ROTTING IN DENMARK … Suicides of two ex-NRI entrepreneurs show how Communists undercut Kerala’s interests

The Convention Centre Sajjan erected at Bakkalam under Anthoor municipality.

TVM: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” so sang bard William Shakespeare in The Hamlet. A similar situation exists today in Kerala, which boasts of cent per cent literacy. Under successive Congress and CPIM-led governments, the state is touching new highs in corruption  — as media exposes showed after the suicide of an ex-NRI entrepreneur, Sajan, in the CPIM citadel of Kannur. Reports in the aftermath of the suicide say panchayat and municipal administrations are steeped in corruption and are a rule unto themselves. The reports note several acts of harassment of new entrepreneurs; with political bosses and officials being hand-in-glove with each other.

Notably, a similar suicide had taken place in Kollam some time ago, due to pressure tactics adopted by local CPI men on a small-time ex-NRI entrepreneur trying to set up a welding unit, who refused to give them money in lakhs. 

What these go to show is, Communists in Kerala are no more what they used to be – protectors of the ordinary people. They lost their good sides because of their frequent holding of power, corrupting the rank and file in surprising ways. On the one side, communal forces are putting the Communists on the defensive; on the other, corrupt elements in their own parties are bringing a bad name to the two Communist parties. For the reds, the situation is tailor-made for disaster, as had happened in West Bengal, followed by Tripura. However, the advantage of a Left rout here will be to the Congress-led UDF, and not to the BJP. 

In the long run, this scenario might change in favour of the BJP as it is growing step by step.

In the present incident in Kannur’s Anthur area, the local municipal chairperson PK Shyamala of the CPIM and senior civic officials like the municipal secretary have reportedly harassed ex-NRI entrepreneur Sajan by refusing to give completion and occupation certificates for him to open a Rs 15crore convention centre he set up in the municipal area. They did so on allegedly flimsy grounds, without sufficient reason. Reports are that the groupism in the CPIM was one of the reasons for the antagonistic attitude displayed by Shyamala, wife of CPIM central committee member MV Govindan, towards Sajjan.

As is the case with all entrepreneurs, 48-year-old Sajan Parayil, son of Kunhabu, had put in some money and taken huge loans from banks for setting up the convention centre. After the centre was ready for occupation, he approached the municipality for the completion and occupation certificates, but would not get it. He visited the municipal office nearly 30 times to get this done, but was rebuffed on the ground he “violated rules.” His failure to pay bribes was said to be reason for the strong-arm tactics displayed by the secretary, with able support from the municipal chairperson.

It would appear that the chairperson was incensed over Sajjan directly meeting some senior leaders like former district secretary P Jayarajan and state industries minister EP Jayarajan to facilitate the initial clearances for the works to start, at the initial stage. Sajjan himself was a strong CPIM supporter and activist. He made his money from Nigeria, Africa. “It will remain as a tomb,” chairperson Shyamala had told Sajjan tongue-in-cheek, when he last visited her; meaning no sanction need be expected. Since he had taken huge loans, and monthly repayment was not possible without the opening of the convention centre and accrual of rentals from it, Sajjan’s patience wore thin. Sajjan could not wait any longer, and in utter disgust and distress, he committed suicide, his family said.

The state committee meeting of the CPIM on Monday decided to protect Shyamala and not seek her resignation from the post. Wide expectations were that the party would ask her out. Instead, when the Opposition raised the matter in the state assembly, an unruffled chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan put the entire blame of the municipal secretary, tried to protect Shyamala, and said a law would be brought forward to limit the powers of secretaries. In other words, he would be using this as an excuse to give more powers to the politicians holding offices in civic bodies. Fact is that they are equally corrupt but might not act in rash manners as officials in Kerala are used to doing. 

An initial inquiry by police, a department headed by chief minister Vijayan, came to the conclusion that there was “no evidence” to prove any wrong-doing by Shyamala.

Over the years, there has been very little of industrial build-up in the state. One has to pay bribes through his nose to get a company started even in a small way. The long stunting of industrial growth in state — which, instead, depends mostly on neighbouring Tamil Nadu for consumer items — has also to do in part with the militancy of the communist-led trade unions. Huge corruption by officials at all levels remains unchecked. The periods of the United Democratic Front (UDF) led by the Congress party and involving communal outfits like the Muslim League and the Kerala Congress (of Christians) have been noted for their hugely corrupt ways. Former UDF chief minister Oommen Chandy was himself at the centre of huge corruption charges relating to grant of licence for some solar project. This, though, was only the tip of the iceberg. Most, if not all, the UDF ministers were largely corrupt and allegedly made crores through foul means.

While Congressmen, as also those from other UDF partners, kept engaging in wholesale corruption, the result was also that officials have risen to a matching level in promoting corrupt ways.

Perceptions so far were that the CPIM by itself was not very corrupt, and retained dignity in governance. Its leaders at various levels might be engaging in acts of the kind PK Shyamala did – as is now being made public. The problem with the CPIM is more of the murder politics in northern districts. The CPI, a partner in the LDF led by the CPIM, is hugely corrupt. Together, they seem to be suffocating the state.

