COVID CIRCUS.. Please-all Pinarayi draws ridicule; ignores serious issues of life in Kerala, seeking saviour image abroad too


TVM: Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s Covid circus is drawing more ridicule than praise. An allegation, of late, is that the chief minister’s attention is more on overseas Malayalees, while he is not mindful of the difficult times the people within the state are facing. He is speaking up for overseas Malayalees with increased vehemence. Covid has come as another reason. The Covid-related scenario is not too bad in the Gulf, though. Dubai, for instance, has declared only a two-week lockdown, and most Gulf regions do not experience a shutdown or life disruption of a kind Kerala is put through.

Some 24 lakh Keralites live and work abroad, mostly in the Gulf. The money they sent to the state on a regular roll is what keeps the state’s life in high form. Politicians have little to do with the state’s economic well-being. They are feeding themselves first, and other later.

Life, though, is turning harder in the state in times of covid-linked restrictions, and this has more to do with the way the government is handling matters. For instance, as is widely discussed, two most sought-after items of daily use, fish and liquor, are not available through the three-week lock-down, which is likely to be extended further. 

Finance minster Dr Thomas Issac is unable to find money for the government’s daily requirements due to the generosity of Pinarayi Vijayan, who is bent on appeasing one and all, including segments like the minorities and the migrant workers. Migrant workers earn handsomely in this state; more than three times the wages in Odisha, Assam or Bengal. And, the CM is seeing a hope in getting onto the right side of the minorities. Most migrant labour is drawn from a minority community with roots in Bangladesh or having migrant status in Assam, Bengal etc. They save and send back home much more than what a normal Malayali family earns here a day or a month. Migrant workers are brought by labour contractors who take a huge cut from their salaries. The normal salary for a labour in Kerala is in the range of Rs 800 a day. 

There are those who say Pinarayi Vijayan’s misplaced yet motivated sympathies are allegedly prompted by his and his party’s aim to retain power for one more term. In the process, the CM is making scapegoats out of the communities that supported and voted for the Commies in election after election. He has nothing to offer them. The brahminical distaste for liquor and fish is shared in equal measure by the Commi leaderships past and present. Yet, the Pinarayi government is bent on wooing the fishermen community to use them as a vote bank for the left’s future climb to power.

The state’s coffers are virtually empty for a variety  of reasons. The floods came in 2018 and the next year too. Covid came in 2020. All of which hurt the state. The chief minister is again seeking inputs for his Disaster Relief Fund. Most people are ready to pay, but are constrained over the fact that the Pinarayi government , despite its claim of being less corrupt, is reticent about making public the details of the funds it collected for flood relief in the past and the way the money was used – or diverted or misused. An instance of partymen diverting flood funds to their bank accounts came into the open from Ernakulam the other day, and this may not be an isolated case. 

At ground level, communist leaders today are more corrupt than the traditionally corrupt Congressmen.

There is no attempt at transparency about the way the funds are collected or distributed. An air of secrecy is maintained with no justification whatsoever. No different was the case with the UDF periods too. The Ommen Chandy period was the height of corruption and virtual loot. The governments’ hide and seek vis a vis fund collections is well-known. Also, how governments used the Tsunami relief funds collected from various sources is  not stated in the open forums. In these days of computerized data management, putting the entire details of collections and expenses on the web, for people to understand, is possible and easy. But governments shy away from doing this. Mismanagement or misappropriation on large scales is suspected. The Pinarayi government is accused by the Opposition of not being transparent about the funds use.

At a time when politicians and bureaucrats are looting public money through all means, the general public will cooperate wholeheartedly only if the government demonstrates a seriousness about its intent, purpose and results.
Pinarayi Vijayan is not seen to be serious about insisting that government employees pay a month’s salary towards Covid relief. Only 50 per cent of the employees paid to the flood relief funds when the first salaray challenge was introduced by the government in 2018. Government employees, other than the police force and health sector staff, are sitting pretty at their homes for close to a month, this month, and will take their full salary for the month as usual, without any work. Even then, pro-Congress and pro-UDF employees are resisting a payment from their salary for Covid relief. Please-all Pinarayi Vijayan is smiling his way through such resistances, and does not put his foot down.

Knowing the struggle the state is going through, finance minister Dr Thomas Issac is pressing for strict enforcement of salary cut. Pinarayi Vijayan is weighing the pros and cos and dragging his feet. The CM obviously cannot afford to set any segment against him at a time when about a year is left for him to call fresh elections. The civic polls are expected to be held before that. Reason why he’s allegedly playing to the gallery at a time of serious financial crisis for the state.

Kerala is in the forefront of liquor consumption, also due to the money power the people have through their Gulf and American connections, as also through corrupt ways of government staff. A major source of revenue for the state exchequer is coming from liquor sales by the Beverages Corporation, which has a monopoly over liquor sale in the state. With the government foolishly closing down beverage outlets and making no serious effort to distribute liquor online in times of a lockout, the state exchequer is facing a heavy fall in revenue. This adds to the state’s Covid crisis. Another major earnings for the government are from the marines sector. Kerala has a long coastline abutting the Arabian Sea, and fish is a must for most people for their daily meals, as in Goa. With no system put in place for fish distribution, the government will lose heavily on this count too. The fish supply chain remains largely affected or are defunct due to the failure of the government to take special steps during the Covid lockdown. 

With little regard to tackling such serious situations, or setting things right, the chief minister seems bent on reaching out to overseas Malayalees with a patronizing bent of mind. He wants to let them know he cares for them. He held a video conference with overseas Malayali heavyweights, many of them publicity crazy bums who do too little on the ground by way of help to the fellow Malayalis, and urged them to help out those affected by the Covid lock=down in the Gulf etc. 

Whether all these gimmicks will help the LDF return to power in the next polls is a big question. 

The LDF government, in its last year of operations, does not inspire the masses by its actions. The infra development projects remain mostly halted or are in slow mode. Funds are a serious problem. What the Pinarayi government achieved for the state in the past five years will be put for scrutiny before the next polls in mid 2021. Most fancy projects drawn up by the government, like the coastal highway project, the high ranges highway, the high speed light metro rail etc simply remain on paper. Big talks are not translated into actions. Worse, the CM was principally instrumental in killing the Aruamula airport project at a time when he took power and when the work was almost complete. The alternative Ranni airport project that he came up with remains on paper. A highly corrupt MLA and some CPIM functionaries too played a role in this, as per local chatter.

Vis-à-vis Covid, the party apparatus should have been in a position to enlighten the CM on the troubles the people are put through at the ground level. However, many Commies are today engaged in a money-making exercise, or are peddling influence with the government, and show little interest in attending to the problems of the people. Also, the party is somewhat rudderless now, due to the long ailment of state party secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. Feelings are that the CM now runs both the government and the party. His temperament being what it is, no one wants to “enlighten” him. And the CM is enlightening all through his daily press conferences. 

There are no strong hands to take over party responsibility, and this might add to the dangerous drift to corrupt practices. Traditional bulwarks for the party, like Ezhavas, are increasingly getting disenchanted with the CPIM due to the attempts by the party leadership and Pinarayi as CM to appease all other communities, the aim being to draw them too to the party fold. The BJP is increasingly making forays into the Hindu societies, and this is largely thanks to the policies of the Modi government. The local BJP leaderships are weak, and a recent installation of a new state party chief in the form of K Surendran too did not help much. He is taking time to warm up. The RSS is quietly leading the saffron charge in the state, with a set of orderly and disciplined cadre. –IHN-NN


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