The historic farmers’ agitation in Maharashtra led by the CPM’s farmer wing, All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), was an event that invited national attention.
The media including that in Kerala had covered the protest with great prominence. All those who believe in progressive values welcomed that march. In the present day circumstances where the politics that leads the nation to crisis by dividing the people and exploiting them, has gained an upper hand, the protest was quite relevant. The agitation gained momentum and became a victory by highlighting the issues of the farmers who are the backbone of the country. It was even before the jubilation over the triumph of that protest in Maharashtra fades, that a similar protest by the farmers in Kannur, Kerala was forcefully suppressed using the police and party supporters.
A local farmers’ collective has been organizing a protest in the name of Vayalkkilikal for quite some time against the acquisition of paddy fields in the area for constructing a national highway in Keezhattur, Kannur. The government has been moving ahead with the construction ignoring the resistance from the people in the village where CPM has dominance. It was the local public who were also CPM workers that formed the organization Vayalkkilikal. The demand of the group was to spare the paddy fields and to consider alternative routes. The government had appointed a sub-committee a few months ago to study the demands of the protestors and to consider alternatives. However, the committee recommended constructing the bypass road through the same route. Following this, a government team reached the site on Wednesday to survey the land. And there were protestors to stop them. The police arrested and took away those among the protestors who doused themselves with kerosene and threatened to set themselves ablaze.
What is amusing is that a group of CPM workers reached the spot immediately after the police arrested the protestors. The farmers had been protesting for weeks by setting up tents under the name s ‘vayal kaval’ or farm land guards. The CPM activists destroyed and set fire to the tents. This act cannot be justified in any way. The cardinal question being raised is whether it is a policy of Pinarayi Vijayan government to implement the government schemes by showing its muscle power using its own party workers. We cannot help but say that the approach of the government in Keezhattur is not one followed by a democratic government. When the ordinary citizens who lost their homes and farm lands, launched a protest against the GAIL pipeline project in Kozhikode and Malappuram districts, the government dealt with them in a worse manner than now. The government and the CPM were ready to label the protest as an act of terrorism (only) because the majority of the population in the area was Muslims. The CPM leadership went to the extent of commenting that it was the uncivilized conscience of the 7th century that guided the protestors. But now the CPM is raising allegations of Maoism against the protestors in Keezhattur instead of religious extremism.
The process of acquiring land for developmental projects in densely populated Kerala is a complex and sentimental matter. We cannot forgo developmental projects. At the same time, the pain of those who lost their land cannot be ignored. Alongside, its impacts on the environment should also be considered. In such a situation, the projects will get entangled in protests and legal issues if they are not planned carefully. That is how popular protests related to developmental projects spread across Kerala. Agitations are being stirred up even in party villages dominated by the CPM surrounding the construction of national waterway in Kannur. The protest in party villages cannot be suppressed in the manner the popular protest in Mukkam was crushed alleging religious extremism.
The problem with the CPM is that it does not have the strength to see popular agitations in a communicative spirit, and it construes any strike other than their own as extremist or Maoist. And once a strike is so labeled, their next step is to use the police and party men to suppress it. The one in Keezhattoor is just another instance of the same.
In Malappuram district, the survey prior to land acquisition for expansion of national way, will begin on 19 this month, as informed by the District Collector. The highway is passing through a densely populated area, and this again is likely to invite popular resistance. And at that stage, whether the government will adopt the same approach as done at Keezhaattoor and Mukkam is something to be seen. In any case, the government and CPM have yet to learn to behave with people's agitations in a little gentler manner. All the same, the question how to take forward development projects minimizing the disruption of the people and the environment is something to be pondered by all parties.