CPM News

Why Are Kerala's Marxists Suddenly On The Wrong Side Of A Major Student Agitation?

Kerala is ruled by a government led by the Communist Party Of India (Marxist) that never tire of claiming ownership of all the uprisings in the state against ruling class exploitation. Therefore its response to an agitation by students against the management of a non-government law collage in Thiruvananthapuram, a cause that has resonated across the state for various reasons, is bemusing and illustrative of the contradictions in its politics.

Its students wing, the SFI (Students Federation of India), known for its violent strikes and destruction of public property whenever the party is out of power, and its domination of college campuses across the state using its brute muscle, joined the agitation late, and quickly struck a deal with the management. The students are continuing the strike, making the SFI look like it played a badly scripted part obediently.

So we have the odd spectacle of a party that swears by Marx and Lenin and drops the class word at the drop of a seen as reluctant to side with the interests of the students and too keen to toe the line of an intransigent management that is facing allegations of land-grab and various illegalities. All other political parties are firmly lining up behind the students.

It has been 23 days since the students of the Kerala Law Academy went on strike demanding the resignation of its principal, Lakshmi Nair, protesting her allegedly autocratic and rights-violative ways. The students allege that Nair, an academic who also hosts shows on food and travel on a CPM-backed TV channel, runs the 50-year old college like a personal fiefdom. They accuse her of intimidation, malpractice, victimisation, favouritism, caste-based discrimination, and unlawful misdemeanour. They say that they cannot take her subjugation any more and will fight it out, even at the risk of their future. Two students have even filed a police complaint against her under the SC/ST Act and want her to be arrested.

The students are continuing the strike, making the SFI look like it played a badly scripted part obediently.

Nair has said she is being singled out because she is a woman. Ironically, it's the girl students that have complained against her the most.

The agitation is turning out to be a unique one where the ruling CPM and SFI, historically at the forefront of such agitations, are seen as the agents of the management. The public sentiment is overwhelmingly with the students with almost the entire media, except the CPM-run channels and newspaper, backing them. Many eminent citizens of the state, who are otherwise sympathetic to the CPM, have spoken in support of the students and have demanded action against the management. It's the biggest political story since the present government took over and has been primetime news for several days in a row.

Unlike the other agitations that shook the state in the past, this one has a rare emotional appeal because it's waged by peaceful students, particularly girls, against a politically powerful family. A family that has allegedly usurped and appropriated a public institution established in partnership with the second communist government in 1967-68 to promote law education.

The case of the Kerala Law Academy is unique in Kerala, particularly in the context of the sense of equality and rights, the primacy of government-funded education that the state is historically known for, and the proclivity to agitations whenever they are under threat. It began as a society in 1966 as a joint initiative of eminent citizens and jurists, got inaugurated by the then Chief Minister EMS Namboothirippad in 1967, and started running courses in 1968. The government leased out more than 11 acres of land in the city for the Academy, as it was meant to be a public institution in which the state Governor was the chief patron and the Chief Minister was the patron. The revenue and education ministers of state cabinet and three High Court judges were its members.

The Congress has smelled a political opportunity and has now jumped in headlong.

When voices of opposition were raised in the state assembly, against the allocation of prime land in 1968, a minister concerned had clarified that it was not owned by an individual and was a public institution in which the government was a partner. For the same reasons, the initial lease on government land--11 acres and 49 cents--in the heart of the city, for three years was extended to 35 years and in 1985, it was assigned to the Academy.

However, the CPM government, as well as party't top leaders, today call it a private institution in clear betrayal of the State's investment and responsibility. In fact, that is the sole reason both the CPM and the government cite for its stated helplessness in removing the principal as the students demand. However, it doesn't have an answer to the question on how a public institution with serious government participation, started by a CPM-led government in the 1960s when self-financing colleges were anathema in Kerala, has become a private institution controlled by a single family.

Today, the Academy society's composition has no semblance to the original structure that attracted government support--there's no Governor, chief minister, ministers or High Court judges. They have all disappeared, but nobody knows when or how. Instead, family members of the first secretary of the college, N. Narayanan Nair, dominate the governing council and executive committee. His daughter is the principal against whom the students started the protests. These facts started coming into public attention only after the agitations began.

What's holding the CPM back, despite such a damaging backlash.

Besides himself, his brother, who is also an influential CPM state committee member and a local CPI(M) MLA, his son and his nephew are on the committee that run the Academy now.

The students' agitation invariably brought attention not just to the alleged autocracy and tyrannical ways of the principal, but also to the entire range of issues concerning the Academy--largely how it's been run like a family enterprise.

And unsurprisingly, there are demands from all political parties, except the CPM, that the land that had been allotted to the original society should be taken back because it was not given to a private institution and the conditions have been violated, and that the Academy itself should be taken over by the Government because of the lack of transparency of its management and the way its academic evaluations, that put students at great risk of subjugation and exploitation, are conducted. In fact, the former Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan was the first to demand the seizure of government land.

Questions have also been raised about the affiliation of the Academy. The literature of the Academy says that it had been affiliated in 1968; however, the Kerala University reportedly doesn't have any records.

