Rahul skipped Adani's Port site on his Yatra: Did he miss an opportunity?text_fields
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi's skipping of an opportunity to visit the site of the anti-Adani port protest at Vizhinjam in Thiruvananthapuram and to express solidarity with the agitating fishermen had raised reservations about his commitment to fighting Prime Minister Narendra Modi. According to the social activists and civil activists who are supporting Rahul's Bharat Jodo Yatra, Rahul's skipping an opportunity to take on Modi directly and to expose the nexus between crony capitalism and the ruling BJP will have a negative impact on him.
As Congress national president and even later too Rahul had consistently been raising Modi's proximity with the Gujarat-born industrialist Gautam Adani. He had also pointed out the growth of the Adani group and the 'help' they got from the ruling BJP government at the Centre. Rahul's Bharat Jodo Yatra which started from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu on September 7 is meant to provide an alternative to the 'politics of fear, bigotry and prejudice' and to the economics of livelihood destruction etc. The Yatra entered Thiruvananthapuram district on September 11 and journeyed through the district until 14. The fishermen's community around the Kerala capital had been agitating against the construction of the Vizhinjam International Seaport for the last one month in front of the port gate. They had been asking the state government to stop the construction work and constitute an expert committee comprising representatives from among them to study the large-scale sea erosion and the destruction of houses due to the port's breakwater construction.
The Rs 7,525 crore worth ambitious public-private partnership model Seaport is being built by Adani Ports and SEZ Ltd since 2015. Ever since the construction of the 3,100-meter breakwater started, the coastal areas north of Vizhinjam have suffered due to sea erosion. Many houses were either demolished or washed away in the raging sea wave. Protests in front of the port had crossed a month on Tuesday and another protest in front of the Thiruvananthapuram domestic airport run by the Adani group had passed hundred days also. The protest is being headed by Thiruvananthapuram Latin Catholic Diocese. Other Catholic dioceses have also now extended their support to the protesters. But the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) government led by CPM and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has dismissed the fishermen's demand and ruled out the call for stoppage of port construction.
The port agreement was signed when the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) was in power in 2015. Despite that, the UDF has extended its support to the fishermen's plea for a rehabilitation package for the ones who had lost their houses. But on the issue of port construction, the opposition and the state government have one voice. Even though the opposition Leader V.D. Satheesan visited the protest site at Vizhinjam to express solidarity, he did not yield to the Fishermen and Church's demand to stop the construction work. Satheesan had accused the Left government of jeopardizing the rehabilitation package declared by the UDF government. 'When CPM and BJP are highlighting it as a development issue, the Congress is unable to take an anti-port position', said a Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) executive committee member. According to him, the 2024 parliament election is important for the party. 'Winning a maximum number of seats from Kerala is the top priority of KPCC. Besides, Congress could not disown its own pet project started by the previous Oommen Chandy government', he added.
After the Congress leadership declared Bharat Jodo Yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, the Catholic church wanted Rahul Gandhi to visit the protest area. According to the sources within the Diocese, they had requested the state Congress leaders to convince Rahul to visit Vzihinjam. The protest committee had also calculated that with Rahul's visit, their fight against Adani would get more mileage at the national level. But even after Bharat Jodo Yatra entered Thiruvananthapuram and passed through the adjacent taluks of Vzihinjam, the church's wishes did not materialise. Eventually, Rahul met the representatives of the protest committee, reportedly succumbing to the pressure of the powerful Catholic Church which has a substantial vote bank number in the Thiruvananthapuram parliament constituency.
Eventually, Rahul met the Vicar General of the Latin Catholic Diocese Fr. Yugine Perera and members of the protest committee at Pattom far away from Vizhijam. 'We have apprised Rahul of all the aspects of the Vizhinjam port issue. He carefully listened', said Fr. Yugine Perera to Madhyamam Online English. 'Rahul has asked the state Congress leadership to take a decision and inform him. He has also assured that once the KPCC takes a decision he will also endorse it', said Fr. Michael Perera, who was also part of the delegation. But according to the members of the delegation, Rahul did not guarantee anything concrete to the protesting fisher community.
Social activists and political analysts have criticized Rahul's move to skip the visit to Vizhinjam. 'Rahul Gandhi should have gone to Vizhinjam Adani Port construction site and declared solidarity with the fishing community, said K.P. Sethunath, Editor-in-Chief Malabar Journal and a political commentator. 'I think Rahul has squandered a golden opportunity by not visiting fisher folks in Vizhinjam resisting the Adani project. Imagine someone in the stature of Rahul taking out an anti-Modi Yatra in Delhi during the farmers' agitation without visiting the agitation site in Delhi. Rahul skipping Vizhinjam is similar in its impact', added Sethunath.
In an open letter published on social media, a social activist from Kerala, K. Sahadevan also expressed the same opinion. 'I hope that Rahul may visit many of people's struggles. I am asking Rahul to visit the Hasdeo Arand forest area in Chattisgarh where Congress is in power. This is where Adivasi people are agitating against Adani enterprises to stop mining. Interestingly Jairam Ramesh, Congress General Secretary in charge of Communication who was posting photos of Rahul's Bharat Jodo Yatra and his meeting with civil society on a regular basis, has not uploaded any photo of his meeting with the Vizhinjam protest committee. But Ramesh did post the photo of Rahul's meeting with the anti-KRail protest committee and expressing his support for the agitation. Interestingly Congress is at the forefront against the proposed high-speed rail project connecting Kasaragod to Thiruvananthapuram.
The Vizhinjam port agreement was signed when the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) was in power in 2015. Pianrayi Vijayan government has also decided to go ahead with its construction activity. Both the 2017 Comptroller and Auditor General Report and the Justice C.N. Ramachandran Nair Judicial Commission report had revealed numerous pitfalls in the selection and, award of the contract to Adani including allowing the unauthorised expenses of the business group.