Farmers’ resistance against acquisition of agricultural land has assumed larger connotations, with Congress, Muslim League and AIYF joining hands with BJP.
It is not “American imperialism and their running dogs” which is plotting to destabilise the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Front government in Kerala anymore. Instead, it is now a group of “vultures” in the guise of sparrows—the RSS, Muslim fundamentalist organisations and Maoists—that is out to discredit and overthrow the “pro-people, development-oriented government”. This is how a CPM minister in the Cabinet described people’s continuing struggle against the forcible acquisition of agricultural land for building a bypass along the National Highway in the party village of Keezhattoor in Kannur district. This otherwise sleepy village is now witness to a strange sight of the government fighting against its own people, who had overwhelmingly voted it to power just two years ago. What started off as people’s resistance last September has now assumed larger political connotations, with the Congress, Muslim League and AIYF, the youth wing of the CPI and a constituent of the ruling front, joining hands with BJP in the village’s struggle for justice. And it is indeed a travesty of justice to portray farmers, who are fighting to protect their paddy fields, as terrorists. That the CPM and its government have stooped so low is not surprising, since it is clear as daylight that the party is trying to protect not the interests of farmers, but of the land and real estate mafia in the name of development.
The CPM contention that the bypass is the only way to facilitate the National Highway is questioned by none other than the Shastra Sahitya Parishad, a left-leaning organisation, which has always positioned itself with the CPM. According to the Parishad study, construction of the bypass will not only destroy the remaining paddy fields in the area, but will also result in the levelling of three hills adjacent to the fields. As per the government plan, the 45-metre wide road will pass through the middle of the paddy fields, which is of 90-metre width. Since the land is marshy, mud will have to be put to raise the road to the level of more than 3.5 metres. It will require a minimum of 130,000 truckloads of mud, which will have to be obtained by razing the hills. Transporting the mud through the remaining fields will render them uncultivable. Once the hills are razed, the water table will be depleted, thereby adversely affecting drinking water facilities to thousands of people in the adjacent areas. The farmers’ allegation that local CPM leadership is in collusion with real estate mafia is not off the mark, since so much earth is needed for the construction of the bypass. Moreover, once the fields are dug up, there will be equal quantity of clay worth crores of rupees. It is also common knowledge that townships and other businesses come up along highways. So the argument that farmers will still be able to cultivate in the rest of the fields does not hold. There has also been no credible explanation as to why the government decided to deviate from the initial plan of laying the four-lane highway through the Thalipparambu town. It was said that a number of houses and business establishments will have to be demolished. This raises the question that houses can be rebuilt, but can paddy fields be rebuilt too?
“Vayalkkili Samaram”, the farmers’ collective in Keezhattoor, has now become an issue of prestige for the government and the party. The government thought that the group had ended its resistance when, last week, the former deployed its police and forcibly removed the agitators, including old women and children, and set fire to their make-shift shelter beside the paddy fields. Since then, more support has poured in, with political parties and environmentalists throwing their weight behind the agitators who have pledged to erect the shelter destroyed by CPM workers and renew their struggle with a mass rally on Sunday. To counter the protesters’ “Kerala March to Keezhattoor” involving environmentalists, writers, activists and general public, a jittery CPM took out a rally on Saturday. This is seen more as an attempt to mobilise cadre who are confused as to the “party line” in the wake of a Youth Congress leader’s gruesome murder in Kannur last month involving party workers, and the land struggle by one-time comrades who still swear by the party. While the local unit of the party is going ahead with the resistance plan, party state secretary Kodiyei Balakrishnan and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan seem to have softened their earlier stand. Balakrishnan, who had earlier put all the blame on the National Highway Authority of India, is now talking of an elevated highway. The Chief Minister says that his government is “not fighting against its own people, but only working for their development”. How much will these pronouncements assuage the agitators is anybody’s guess.
But one moot point raised by the leader of the “Vayalkkilis”, Suresh Keezhattoor rankles: “What are boots doing in paddy fields?” CPM and its government will have to answer whether they are with the hunted or with the hunter. So far, the impression is very much in the negative. Perhaps the Left Front government could learn from the recent farmers’ agitation in Maharashtra, rather than gloat over its success.