Even after polling they continued to exude optimism in public, but the CPI-M's post-poll exercises are a giveaway.

Party committees at various levels have been busy assessing vote losses and fixing responsibility for them.Evidently an effort is on to find scapegoats for likely reverses.

Several party committees have reportedly concluded that Achuthanandan's supporters worked against the party nominees in several constituencies.

With Pinarayi Vijayan's supporters asking for Achuthanandan's scalp, the sectarian feud in the party, which re-surfaced recently, has entered a new stage.

According to media reports, at a meeting of the party's state secretariat on Friday, almost all members demanded Achuthanandan's resignation.

The demand came after Pinarayi Vijayan, in a report, said that Achuthanandan had voiced his personal views on the Lavalin issue at the Cabinet meeting. The members said Achuthanandan had flouted party discipline in giving expression to view different from those of the party.

Ahead of last week's cabinet meeting to consider the Advocate General's advice to turn down the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) request for permission to prosecute Pinarayi Vijayan in the Lavalin case, the CPI-M state committee, at a meeting held in the presence of general secretary Prakash Karat, had asked the government to accept it.

At the cabinet meeting, Achuthanandan reportedly threatened to convey to the Governor his personal view that the CBI's request must be granted.

However, he dropped the idea after NK Premachandran, minister belonging to the Revolutionary Socialist Party, pointed out that such a step would lead to the fall of the government as it meant loss of collective responsibility.

Media reports about the demand for Achuthanandan's resignation in the state committee caused a flurry of activity in New Delhi.

After telephonic contacts with the state leadership, the national office said Achuthanandan's exit was not discussed.

At the instance of the national office, the state party formally denied reports about demands for the chief minister's resignation.

However, it did not contradict reports that the state leadership would complain to the national leadership about Achuthanandan's conduct and demand his ouster from the politburo.

According to published accounts, Labour Minister PK Gurudasan was among those who asked the chief minister to step down if he was not ready to abide by party decisions. MC Josephine was the only Achuthanandan loyalist who did not join the chorus for his resignation.

By cracking the whip the state leadership has been able to isolate Achuthanandan almost totally. But he appears to be ready to fight alone if necessary.

The recrudescence of sectarianism in the state party poses a severe challenge to the national leadership. In earlier interventions in the inner-party feud, it made it clear that it wants Pinarayi Vijayan and Achuthanandan to continue in their respective posts. It is this formula that the state leadership is challenging.

The infighting is likely to intensify further after the election results are announced. If the LDF fares badly, the state leadership is sure to lay the blame at Achuthanandan's door and renew the call for his resignation.

Achuthanandan, on his part, can be expected to argue that the party lost because of the poor image resulting from the state secretary's implication in a corruption case and the electoral understanding with a communal party like the People's Democratic Party of Abdul Naser Ma'dani.

While the LDF constituents cannot question the CPI-M's right to choose its leader, the party cannot effect a change of chief minister without considering their views also.

The CPI, the second largest constituent of the alliance, has made it clear that it does not favour Achuthanandan's exit.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Political leaders rise in defence of working class

Gulf Today

In this year's May Day perorations, leaders of both the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF), cutting across party lines, stoutly defended the state's trade unions which had come under sharp criticism from the High Court the previous day.

LDF leaders, additionally, took up cudgels against the powerful Catholic Church which recently announced plans to make its presence felt in the labour sector.

In a pastoral letter, read at more than 3,000 churches during Sunday services a week ago, the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC), which claims to represent 5.3 million Catholics, had asked the faithful to strengthen the labour unions under its control and set up labour self-help groups.

Since 1960 the Church has been running an organisation called the Kerala Labour Movement.

In 1979 the KCBC set up a labour commission with the proclaimed objective of mobilising the vast body of unorganised workers in the state.

The plan to revitalise these outfits is apparently a response to the growing hostility between the Catholic Church and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which heads the LDF.

The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), affiliated to the CPI-M, is the largest apex labour organisation in the state.

In an immediate response to KCBC announcement, its state secretary, MM Lawrence, said hundreds of Catholics were members of CITU unions and they would ignore the Church's call.

Addressing a May Day rally at Kottayam, CPI-M state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan came down heavily on attempts to divide the working class on the basis of caste and religion.
Religious consciousness had not come to the aid of workers anywhere, he said. It was working class consciousness that gave them strength.

The KCBC is not the only organisation operating in the trade union area with a sectarian agenda.

Like other political parties in the state, the Indian Union Muslim League, too, has a trade union, the Swathanthra Thozhilali Union (STU-independent labour union) and a peasant organisation, the Swathanthra Karshaka Sangham (SKS-independent peasant organisation).

India's largest apex trade union organisation, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, belongs to the Sangh Parivar, which is the engine of Hindutva ideology.

CITU-affiliated unions have been working with BMS-affiliated unions in the state disregarding their links with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which they condemn as communal outfits.

On May Day eve, a division bench of the high court, while hearing petitions filed by the Cochin Port Trust and container owners seeking a declaration that the strike by trade unions which hit work at the container terminal was illegal, made some caustic observations on the trade unions.

It said unions were acting against the state's interests. They were aware only of their rights, not of their responsibilities. They had evolved a work culture which was not suitable for the state.

Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, addressing a rally at Thiruvananthapuram, described the court's observations as 'unfortunate.'

At the same time, he asked the unions to introspect and remove their shortcomings, if any.

He said the government's approach was one of finding solutions to labour disputes through tripartite proceedings. The unions were cooperating with such initiatives.

One issue which did not receive adequate attention in the public exchanges is the relationship between political parties and trade unions.

Many problems on the labour front can be traced to the parties' control over unions.
With each party setting up its own trade union, there is multiplicity of unions in all industries and institutions.

Inter-union rivalry often affects the working of institutions. To make things worse, parties sometimes use unions to further their political interests.

Although all trade union organisations subscribe to the "one industry, one union" formula in principle, they do not sincerely cooperate in its implementation.

Labour unrest is not a major problem in Kerala today. However, investors still tend to shy away because of the reputation for militancy, which the state's trade unions had acquired by resorting to measures involving physical harassment of management personnel at an earlier period.

An unsavoury practice that originated at that time, known as "nokkukooli" (which means looking- on wages), is still in vogue in areas where head-load workers have strong unions. It involves paying union members who simply look on while others work.

Last year, Pinarayi Vijayan condemned "nokkukooli" as an immoral practice. "Aren't there workers in our state who claim wages for just observing others work?" he asked rhetorically. "Are we not endorsing their demand? Why should we watch this plunder helplessly?"

A year later, "nokkukooli" still prevails.