By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government has again proved its inability to ensure smooth and mature handling of a peaceful protest.
At the receiving end of the wrath of the Chief Minister and the CPI(M) were ‘Vayalkkilikal’, a collective of residents of Keezhattur village in Kannur district, who are agitating against the proposed National Highway bypass passing through their paddy fields.
It has been an unredeeming tale of insensitivity, ineptitude and bungling right from the beginning. It all began when landowners and farmers affected by the proposed bypass started their peaceful agitation against the project. Ironically, the agitation was initially backed by the CPI(M) itself. Later on, the party changed its stance and opposed the Vayalkkilikal’s struggle. The CPI(M) even expelled nine party members for backing the agitation. The flash point came when the pandal (temporary structure) put up by the protestors was burnt allegedly by CPI(M) workers.
The CPI(M) compounded its offence by insisting on the bypass construction through the paddy fields, ignoring alternative proposals mooted by the Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP). As if all this was not enough, the CPI(M) committed the cardinal sin for a communist party by launching an agitation to counter the popular agitation of the Vayalkkilikal’! The magnitude of the CPI(M)’s insensitivity can be gauged from the shocking denunciation of the protestors as ‘kazhuganmar’(vultures) by minister G Sudhakaran belonging to the CPI(M).
The CPI(M)’s contention is that out of the 60 land owners who will be affected by the bypass, 56 have given their consent letters. Only four families were opposed to it, they contend. The agitators, however, counter this by saying that the consent letters were fake and the CPI(M) workers were intimidating Vayalkkilikal by warning them of dire consequences. Such intimidatory tactics culminating in the burning of the temporary structure erected by the agitators was nothing but terrorism in the name of development, argue the environmentalists, social activists and political workers who support their agitation.
Not surprisingly, the CPI(M)’s insensitive attitude has resulted in the opposition parties ‘unitedly’ opposing it. On Sunday, various political parties backed by environmentalists and social activists took out a largely-attended march opposing the CPI(M)’s terror tactics. The agitation would continue till the alignment passing through the paddy fields was changed. That is the stand of the Vayalkkilikal, which is even contemplating a ‘long march’ on the lines of the one farmers of Maharashtra took out from Nasik to Mumbai.
The Shastra Parishad has warned that the environmental impact of the project would be huge. Therefore, alternative means should be explored. The Parishad, which made a study of the bypass alignment through Keezhattur village and also the alternative option of developing the existing road through Taliparamba town, said construction of a flyover would be a more feasible alternative than reclaiming a five-km stretch of paddy fields. Besides, the project would need 1.25 lakh truckloads of soil to fill the lands. It would also mean demolition of at least nine hills in the neighbourhood.
The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) thinks it has cottoned on to a potent weapon to harass the Vijayan Government. But the party is yet to take a firm stand on the agitation though a few party leaders like V M Sudheeran attended the Sunday march. KPCC vice-president V D Satheeshan is hitting the CPI(M) where it hurts the most. His contention: mandatory procedures to be followed under the Land Acquisition Act, like social impact assessment and expert committee appraisal studies have not been undertaken in the case of Keeezhattur project.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala has taken strong exception to the CPI(M)’s argument that outsiders participating in the agitation were creating trouble. He found the Government’s opposition to outsiders participating in the agitation unacceptable. Were CPI(M) leaders KK Ragesh, MLA and Viju Krishnan who attended the long march in Maharashtra residents of that state?
Whatever the denouement, the CPI(M) and the Chief Minister have pushed themselves into a corner on the sensitive issue. An issue which could have been solved amicably through negotiations has been allowed to be a snowballed into a full-fledged anti-Government agitation.
To add to the CPI(M)’s discomfiture, even the CPI has supported the Vayalkkilikal’s agitation. Development cannot be imposed and it should be undertaken only by taking the local people into confidence and addressing their pressing concerns. That is the CPI’s stand.
It is not too late. What the CM must do is to call an all-party meet to find an amicable solution. But the track record of the Kerala CPI(M) leadership does not inspire much confidence. Failure to resolve the Keezhattur controversy could lead to a Nandi gram-like situation developing in Kerala. Is that what the CPI(M) wants? (IPA Service)
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