Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I happened to read two reports from Wayanad (in Kerala) in The Hindu; one by P. Sainath (TH April 25, 06) and another by Anita Joshua (TH April 26, 06). Both are about the election scene there and they wish the CPI(M) to win from the three assembly segments. This will indeed mean that the Congress party, whose citadel Wayanad was, will be trounced this time. Well, this may happen.

But what struck me in these reports is that (and if the reports are correct), there are hardly any adivasis in Wayanad. The issue before the voters this election is that coffee and pepper prices have crashed and the voters are, hence, angry with the Congress. And hence the LDF will breach the UDF citadel!

Sainath, grudgingly, mentions the Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha and C.K.Janu. But just grudgingly and in passing. Both these reports do not recall the struggle by the adivasis in Wayanad demanding their rights over their land (that the settlers have appropriated) and various other issues confronting the tribal people there; there is no reference to the Mutanga atrocities and the repression against the tribal people and their leaders. There is no mention that Wayanad happened to be an area neglected by the CPI(M) and the CPI over the years and it was left to the naxalites to organize and take up the demands of the people there. There is no mention about the legendary Stephen who was killed by the police and all the rights violations that were carried out to protect the settlers and their property.

Well, what if the mainstream media pretends to ignore the indigenous people. Their struggle will continue and that is how it should be.
Was at the Island Grounds (in Chennai) this evening to have a feel of the DMK-Congress public meeting. Sonia and Karunanidhi addressing a gathering of about 30 to 50 thousand. The CPM was not represented on the dias... why???? Don't see any political significance to it.

Sonia was as usual... except that I noticed that she has learnt to modulate while reading out from the script... When she said Sidha, I heard it to be Sita... and wondered whether she was going to recal Ramayana like her husband did!!!!! Not just me. Cherry, shreya, Abdus, Nandu and Poornalingam too heard it Sita!!!!!

She said that the State Government cannot claim credit for any welfare schmes because 90% of the funds came from the UPA's centre!!!! And karunanidhi, whose DMK first raised the issue of federal/autonomy did not mind!!!! His speech was laced with interesting verbose ... and a heavy dose of personalised attacks on jayalalitha... well... wait until May 11. The State and its people have to chose between the rock and the hard surface...

Friday, April 21, 2006

The media enterprise and its clients, the bent and the beautiful, are now celebrating Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. Well, they have reasons to do that!!!!!!!!!!!

