Kerala’s ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) may not have anticipated that it would have to bat for a road it opposed while it was in the Opposition three years ago.
The party is faced with such a predicament at Keezhattur, a party village in its citadel of Kannur, with a section of the party cadres and supporters carrying forward the stir it had dropped after coming to power in May 2016.
The bone of contention was the acquisition of 250 acres of pristine paddy fields for building a national highway bypass through the agrarian village. The CPM had opposed all the three alignments proposed by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) for the bypass while it was in the Opposition.
The main argument was that it would sound the death knell for the paddy cultivation in the village and upset the ecosystem, leading to severe water shortage and other irreparable environmental hazards. However, the party changed its mind after the government led by it assumed office.
The leaders, who had spearheaded the agitation under the auspices of an action committee, backed out after Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan made it clear that “development was the main agenda” of his government and there will be “no scope for protests” under his dispensation.
However, a small group of 60 farmers led by Suresh Keezhattur defied the diktat and persisted with the stir under the banner of a collective called “Vayalkilikal” (literally, paddy birds), braving the repressive measures unleashed by the government and the party.
The CPM has been trying everything in its power to suppress the agitation. Eleven party members, who had associated with the agitation, were expelled from the party. An employment ban was imposed on Suresh’s brother Ratheesh Chandroth, a head load worker registered with its trade union wing, for taking part in the agitation.
A wooden tent the farmers erected for the agitation was set ablaze allegedly by CPM workers from the neighbouring village on 14 March. This was after the farmers tried to prevent the NHAI officials who came for a survey of the land.
The party tried to turn the residents in the village against the agitators by dubbing the latter as anti-development. The party also sought to isolate Vayalkilikal by barring outsiders supporting them from entering the village. A ‘kaval pura’ (watch-house) was set up in the field to check the activities of the outsiders.
The party Kannur leadership has been batting for the bypass through the village even after the state government relented a little and urged the Union government to explore the possibility of building an elevated highway in place of the bypass in the light of the mounting protests against the acquisition of the paddy fields.
The party organised a march from Keezhattur to nearby Taliparamba town with a declaration that the bypass will be built as per the current alignment couple of days after Public Works Minister G Sudhakaran wrote a letter to Union Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari suggesting the elevated highway in view of the mounting protests against the bypass.
Before the march, the proposed NH alignment was marked using red ribbons and putting up boards and party flags in the fields of those who have claimed to have given their consent for giving the land.
Unperturbed by the repressive measures, the farmers kicked off the second phase of their agitation on 25 March by holding a massive march titled ‘Kerala to Keezhattur’ from Taliparamba to Keezhattur. Social and environmental activists and politicians from across the state participated in the march held under the aegis of the Keezhattur agitation solidarity committee.
The Vayalkilikal declared their intention to continue the struggle by re-erecting the tent burnt by the CPM workers. Nambradath Janaki, a 68-year-old farmer, who inaugurated a public meeting at the culmination of the march at the Keezhattur field, declared they will continue the fight till the government drops its stand on building the bypass through the paddy fields. She said she will not allow the road to come at the village until she dies.
Actor and Rajya Sabha member Suresh Gopi said that the farmers’ agitation in Kizhaattur was not only for the conservation of paddy fields and wetlands but also against the authoritarian approach of the Left Democratic Front government and the CPM.
“The CPM has gained roots in Kerala through struggles. How can such a party show such intolerance towards an agitation being staged by poor farmers for a genuine cause? All people who love the environment will support the agitation,” he added.
Former state Congress chief VM Sudheeran accused the government of acting like a feudal lord. He urged the government to shed its ego and find an amicable solution to the problem raised by the farmers in a democratic manner.
“The same CPM which led the farmers agitations in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh has adopted the approach of rejecting the demands of the farmers in Keezhattur. I had not expected the CPM to take such a stand. One can oppose or agree to agitations but the party should not question the right of people conduct the agitations,” he added.
The CPM has been opposing the agitation claiming that the agitators were a tiny minority and they had no support of the people. However, the massive attendance at the march has shaken the party so much so that it even dropped its threat to prevent outsiders from entering the village.
The Kannur party leadership had instructed the party cadres not to even show up at the march as any trouble would give mileage to the agitators. Kannur district secretary P Jayarajan had earlier claimed that 56 out of 60 farmers in the village had given their consent to give their land.
“The remaining four farmers are pawns in the hands of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). We will not allow the agenda of the Sangh Parivar to succeed. The majority of the people in the village are for the bypass and the development it will bring,” he added.
However, Suresh Keezhattur termed the claim a big lie. He said that the majority of the farmers in the village had not given their consent. According to him, the CPM has prepared the list by including those who have no land in the village.
As regards the party claim that the agitators had no support of the people, he said that the people who care about the future of the state have been supporting them. He said that the CPM cadres have started realising that the ideology that the party leaders flaunt is for the sake of power.
“We have the support of genuine party workers who hold the ideology and party programmes sacrosanct,” he added.
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Updated Date: Mar 25, 2018 20:33:29 IST