Therefore, what began as a genuine demand by students for the removal of the principal has snowballed into a major issue that the CPM government is finding hard to handle. It did try to subvert the agitation by sending in the SFI and settling for a pro-management agreement. However, it backfired big time and the students are continuing with their agitation. The Congress, which was also tentative in its support to the agitation initially, has smelled a political opportunity and has now jumped in headlong. Today, all the major political parties, including the Communist Party Of India, a coalition partner of the CPI(M) in the ruling government, are backing the students. A sitting MLA of the Congress and a BJP leader are on indefinite hunger strike in front of the institution.

The swelling public support has also found its resonance among eminent citizens. T. Padmanabhan, a leading Malayalam writer and a self-confessed admirer of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, was quite vocal in his criticism on Friday, when he demanded stern action against the Academy at a literary festival, co-organised by the government. In fact, he too asked the fundamental question--how did a family take over and control a public institution.

It's really puzzling as to what's holding the CPM back, despite such a damaging backlash. It's public knowledge that all political parties, not just the CPM, have benefited from the Academy over the years. A large number of their leaders, their children and nominees got their law degrees from there. But, adverse public sentiments have pushed other parties into the agitation, except the CPM. Its chief minister hasn't spoken a word, its education minister is trying to obfuscate by citing jurisdictional limitations and its university syndicate is blocking any possible action.

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Opposition Plans To Rake Up Note-Ban, Budget Timing In Parliament

NEW DELHI -- On the eve of Budget session, opposition parties on Monday signalled that the demonetisation issue, which led to a virtual washout of the last session, would again heat up Parliament even as they vent their unhappiness over early presentation of Budget in the midst of poll season.

During an all-party meeting today called by the government, opposition parties led by Congress and CPI(M) demanded discussion on demonetisation and said they will again raise the issue as it has severely impacted the public.

The most vocal critique of demonetisation, Trinamool Congress, skipped the meeting and said its MPs will not be present in Parliament on first two days of Budget Session as part of their protest against the note ban.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said that he has asked the government to avoid any announcement or concession in the Union Budget which impacts level playing field in upcoming assembly elections.

Citing the UPA's 2012 decision to postpone the Union Budget that time due to assembly elections, Azad said, "The Government should not have advanced the Budget Session, especially when state assembly elections are coming up."

Azad also said that government should call another all- party meeting before the next phase of Budget session.

Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia said that they have demanded a discussion on demonetisation as it has been pending from last session.

Making similar demand, CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said that in the meeting they told the government that there should be discussion on demonetisation for two days "as it has severely impacted the people across India, who have suffered due to this irrational move".

Yechury also said that presentation of budget on February 1 is "non-scientific" as it will not take into consideration the statistical data of third quarter which comes only in mid- February.

In Kolkata, TMC chief whip in the Lok Sabha Kalyan Banerjee said party MPs will not attend Parliament on the first two days of the session beginning tomorrow, when the President's address and Budget will be presented.

"Trinamool MPs will not be present in Parliament on the first two days of the Budget Session in protest against demonetisation which was implemented without taking Parliament into confidence," he told reporters after the TMC parliamentary party meeting chaired by party supremo Mamata Banerjee.

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In Kerala, CPM's Hypocrisy Is About As Unbearable As BJP's Intolerance

Kerala is a great state for polemic, except that it has to be driven by the CPM, whether it's ruling or not.

Otherwise, you will be in trouble and will be overrun by a huge army of vituperative and abusive cadres, leaders and proxies, and a self-seeking cultural-industrial complex.

In other words, criticism, even in the meanest language, is highly appreciated and even encouraged, but it should be in favour of the CPM.

That's precisely what happened when well-known writer and Jnanpith Award winner MT Vasudevan Nair recently criticised demonetisation and even suggested a hidden agenda behind the move. The BJP reacted with its habitual intolerance. The party's state general secretary AN Radhakrisnan said that MT, as he is popularly known, had no right to criticise demonetisation because he was not an economist. He also questioned his silence when the CPM hirelings had hacked to death a rebel-Marxist, TP Chandrasekharan, a few years ago.

The CPM, through its leaders and cadres to cyber-proxies and intellectuals, immediately unleashed an attack against the BJP for criticising MT. Although their voices qualitatively varied, the message was the same: MT cannot be criticised and the BJP was intolerant. Veteran leader and former chief minister VS Achuthanandan even suggested that the BJP was targeting MT they way did Kannada writer Kalburgi. In response, Radhakrishnan stood by what he said, "I have not insulted MT personally. I pointed out MT's double standards for not speaking against several incidents affecting Kerala society."

As elsewhere in India, the intolerance and bigotry of the BJP and the Sangh have become a real menace in the state, and the attack on MT, who rarely took political sides in his life, is its latest example. However, the CPM accusing the BJP of intolerance is ironical. Nothing beats the lethality of its own history of intolerance, whether unleashed officially or through proxies. There's an ecosystem, nurtured over the years, that fosters and delivers it. Sometimes its critics are even assaulted and killed. And it spares nobody.

