Despite the talks held by Ministers with the leaders of the Chengara land struggle, the situation continues to be tense,and the blockade continues for all practical purposes. The workers’ unions are hell-bent on not allowing anyone with a ‘partisan attitude’ about the issue to visit the site of the struggle.On 26 August, P.V. Rajagopal, Member of the National Land Reforms Committee, was prevented from proceeding to Chengara by workers. Just the other day, K.R.Meera, one of Kerala’s leading fiction writers, was stopped from visiting the protest.
One wonders whether these union leaders live in the present or not, and whether they have lost their very last scrap of political astuteness. Clearly the blockade is making them all the more unpopular while their bosses escape public scrutiny.I do not like to think of them as dull and passive instruments mechanically following the bosses’ orders.However, one cannot help wondering why the workers do not try to resist the dominant image foisted of ‘union workers’ — the image of violent, insensible bullies who readily coalesce into a lumpen mob — that is being consistently paraded by the admirers of neoliberal growth in Kerala, and the ‘progressives’ as well. Only recently, we had prominent left leaders speaking against the illegal nokkukooli — the ‘glance-tax’– levied by unionised headload workers in Kerala. Now, interestingly, ithe complaints against the extortionist practices of headload workers is not new here. It has been heard since the 1970s; however, the left needed its ‘political sociey’ then. Now, apparently, it would like to substitute this volatile bunch with something more pliable and manageable. And what could be better than lakhs of BPL women mobilised in the ‘state-centric civil society’ — in the Kerala State Poverty Alleviation Mission’s State-wide network of self-help groups, the Kudumbasree? While the (many well-meaning)officials of the network try to transform BPL women into full-fledged economic agents, to their dismay, the political parties are vying to control it. Indeed, the Kudumbasree looks more and more like the left’s ‘civil-political society in the Age of Consumer-citizenship’. Yet unionised workers in Kerala continue to seek to be useful to their new elite masters/bosses.
Though, obviously, the bosses are all going for each others’ necks behind the red curtain.The two factions of the Kerala CPM are furiously active once more; however,neither totally condemns the struggle or supports it.Both promise to distribute productive land to landless people, including the protestors at Chengara, and even the dates are being tentatively discussed. Yet the trade unions have not been reined in.One wonders what this is all about and only hopes that the situation will not escalate into another pyrrhic victory of the rulers — like the Muthanga firing incident of 2003, under the Congress government. Then, too, truly alluring promises were made to the tribal people who protested for land right in front of the State Secretariat in 2001.Three months after the deadline announced for land distribution, tribal people under the Adivasi Gotra Mahasabha entered the land promised to them near the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary in the Wayanad district, which resulted in widespread repression by the state, and violence against adivasis by the settlers in Wayanad who had grabbed adivasi land since decades. C.K.Janu and other the leader of the Adivasi Gotra Sabha were beaten badly before their arrest; adivasi women were widely molested.
For a State that never stops harping about its achievements in ‘women’s empowerment’, this was more than ironic.Janu’s rise to leadership was entirely outside the norms set by the’Kerala Model’ (the ‘educated-healthy-middle-class-respectably married’ norm) and all the formal political institutions set up through political decentralisation. And the latter is still to produce a single woman leader of comparable abilities and stature (it may well be the case that such women exist; but we don’t see them).The CPM then moved to ‘take over the issue’, creating its own outfits for land distribution; tribal people who did not cooperate were to discard any such hope.One can’t help fearing that maybe such plans are afoot here too.