Another ex-NRI who set up a small welding shop committed suicide some months ago after local CPI men in Kollam district sought to extract their pound of flesh from him. Several CPI leaders are known to make dirty money when its ministers hold principal portfolios like revenue, forests etc. The party also has some leaders like former secretary Panniyan Raveendran with a clean image. He was not given a second term because partymen felt being suffocated by his upright manners. They kept him aside and switched on their money-minting machines with rare flourish.

The two Communist parties in Kerala today demonstrate all the signs of a degeneration. Their leaderships are far removed from the people. Some district party secretaries screech past the streets in luxury Innovas, their antennae up, the vehicle in racing mode, and these “leaders” claiming themselves to be one up on, and acting in equal terms with, humble, educated and well-mannered District Collectors. The difference between the attitudes of the party secretary and district collector needs to be seen to be believed. This is so every time the Left is in power. The leaders of the CPI , a party with hardly any base, act more funny in these respects.

The CPIM too has its many flaws. Now, what hogs headlines is also a complaint about an illicit relationship the CPIM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s son Benoy maintained with a bar dancer in Dubai, now settled in Mumbai with a child allegedly from this liaison. The CPIM secretary is not involved in this; and, as he noted, he cannot account for all the actions of his sons, especially when they lived abroad. The party understands this, but the media is making a lot of fuss about  what went wrong. This, thus, might cast a shadow over the party too. 

The two Communist parties are now on the defensive on several such matters, across the state. Even the communal consolidation among the minorities is to these parties’ great disadvantage.

As was documented in the past, the CPIM and the CPI are largely populated by Hindu communities like Ezhavas, who form 22 per cent of the population, the Nairs-Nambiars-Menons who form 12 per cent, other Hindus five per cent, the SC-STs 12 per cent and Brahmins two per cent. Sections of the Hindus are now turning against the LDF. The UDF has the backing of the minorities to the full and this is supplemented with support from some segments of the Hindus as well. The CPIM’s efforts to woo Muslims to its side did not succeed in substantial manners over the past several years. Christians are always set against the Communists, though there are a few Christian, as also Muslim, faces in the party’s leadership structure.  

Together, Hindus in Kerala, deeply divided as they are due to aspects of casteism and one-upmanship, form around 55 per cent of the population, while two minority groups form around 45 per cent — Christians 18 per cent and Muslims 26 per cent. The population of Muslims is growing fast as is the case elsewhere in the country too, as they do not subscribe to family planning or limiting the number of kids. Hindus generally limit it at two.

The strength of the minorities is a problem that the BJP faced in the election arena. This might be overcome to an extent if three-cornered contests emerge. In the past, it was essentially a fight between the UDF and the LDF. In such a scenario too, in the likelihood of a minority consolidation, the UDF stands to benefit as has happened in the recent LS polls. When a section of the Nairs turned against the LDF government on various issues like Sabarimala, and a section of Ezhavas took a fancy to the BJP, it was advantage UDF. This scenario might persist in the assembly polls in 2021 – about two years away. While the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government is doing a better job, compared with the corrupt UDF dispensations of the past, this alone will not help the party return to power, given the communal arithmetic that now exists.
CM Pinarayi has a habit of defending the police even when it is seen to be indulging in wrong and objectionable acts like custodial torture. He is there to defend the police, he is there to defend his party comrades, and he is not seen to be there to defend the people’s interests. Vijayan’s failure to gauge the public mood is often his undoing and this is one reason for his unpopularity. VS Achuthanandan, former CM and communist stalwart, was the opposite. He will side with the people even in situations he should not. He was a populist to the core, and managed to have a fan-following. 

Vijayan’s associates say he adopts straight stands, and won’t go round and round. Diplomacy is not his forte. Rather, he makes enemies out of his friends and well-wishers. Also, where immediate action is called for, he waits and pauses. What it also means is a lack of tact, and people are not enthused. This is often putting his party on the defensive too. This reflects in elections. Winning an election under Pinarayi Vijayan might thus be a hard task for the LDF. The communal arithmetic is also against the LDF as of now.

Notably, small sections of the Muslims are still favourably disposed to the LDF. They had been there with the party in the past, and they are there with the party now too. Strengthening of this Muslim support base is seen as the best way forward for the LDF and the CPIM in the state. In the LS polls, Muslims solidly backed the UDF in the hope that the Congress would be able to neutralize PM Modi and the BJP at the Centre. This has not happened. As was seen in Wayanad and elsewhere, even pro-LDF Muslims voted for the UDF nominees this time. In state assembly polls, chances are that some more of the Muslims would return to the Left’s side and back the LDF.

For the Communists, continuing to keep their hold on the Hindus is easier said than done. Under Modi, the BJP is growing, and it is growing in Kerala too. More and more Hindus are leaving the LDF and siding with the BJP. This makes it imperative for the reds to broad-base their support by drawing in more of minorities. Christians are a hard nut to crack for both the Left for years and the BJP for now. Sections of Muslims have a leftist streak. IHN-NN


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