Vayalkkili Samaram, a farmers’ collective in a communist village in Kannur, has become the symbol of resistance against CPM authoritarianism. The agitation by these “sparrows in the paddy field” to save their precious agricultural land, a la Nandigram in Bengal, has exposed the hypocrisy of the ruling party which is elated over the success of the farmers’ long march in Maharashtra. Farmers in CPM stronghold Thalipparambu’s Keezhattoor have been agitating since September last year over the government decision to forcibly acquire their farmland for a bypass adjacent to the National Highway. According to the original plan, the four-lane NH was to pass through Thalipparambu town. This meant that many houses had to be demolished in the overcrowded township. As an alternative the government came up with the bypass project, cutting through 250 acres of rich paddy fields. However those who opposed the move, including CPM members and sympathisers, formed the group called “Vayalkkilis” and started an agitation against taking over of their paddy fields. CPM district committee immediately clamped on them, declaring the agitation as against the interests of the party. Undaunted, the agitators went ahead with their struggle and in last September, with the help of political parties such as the BJP and CPI, started an indefinite hunger strike. Then the local CPM leadership initiated a reconciliation move involving the government, promising to reconsider laying the bypass through the paddy fields. And the agitation was called off temporarily. But the party and its government backtracked on its promise by issuing an order last month to construct the bypass through the very same paddy fields, forcing the Vayalkkilis to renew their agitation. Keezhattoor is the only village in Thalipparambu with a huge area of paddy cultivation. The anti-bypass agitation has acquired political overtones as villagers have dared to defy the local CPM leadership. The Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha and the BJP have come forward in support of the stir against the bypass that will cause “havoc to the environment in the village and destroy paddy fields”.
Early this month, CPM expelled 11 of its members for participating in the agitation. On Wednesday, CPM “produced” 56 of the total 60 landowners who are said to have consented to the project. However, the agitators claim that they were fake landowners brought by the CPM from outside and only three owners had consented, that too under threat from the party. Even as the CPM paraded the landowners in front of the media in Thalipparambu, the police forcibly removed 49 agitators including women who had threatened to self-immolate pouring diesel on their bodies. They had stalled the National Highway for over four hours before the police swung into action. What followed was more astonishing. CPM workers then set fire to the agitators’ pandal in the presence of the police. Though no action was taken against them then and there, the police later rounded up some people to pacify the public. The CPM leadership now says that the agitators are backed by RSS and Muslim fundamentalist organisations. They also see Naxalite hand in the struggle. Interestingly, party mouthpiece Deshabhimani wrote an editorial condemning “those outsiders who are instigating the agitators”, but was silent right through as to the genuine grievances of the people involved in the struggle. “These paddy fields are our livelihood. Though they give crores as compensation, we don’t need it. Filling these fields would cause huge damage to this land. We will continue our struggle,” one agitator was quoted as saying. Locals also say that the party is trying to cover up for some corporate builders, who have acquired acres of land nearby and are planning a township. If that township needs to prosper then the bypass is a necessity, they point out. The CPM leadership cleverly skirts these issues and harps only on “those trying to stall development in the area initiated by the Left Front government”.
It seems that CPM and its government in Kerala have not learnt any lessons from the farmers’ struggle in Nandigram in West Bengal, which paved the way for the ouster of the Left Front government, which was in power for an uninterrupted 34 years. Even the party has been wiped out from Bengal. In Kerala too this is going to happen unless the party and the government mend their ways. It is an irony that the LDF came to power declaring that it would not allow even an inch of paddy field to be land-filled. Instead of keeping up that promise, the government has flouted all norms. It is general rule that once a notification for land acquisition is issued, those affected should be taken into confidence. But it seems that no such rule is applicable in CPM controlled villages in a CPM ruled state. “The protests are unnecessary. We denounce the agitation in Keezhattoor against the levelling of paddy fields,” CPM Kannur district secretary P. Jayarajan had warned last September. The villagers may be paying the price now for their defiance, but help is pouring in from different quarters. Social media is agog with comments on the duplicity of CPM. Politically, the BJP is planning to raise the issue with the National Highways Authority of India and the Union government. The party’s environment samithi will be visiting the village later this month. “We will continue the struggle till the last,” said one agitator.