Budhadeb Mark IIIs CPM turning anti-Marxist?by V. Krishna Ananth
THE West Bengal Chief Minister, Mr Budhadeb Bhattacharya, seems to have emerged as an anti-Marxist leader and yet manages to remain in the CPM. The latest expression of his anti-Marxist ideas could be noticed at a seminar conducted by the CPM in Thiruvananthapuram recently.
Mr Bhattacharya wondered: ``Why should one criticise us when we permit entrepreneurs to set up shopping malls? What is wrong in having super-speciality hospitals facilitating the rich in our country to get quality treatment instead of letting them bank on foreign hospitals?’’ And the enlightened Buddha asked his comrades in Kerala to adopt the ``Bengal model’’, particularly in such sectors as health, education, entertainment and information technology.
Well, the CPM in West Bengal had taken the path of neo-liberalism even earlier than Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharya became Chief Minister. And the CPM, as it is natural with the party, had considered its duty to defend these. I remember an incident that occurred some times ago.
A set of CPM faithfuls, who were also active in the Tamil Nadu Science Forum, had organised a public reception and a meeting for Ms Medha Pathkar in Chennai. Medha was leading a yatra from Plachimada in Kerala to Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and the focus was against the cola plants that an MNC had set up across the country and the adverse impact of that on the livelihood of the people and on the larger question of development. The organisers did not know that Medha was accompanied in that yatra by Mr Thomas Kochery of the Fishermen’s Forum.
The West Bengal Government had signed an MoU with the Sahara group just a few weeks before and it involved transfer of the Jambudweep Islands in the marsh lands of the Sundarbans. In this land that was traditionally used by the fisherfolk — who would dry up the fish they caught there so that it could be sold across West Bengal throughout the year — the Sahara group was planning to float a garden resort. The group carried full-page advertisements in daily newspapers announcing the project and declaring that this would be only one of its kind in India.
Mr Tom Kochery declared at the Chennai meeting that his organisation would not allow this rape of nature and the fishermen would defend their livelihood concerns even if that meant taking on the powerful state and its police. The MoU, to adopt Mr Bhattacharya’s logic, would facilitate the rich to holiday in India rather than sending them away to some foreign land! And when a resort of that kind came up, it will provide employment to people; as waiters in the restaurants, as room boys in the lodges and as cleaners, sweepers and in many other ways. Such holiday resorts will also open up opportunities for dance girls to entertain the rich who come on a holiday!
The only problem was that for all these major gains a few thousand fishermen will have to agree to stop bothering about their livelihood concerns. And when this happens, the availability of fish will go down. But then, this is not an insurmountable problem. The Sahara group and such others would import fish from somewhere else and take care of the nutrition requirements of the rich and the mighty! The fishermen, meanwhile, could get themselves trained to become cleaners and sweepers in the holiday resorts. They cannot become waiters and receptionists and bell boys in these resorts because there are several hundred trained people from the umpteen hotel management colleges across the country.
Coming to the Chennai meeting, Mr Thomas Kochery announced the agitation and it is still on in the Sundarbans. Meanwhile, the hapless organisers of the Chennai meeting were slapped with show cause notices by the CPM. Their crime was that they did not defend the West Bengal Government right then and snub Mr Thomas Kochery. They were charged with having indulged in anti-party activities. It is another matter that many of them apologised. This, perhaps, happened because they are all in the party even now and they have made it a point to resist the temptation to give another reception to Ms Medha Patkar or anyone like her.
The point is the CPM does not differ, in any way, with the Budha line. The party stands for the same development logic that the neo-liberal policies seek to implement. Shopping malls, super-speciality hospitals and so on. For, a large section of the party’s middle-level leaders and most of the levy-paying members belong to the urban middle classes and they all love to go to a multiplex and shop in a super market. And the party government cannot ignore the ``needs’’ of this section.
Now, why is this anti-Marxist?
This is anti-Marxist because such development as destroys nature and does not address to the livelihood concerns of a majority of the people is essentially the pattern that capitalism took. And Karl Marx, in his various texts, described this as severely exploitative and inhuman. Marx went on to present that these contradictions and the human tragedy that arise out of these are caused by the greed for profit that is central to the capitalist logic. Marx then went on to write the Communist Manifesto in which he talked about the need to change this rule and put in place a new society that he called communism.
And communism is about a society without greed and where human concerns and not greed would determine the life of the people. It is not another way to capitalism. In Mr Bhattacharya’s formula of development, where multiplexes, shopping malls and super-speciality clinics symbolise progress, there is no place for the ordinary farmer (whose land is taken away for building the shopping malls). Similarly, when super-speciality clinics come up everywhere, the medical professionals will make more money and hence will spend all their time and energy there rather than in government hospitals.
We all know that all the specialists in the super-speciality clinics are doctors in government hospitals and employed as consultants in private clinics. And their heart is always where money is. Their expertise is hardly available for the poor man.
It is for all these reasons that one should have problems with multiplexes, shopping malls and super-speciality hospitals. More so, when these are accepted as the sole denominators of progress and determinants of growth.
Elections have always excited me. And the one to the Tamil Nadu Assembly, scheduled for May 8, 2006 looks like a difficult one to study. There are no issues and no wave. This at least is the impression from the media and I am not travelling the way I would across the State to feel the mood for myself. Well, good enough reasons to simply fall back and recall history.

EPW Commentary
April 1, 2006
Assembly Elections: Changing Dynamics in Tamil Nadu
The election scene in Tamil Nadu has changed considerably since Jayalalithaa's debacle in the Lok Sabha polls of 2004. The relative regional strength of constituent parties within the two rival alliances will determine the outcome in 2006.
V Krishna Ananth

