Mainstreaming tribals

Attappady-- a view  Photo: Roy MathewChief Minister Oommen Chandy proposes to bring Attappady tribals to main stream as the government has failed to address their problems after six decades of ‘tribal development’.

Well, his plans are for the next generation. Children from the tribal hamlets are to be educated in special model residential schools and all eligible students given admissions to the Plus One and undergraduate courses.

This is a course of action that had been tried in countries such as USA, Canada and Australia which have invited protests. However, such protests over uprooting the tribals from their culture are muted in Kerala. Many anthropologists hold opinion against weaning tribal children away from their culture and mainstreaming them. But the questions whether they should be allowed to live primitive lives or proselytised to adopt modern lifestyle is an enduring question.

As to the immediate problem of malnutrition among tribals, the government has come up with an answer—community kitchens. Mr. Chandy’s view is that the tribals do not eat well. Many are so lazy that they are willing to cook. It is not clear whether the tribals would come regularly to the community kitchens to eat. Even if they do, that could make them lazier as far as cooking goes. Better, if community kitchens teach them how to cook and encourage them to do their own cooking.

Tribal Women at Agali, Attappady

Tribal Women at Agali, Attappady

But the real problem in Attappady is not that the tribals have not learned to cook or made eating cooked food a habit.  The real issue is alienation of their land, destruction of forests and restrictions on their access to forest resources including food materials. However, the Chief Minister refuse to acknowledge this and take strong measures to resume their lands despite court verdicts. Even problems like drunkardness stemmed from land issues. Alcoholism spread as a result of exploitative tactics of the settlers in Attappady.

Studies have reported that the deaths of infants in Attappady were not the result of alcoholism among their mothers. It happened because of malnutrition. The government wants now wants all tribal women to give birth at hospital to ensure the nutritional status of mothers and children. For this, vehicles are to be provided. On one hand, this is better said than done. Many tribals had failed to get timely medical attention not because of lack of schemes or vehicles but because the officials concerned did not care. On the other side, it is notable that Kerala is emphasising on hospital based deliveries when the West that promoted it is now going back to midwives and deliveries at home.

Chandy, the master stragegist

Cantonment Gate

Cantonment Gate of the Secretariat on the day of the picketing by Opposition

Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy is master strategist. First, he diverted media attention from the solar panel scam by launching a second run of the Cabinet reshuffle talks. KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala was forced to play along (see previous posting) though he had decided earlier to remain as KPCC chief.

Then, he turned the mode of agitation of the Opposition (siege of the Secretariat or simply picketing) into an issue when the real issue was whether the administration had manipulated the complaint of Saritha S. Nair, one of the accused in the solar scam. Keeping the Cantonment Gate of the Secretariat open suddenly became the issue. The media concluded that a great battle of the gates was in the offing. Inexperienced television reporters probably believed this while the shrewdest ones realised that this is an opportunity to push up ratings. The Opposition played along and may have probably claimed its flesh behind the scenes.

However, experienced reporters knew that the left parties always claimed that they would picket all the gates of the Secretariat. And invariably, the government always managed to keep the Cantonment Gate open for the entry and exit of Ministers and Secretariat staff. Nowadays, the visual media sets the agenda even for the print. Not to fall behind, Malayalam newspapers cried ‘War!’ while English newspapers decided that ‘siege’ was the appropriate word for what was going to happen.

However, on the day of the siege, it turned out to be a tame affair. There was no confrontation between the police and the LDF workers as anticipated. Both sides embraced peace and soon achieved a truce. Even 67 per cent of the Secretariat staff could get into the Secretariat.


LDF workers before the Secretariat on August 12. A television channel even had a studio set up on the top of the building in the middle.

Mr. Chandy then declared two days holiday for the Secretariat on the specious ground that this was to facilitate rehearsal for the Independence Day Parade at Central Stadium behind the Secretariat. The Opposition was not letting in children to practice. The Opposition could claim that they had managed to force closure of the Secretariat; but what was the fun in squatting before an empty Secretariat! And the prospect of continuing the picketing braving the sun and rain for the whole week was not encouraging.

Mr. Chandy then announced that the government was deciding to order a judicial probe, something he was promising all the while after the police completed their investigations. The Opposition seized the opportunity and called off the stir. The BJP alleged that it had a secret pact with government to soft-pedal the Lavlin case against CPI (M) State secretary Pinarai Vijayan and investigation of the murder of T. P. Chandrasekharan who is alleged to have been killed by CPI (M) workers.

Even if this is true, Mr. Chandy is still the winner. His position is secure for the time being. He cannot be successfully challenged now unless some hard evidence crops up against him in the solar scam.


Ramesh to wait in the wings

It should not come as a surprise to close observers of politics in Kerala that KPCC President Ramesh Chennithala has declined to join the Oommen Chandy government.

Mr. Chennithala knows well that he is to gain little by joining the ministry as this juncture either as deputy chief minister or home minister.

Ramesh Chennithala

Ramesh Chennithala

Deputy Chief Minister would mean little for Mr. Chennithala as it is very difficult to grow as a power centre in government when Mr. Chandy is in government. Mr. Chandy has more grass-root support than Mr. Chennithala and is a better political strategist than Mr. Chennithala. Home Ministership would only be a bed of thorns when the government is facing a series of accusations.

The government’s stock is likely to come down in the coming days and Mr. Chennithala too would have to go down with it if he joins the ministry. On the other hand, there is a real possibility that Mr. Chandy would be forced to step down after the Lok Sabha polls. Then Mr. Chennithala would face not much challenge in getting into the Chief Minister’s chair. (Mr. K. M. Mani has also tossed his hat in the ring. However, Sonia Gandhi is understood to have rejected his claim. That explains recent critical statements by Mr. Mani).

He stands to lose nothing by continuing till then as KPCC president. If the Chief Ministership does not come his way after the elections, he still can look for a minister ship at the Centre if Congress is returned to power.

Actually, the positions regarding Cabinet reshuffle had been taken much earlier by Mr. Chennithala and others. The issue was raked up again to divert attention from solar panel scam. As on the earlier occasion, none could agree on each other’s claims and demands. By Wednesday, Mr. Chandy had stated that there would be no major revamp. Today, all the parties are back to their positions stated earlier.