There are two Keralas as per Mukundan – one that good old Parashuraman created by throwing his axe into the ocean and the other that EMS created without throwing an axe into the ocean. On an afterthought this seems to be true despite the fact that Mukundan is a novelist.
One can perceive these two states of Kerala within the state and outside in the non-Resident population. Digging more deep into the quote could perhaps result in an excruciatingly long and rambling post which bandwidth simply doesn’t permit at this point of time. But there exists a Kerala which consumes gold the way it consumes alcohol (Jewelleries and liquor outlets compete with each other on revenues per square inch of shop floor) and another Kerala which runs on overdraft almost every other month. There exists a Kerala which is arguably the most conservative one among the Indian states and another Kerala where religious bigots are called religious bigots. There exists a Kerala where consumer spend is one of the highest in the country and another Kerala which preserves its rainforests and rivers with all its might. There exists a Kerala which elects pseudo free market hopefuls once a decade and another Kerala which reads four newspapers a day. There is one ‘developmental’ Kerala which thinks Smart cities and BMW plants are its last hope and another silent Kerala which is poised to become the richest state in the country growing well above the national growth rate. There is one Kerala which believes the state and all that is in it is to be sold to the very next buyer and another Kerala which holds the beautiful strip anchored to their hearts. There is the apolitical conservative Kerala with visas which keeps shouting that all political fronts are the same and another living Kerala which voted the Left Front to power one year back. Kerala as a tale of two creations.
One year is no time to evaluate a new government, but in Kerala the current government is more or less a continuation. In the last fifty years, Kerala’s politics has had a perceivable tilt to the left whatever be the political formation in power. During occasional interregnums when shady ideas tried to have a field day, leftist popular movements have had the final say – be it the “Silent Valley Movements” or the progressive science and environment movements or the student and youth strikes which paralyzed the state several times over. Every left front government in Kerala has the burden of overarching expectations, more so this time due to the Chief Minister VS’s public image as a person averse to compromises unlike E K Nayanar – his predecessor from the party. Few headlines that speak for themselves,
Baby Blues: M A Baby, the education minister came up with the first major policy initiative of the government. It was a promising, rather euphoric start which could have had national implications on the way social control is exercised on self financing educational institutions. But by the end of the year, the legislation seems all but defeated with court after court ruling in favor of the college managements. The Judiciary- Legislative boundary question notwithstanding, it has been more of a collective defeat of the VS ministry in the higher education sector, at least in the courts of law.
Our farms, our farmers: The government has intervened in almost all agricultural crises in the state. Failures notwithstanding the government has scored in the way support price and governmental procurements have saved the rice farmer in Allepey. The plan floated recently to make the state self sufficient in vegetable cultivation, if it bears fruit could change the way Kerala consumes. Despite this, the government has not lived upto the expectations as far as the agricultural sector is concerned and like always the party blames it on policies of the government in Delhi.
Visions of Thomas Isaac: The finance minister’s attempts at preventing tax evasion have not just stayed in paper but ventured out into reality with the rather stringent enforcement of billing practices, the news is not yet out on the street but the shops have started giving receipts. On similar lines, registration of real estate in the state has come under the government scanner which is expected to bring in more (Thomas says dramatically higher)revenue to the state from the booming real estate prices and eliminate middle-men to some extend. This could be another “first” in India, a laurel which Kerala is now used to.
Thomas is quite vocal on the High density development paradigm, which I hope the government has on its agenda. It is something like Kerala will demarcate specific areas for “high density” development which means building high rises while keeping the other areas as green zones. Looking at the way Infopark has rampaged the Kakanad area, this seems to be the way to go.
Spy stories and media syndicates: CPIM leadership is back with the “CIA plotting to kill all Communists” story. The party has not yet learnt to accept constructive criticism and alleges that newspapers like “Madhyamam” are funded by the CIA to destabilize the Communist movement. I have been reading “Madhyamam” for a while now, the newspaper has been very critical of the past government and it isn’t even that hard on the CPIM led current establishment – I could even vouch for the fact that the media is a bit soft on the VS led administration. The party and the government need to understand that individual freedom and freedom of the press is a very important part of what they are trying to achieve. Let us not have any Chinese or Russian hangovers.
VS: The Chief Minister’s initials have become synonymous with things that are good for the state. There is a perceivable feeling at the end of one year that VS can’t go wrong or do wrong. VS scores an eight out of ten, but if history be any indicator, a democracy cannot afford to have a leader who is worshipped, which will become clear in years to come. The first year has been good but there are four more to go.
Sleeping Cool on High Voltage: The power ministry is sleeping. This is one area where the state has literally slept after the formidable success of Vision 2000 – the plan that ended power cuts and load shedding (at least the official ones). Power cuts are back – though not official in the capital and Kochi. It could be summer hiccups but the power ministry is sleeping. The man behind Vision 2000 is now party secretary; he could perhaps do something about his minister. The minister in the meanwhile could take a lesson or two from N K Premachandran, the irrigation minister.
Malabar on the radar: Something the mainstream media with its five major newspapers and five news channels couldn’t quite figure out. Malabar, undoubtedly the least developed part of the state has seen quite a lot of change in the past one year. This includes the reopening of several industries across the Malabar belt, packages for beedi workers and the new airport at Kannur which is expected to change the face of the district. The fact that the governments plans has gone beyond the Calicut district is in itself a good thing for Malabar.
Vizhinjam and ‘Smart City’: Making the Dubai based investors to ink the Smart City deal on the state’s terms is a slap in the face of two “development” heroes of the previous administration. The people of the state ask the obvious question to Ommen Chandy and his ‘shadow’ industries minister. I don’t think they have a good answer for – to whom they were trying to sell the state to. There were too many lobbies trying to buy the state and they were ready to sell, be it the thorium rich sands of Allepey, the states sovereignty or the historic palaces around Trivandrum. The Smart City deal is done but it has a long way to go and would require a lot of political will which I hope the Chief Minister has. But it would be a mistake to put all your eggs in the smart city’s basket though there are examples like the ITPL in Bangalore which are success stories of such development.
Vizhinjam is back on the right track with the Chief Minister leading the move. This port could be a major milestone in Kerala’s rather India’s developmental history.
Smart Cities, Hydro Electric projects and big Ports are a way of development, but Kerala needs to decide whether it is our way to progress.
People’s Development and Decentralization of power: The number two man in the Cabinet is directly in charge of destroying the state’s power or decentralization as the party puts it. After a break of five years, the local self governments are back with a bang. If development initiatives around the capital be any indicator, most of them are partly or wholly undertaken by the three tier institutions. The effects are noticeable – the roads in the capital city and suburbs look far better than the MC road which the state maintains. Personally I drove a sixteen kilometer stretch in Trivandrum without a pot hole. Paloli could do with a little more destruction and rumors are in the air that “People’s plan” is about to make a comeback.
There are another hundred headlines that I would have missed like Mullaperiyar, the contempt of court by state ministers and Sudhakaran minister’s calls for revolution, but I guess this captures the feel as ‘I sensed it’ after one year of the VS Achuthanandan government. There are achievements worth taking note of and for the failures – there is another four years to work on for this cabinet of fresh faces. Whether Kerala will become another Bengal as some political commentators have again started pondering, the answer will be we are far better than Bengal. Then again, there are two Keralas as per Mukundan – one that good old Parashuraman created by throwing his axe into the ocean and the other that EMS created without throwing an axe into the ocean.