Among the states where elections will be held in April-May 2006, the situation seems most complicated in Tamil Nadu. Part of this is due to the ease with which such parties like the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), headed by Vaiko and the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI), headed by Thol Tirumavalavan, walked out of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA) just a few days before the poll schedule was notified. The key to understanding the poll scene in the state, however, lies in analysing the caste andalliance dynamics in each subregion of Tamil Nadu.
While Vaiko’s MDMK had contested the 2001 state assembly polls alone, Thol Tirumavalavan of the DPI had fought and won the May 2001 assembly elections as a DMK candidate. Both Vaiko and Tirumavalavan were seen talking with the DMK even as they were negotiating with J Jayalalithaa’s All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).
After Vaiko’s exit from the front, the DMK chief, M Karunanidhi went about dealing with his other allies in real earnest. Karunanidhi was in a hurry because he could not rule out the possibility of further desertion from the DPA. An alliance as broad as possible was an imperative for the DMK, and Karunanidhi could have persisted with the “take-it-or-leave-it” attitude that he had followed with the MDMK only at his own peril.
It is a different matter that the DMK chief had adopted an antagonistic position vis-a-vis Vaiko. The MDMK leader was growing in stature and was buying time to lead the DMK ranks after Karunanidhi. And the DMK supremo knew that his son, M K Stalin did not have it in him to emerge as the natural leader of the party as long as Vaiko too aimed for that position. Vaiko’s exit was something that Karunanidhi then facilitated, even if with reluctance. The DMK chief as well as others in the coalition know well the adverse impact of Vaiko’s switch on their own prospects. They had all hoped that Vaiko would, once again, decide to go it alone and set up a third front. But for the MDMK this would have meant five more years in oblivion. The party had failed to secure a single assembly seat in 1996 and in 2001. The MDMK’s support base is spread across the state and does not exceed a few thousand votes in each constituency. While it is true that it has widened its support base from 2001, it has certainly not grown enough to capture the imagination of the voters. Vaiko’s survival instinct then was behind his decision to strike a deal with Jayalalithaa.
As for Jayalalithaa, the deal with the MDMK and a possible understanding with actor Vijaykanth (whose fledgling party continues to posture that it will field candidates in all the 234 constituencies) will help her widen her support. In a polity where caste and other denominational categories determine the choice of a majority of the voters, the AIADMK deals are significant. The most important development, however, insofar as the AIADMK is concerned, is its alliance with Tirumavalavan’s DPI, which gives the party the space to reinvent itself in north Tamil Nadu, where the AIADMK had become weak after the DPI emerged as a force. This is also the region where the DMK had struck its roots for long and its ally, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), is now a strong force. A brief foray into the past would throw light on the scenario in north Tamil Nadu.
Post-Independence Trajectory
It is possible to identify three distinct stages in the post-independence politics of Tamil Nadu. The first couple of decades (until 1967) were when the Congress remained the natural choice; then there were the years 1967 to 1975 when the DMK appeared invincible. This was followed by what can be called the MGR era (1977-87) during which the Congress reinvented itself to a position from where it could not win on its own but it could influence the poll outcome. It, therefore, became important for the DMK and the AIADMK to build an alliance with the Congress. This phase continued until the 1996 general elections when the DMK managed to sweep the polls in alliance with the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC).
The results of the 1998 general elections marked a watershed in that they established the extent of fragmentation in the polity and its impact on the poll scenario. The 1998 election established the maturing of sorts of a political reality in which outfits that were subregional in the geographical sense and parties that denied any notion of a Tamil national identity came of age. The most important example was the growth of the PMK, which had established itself in the northern districts of Tamil Nadu, filling the vacuum left by the Tamil Nadu Toilers Party (TNTP) of the 1950s. The TNTP, it may be recalled, had arrived on the scene in northern Tamil Nadu representing the aspirations of the vanniyar community which constituted the backward caste population in the region. The party had won 19 seats in the 1951-52 elections to the Madras state assembly and secured three Lok Sabha seats. This brought out very clearly the social base of the nucleus of an anti-Congress political platform in the long run.
While the TNTP (and the Common Wheel Party, another political expression of OBC aspiration) did not last long, the socio-political space came to be occupied by the DMK. In the 1962 assembly elections, the DMK’s success came in the region where the TNTP had held sway since 1952. And in 1967, when the Congress was swept aside, the DMK and its ally, the Swatantra Party, won all the 17 Lok Sabha constituencies in the north Tamil Nadu.1
The point is that in the first decade of the DMK’s existence the party’s social base was constituted by the vanniyars largely because of the community’s animosity towards the Congress after Jawaharlal Nehru foisted C Rajagopalachari as chief minister of Madras even after the Congress had failed to win a clear majority in the assembly. The community detested the Congress machinations against one of their own heading the state government, which would have been the first such non-Congress coalition.2 After the formation of the PMK in the mid-1980s there was a clear and substantial erosion of the DMK’s base among the vanniyar community which had shifted its allegiance to the PMK.
