It has been a tumultuous journey for Kerala. A lot is happening in the state which does not augur well for its reputation. The big question is, where it is headed to?
The action of the self-styled guardians of secularism, socialism, democracy and renaissance in India, the CPI-M, reminds one of the adage that the fence itself is eating the crops. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his council of ministers, whose track record over the last 30 months has been a disaster, are jumping from the frying pan to fire. On 1st November 2023, Kerala turned 67 and the event was celebrated with fanfare and gaiety. The star-studded Keraleeyam, a socio-cultural-political event that cost the exchequer Rs 30 crore was the main attraction of the birthday of the State. Those who are uninitiated about the history of the State should understand that the Kerala that you see today came into being 67 years ago with the integration of Travancore, Kochi and Malabar province, a part of northern Kerala which was part of the then Madras presidency.
While Chief Minister Vijayan was inaugurating the event at the central stadium at Thiruvananthapuram, thousands of government staff and pensioners staged a demonstration in front of the Secretariat, adjacent to the venue of the mega event, demanding salaries and pensions due to them. At the same time, officers of the State Government were filing an affidavit in the High Court of Kerala at Kochi confessing to the Court that the State is ruined financially. The Government owes the staff and pensioners of Rs 25,000 crore as arrears of salary and pension. The welfare pension inaugurated with fanfare remains unpaid, sending the people in the lower middle class and below the poverty line into a state of tipsy.
Vijayan says that Keraleeyam is an event to showcase Kerala to the outside world. The chief minister also said that the State is a role model for countries in Europe, East Asia and the United States of America “because of its social welfare measures” and the best health care offered to the poor and lower middle-class sections of the society. If the words of Vijayan are any indication, then there is no need to look beyond Kerala to understand what a developed society is! The COVID-19 pandemic period saw the chief minister addressing the media every evening. He claimed that Kerala is the only State which recorded the minimum number of cases. The trumpeters of the chief minister wrote articles in all national newspapers eulogising the chief minister and the then health minister Shylaja for the “excellent arrangement made in the State to check the spread of the pandemic and minimise the number of casualties. But soon it turned out that Kerala is one of the States with the maximum number of deaths and COVID-19 cases. Even an exclusive hospital built by the House of Tatas to attend to COVID-19 patients and gifted to the State remained unused for more than six months as there were no staff to take care of the 600-bed hospital.
Despite these shortcomings, the CPI-M-led Left Democratic Front managed to return to power in the 2021 assembly election and that too with an increased majority. The CPI-M went out of the way and distributed free kits to all poor families and even to the expatriates from States like Assam, Bengal and Bihar. But what was left unsaid was that the rice, cereals, sugars, and ghee/butter were from the Central Government which was repacked and distributed by the party cadre. In real life, the migrant labourers who claim that they are from Bengal, Bihar and Assam are from Bangladesh. There are nearly two lakh such workers in a small town like Perumbavoor. The LDF government in its anxiety to keep some sections in good humour addresses the migrant workers as Guest Labors. Since the arrival of this Guest Labor crime rates have shot up in the State. What adds to the worries of the average Malayali is that women are employed as drug pushers throughout Kerala.
The bomb blast during Jehovah's Witnesses’ prayer meeting held at Kalamassery on 29 October which claimed the lives of five persons is yet another proof of terrorists getting an upper hand in the State. Dominic Martin, the person who surrendered to the police claiming responsibility for the blast has made the bomb blast a jigsaw puzzle. Martin claimed that he belonged to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and perpetrated the crime because of the anti-national stance of the sect.
What added to the conundrum was Martin’s surrender to the police within two hours of the blast and the JW leadership rebutting his claim that he was a member of the sect. There are many unanswered queries concerning this blast. T A Sreekumar, the Kerala spokesman of JW said that at no point in time, Martin was a member of the sect. The police seem to be in a hurry to establish his role in the blast.
The general impression about democracy is that despite dissidence and differences of opinion, the political system has a melodious harmony. But what Kerala feels right now is cacophony. According to B V Kumar, former director general of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and was described as the country’s top sleuth, there is no God in God’s Own Country of late as He has gone for gold smuggling which is rampant across the State and a monopoly “business” of a certain community.
(The writer is a special correspondent with the Pioneer; views are personal)