Take the case of actor Mohan Lal, the popular matinee icon of the state, who also spoke on demonetisation. Unlike MT, he favoured the move and even praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While social media was awash with abusive comments against him, CPM leader MM Mani, now a minister, went a step ahead and alleged that the actor supported Modi because he hoarded black money. Nobody from the left camp, who are now standing by MT's right of free speech, defended the actor's freedom of expression, however unfavourable it was. Instead, they fostered it.

Nobody from the left camp, who are now standing by MT's right of free speech, defended the actor's freedom of expression, however unfavourable it was. Instead, they fostered it.

The CPM's intolerance is often expressed as violence and social isolation. The party that is defending MT now, had assaulted Paul Zacharia, one of the most celebrated modern writers in the state, because he criticised it for an incident of moral policing. Similarly, when Thilakan, a highly regarded movie actor in the state, was boycotted by the film industry, allegedly at the instance of some big names, the party kept quiet even though it violated his fundamental right to life. The then state minister for culture, who also doubles as an impresario, conveniently avoided even commenting on the issue, let alone acting on it. It also maintained a similar convenient silence when a prominent movie director Vinayan was subjected to social and professional exclusion by the bigwigs of the industry, because the party favourites were against him.

There are many more such incidents that show how brutally exclusive and violent the CPM is against its critics. Recently two Dalit girls accused the CPM of social ostracisation and physical assault because their family supported the Congress. While the entire state protested, local CPM leaders chose to stigmatise the girls and ended up inviting legal action. In another case, a girl couldn't practice as a doctor because of the same exclusionary tactics. From time-to-time, to malign opponents, some of them even don the mantle of cultural police.

However, nothing contrasts its defence of MT as much as its systematic attack on the late Prof MN Vijayan, who once was a CPM hardliner and the editor of its newspaper. For years, he had been a revered ideological mascot of the party, but the day he started pointing out its "degenerative" tendencies and criticised its decentralised planning because it was foreign funded, he became a persona non grata. He became an object of target-practice for the cultural-intellectual ecosystem of the CPM. The party haunted him till his death. A former CPM insider G Sakthidharan, who was also a senior journalist in the party newspaper, highlighted this irony in a Facebook post where he said that MT didn't suffer as much persecution at the hands of the "Sanghis" as Vijayan had suffered at the hands of the CPM.

A former Naxalite leader Civic Chandran also sought to expose the CPM's double standards in defending MT. "The left can criticise everybody, but nobody should criticise them," he said. He also compared the intolerance faced by Mohan Lal on the same issue with that of MT. Nobody is immune to criticism, he said.

"The left can criticise everybody, but nobody should criticise them."

Interestingly, besides the abusive trolls and the menacing ruffians on the streets, what's most paradoxical in this intolerance debate is the use of the cultural-intellectual catchment of the party to sanitise and legitimise its double standards. What's probably unknown outside the state is that most of this group of people are not just ideology-driven fellow-travellers, but are beneficiaries of an incestuous ecosystem. Besides the government and quasi-government institutions that provide employment and honours to its favourites, the party also has a fairly big cultural and entertainment complex in the form of TV channels, newspaper and magazines, publishing houses and a number of not-for profit organisations.

If the CPM is indeed concerned about intolerance, it has to first practice what it seeks to preach.

Being on its side is a safe bet to pursue art and culture as a well-paid vocation, however good or bad one professionally is. The CPM cries foul when the BJP is trying to cultivate a rival art and culture ecosystem, by attracting people such as Mohan Lal, to push its agenda. However, given its divisive ideology and lack of intellectual allure, it's hard to get respectable names.

If the CPM is indeed concerned about intolerance, it has to first practice what it seeks to preach.

And the double-standards of this self-breeding cultural Tzars need to be exposed again and again.

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BJP Kerala President Kummanamam Rajasekharan Launches 24-Hour Fast

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM -- Attacking CPI(M)-led LDF government for its 'anti-people' policies, BJP President Kummanamam Rajasekharan on Thursday launched a 24-hour-fast in front of the secretariat here.

The protest, demanding restoration of distribution of subsidised foodgrains and rice through ration shops and to end "increasing incidents of violence" against Dalits, commenced at around 11 am on Thursday and will end on Friday morning.

BJP national spokesman and former chairman of National commission for SC/ST Bizay Sonkar Shastri inaugurated the fast.

BJP workers came in a procession to the fast venue.

Women workers also offered 'Pongala' (ritualistic offering of porridge made of rice) in front of the Secretairat raising slogans against the government of Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, which they alleged had failed in proper distribution of rice and foodgrains to the poor people.

Former union minister and BJP's lone MLA in the assembly, O Rajagopal, was among those who spoke.

BJP leaders alleged that atrocities against Dalits have increased during the LDF's seven-month rule.

BJP has chosen to launch its protest against LDF on a day when the left front is organising a 700km long 'human chain' from Thiruvanathapuram to the northern tip of the state, Kasaragod at 5 pm to protest 'hardships' faced by people following demonetisation of high value notes.

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