The shift followed a long drawn-out agitation, violent in form, demanding that the vanniyars be classified as most backward classes for state government jobs. The agitation gave S Ramdoss the necessary space to arrive on the Tamil Nadu political scene in much the same manner as Charan Singh had emerged in Uttar Pradesh in the 1960s and Mayawati in the 1990s. Like Charan Singh and Mayawati, the core of the PMK leader’s strategy was to become a strong (marginal) player through consolidation of an exclusive vote-bank and use this status to negotiate a larger role for himself in the political establishment as well as the mainstream. The results of the elections after 1998, when the PMK proved its worth as an ally of both the AIADMK and the DMK, cannot be ignored.3 This, however, seems to be changing. The fact that the PMK has agreed to remain in the DMK-led alliance with only 31 seats cannot but be seen as an indication of the party supremo, Ramdoss, realising his weakness. The PMK agreed to such a deal even when the Congress, which cannot claim a monopoly over any social group, was given 48 assembly constituencies in the DMK-led alliance.
The PMK’s social base, consisting of the vanniyar community, was built on an agenda that sought the exclusion of the dalits in north Tamil Nadu and this was consolidated through a violent campaign. Dalit assertion was represented by the DPI, whose strategy too was built on the idea of exclusion. This, however, underwent a change in the past couple of years after Ramdoss and Tirumavalavan attempted an alliance between them under the banner of the Tamil Protection Movement. They were bound by an empathy with the liberation movement in Sri Lanka and the LTTE. As a result, there seems to have been a shift, at least among a section of the vanniyars, towards the DMK. After Tirumavalavan struck the recent deal with the AIADMK, Ramdoss was reduced to a situation of accepting whatever the DMK was willing to concede to it. As for the AIADMK, with Tirumavalavan in its fold, it can hope to revive its vote-bank among the dalits in the region. The dalit votes were the mainstay of the AIADMK in north Tamil Nadu during the MGR era and are now with the DPI.
Southern Districts
In south Tamil Nadu, there is a different kind of dynamics at play. It is in the districts of Madurai, Virudhunagar and Theni that the AIADMK is the strongest. The position of Sasikala Natarajan, Jayalalithaa’s close friend, in the AIADMK has drawn the thevar community, the most numerous backward castes, in the region into its fold. It is true that the dalits in this region – predominantly the pallar community – are alienated from the party. But the DMK-led front may not gain because the dalits here are still with the independent Puthiya Tamizhagham, led by K Krishnasamy. Vaiko’s influence is strongest in south Tamil Nadu and so, the AIADMK front can look forward to a rich harvest in this region. Further south, in the Tirunelveli and the Kanyakumari districts, the Congress and the Left can claim their presence and this perhaps is where the DMK-led combine can look forward to a relatively good performance. In western Tamil Nadu consisting of the Coimbatore, Erode and Dindigul districts, the social divisions are not as clearly pronounced as they are elsewhere in Tamil Nadu. The dalits – the arunthathiyars – are yet to organise themselves in a political sense and with the feudal shackles still in place, they remain a subservient lot allowing the gounders, the predominant backward caste group, to determine their political choice. In political terms, the west has been an AIADMK bastion and there is little indication of a change in that direction.
Given all these factors, the outcome of the May 8, 2006 polls in Tamil Nadu is difficult to predict with any certainty. While the exit of the MDMK from the DMK-led front has demoralised the parties in the DPA combine, the AIADMK, after being swept aside in the May 2004 general elections, appears to have regained a lot of strength. The Jayalalithaa government has retrieved some ground with its welfare schemes; one of them being the distribution of bicycles to children from the socially backward classes. Similarly, the state government’s response to the 2004 tsunami and the floods that lashed the state during November-December 2005 appear to have earned the AIADMK some goodwill. Jayalalithaa had also revoked the harsh decisions taken against the state government employees after the July 2003 strike. It remains to be seen if all this will have any impact on the polls.
Meanwhile, the DMK, contesting in only 129 of the 234 assembly seats will have to come to terms with the idea of a coalition government, for it is indeed impossible in the given situation for the party to win as many as 118 assembly seats out of the 129 it is contesting. The PMK and the Congress are bound to insist on a coalition if the front manages to win a majority. All this reflects the extent to which the polity has been fragmented in Tamil Nadu and signifies the strength of the marginal players in the state political arena.
1 While the Swatantra Party won from Karur, all the other 16 Lok Sabha seats in north Tamil Nadu went to the DMK. The DMK had won 25 Lok Sabha seats in 1967. 2 In 1952, the Congress Party had won only 150 of the 375 assembly seats in the then Madras state (consisting of the Malabar district of present- day Kerala, large tracts from present day Andhra Pradesh and some parts of Karnataka) and a coalition consisting of the CPI (with 62 MLAs), the Praja Socialist Party (with 35 seats), the TNTP (19 MLAs) and a majority of the 64 independent MLAs was attempted under the leadership of T Prakasam at that time. Nehru’s Congress Party scuttled this by appointing Rajagopalachari as chief minister. He then “managed’’ a majority by splitting some of the smaller groups and enlisting them as Congress Party MLAs. 3 The alliance with the PMK helped the AIADMK gain in a big way in 1998. After the humiliating loss it suffered in 1996, when the AIADMK was wiped out and Jayalalithaa herself lost at the elections, the results of the 1998 Lok Sabha elections were stunning. The AIADMK emerged as a force that propped up the BJP-led NDA and also brought it down in 1999. The PMK’s worth was established again in 1999 when the party went with the DMK-BJP combine. In 2001, the PMK was an ally of the AIADMK and helped Jayalalithaa’s return as chief minister before it returned to the DMK-led alliance in 2004 and when the front managed to sweep the Lok Sabha polls from Tamil Nadu.