CPI goondas attack Idukki Adivasi agitators:
The pre-planned attack took place day-before-yesterday night, after the Education Minister P. J. Joseph announced that the disputed place would be returned back to the tribals by relocating the college elsewhere. The Minister's statement followed the agitating tribals demolishing the half-finished college building constructed on their cattle-shed, forcibly occupying the place and erecting huts. (See earlier report on this site, "Idukki tribals demolish Engg. College building", March 26-27).
According to Janu, the local panchayat member of CPI had earlier asked the tribals to leave the premises and threatened them with dire consequences including forcible eviction. And, the attack took place on the same Monday night. Janu also said that the CPI had brought goons from outside.
Following the attack, a police team reached from Munnar and removed both the tribals and CPI supporters away from the disputed place. Evidently, police reached after the CPI attack which indicate police connivance in the whole episode. The CPI attack also helped the police and the government to evict the tribals from the seized land in the name of maintaining law and order.
On charges of demolishing the college building, the police had registered 3 cases against 19 persons, including C. K. Janu. Several other cases were charged against persons on both sides for Monday night clashes, according to Dy.S.P. G. Stephen. Police patrolling has strengthened in the area.
The Kundalakudi tribals' action of seizing their land by force had created shock-waves in circles of vested interests, especially ruling LDF and opposition UDF and the powerful lobby of tribal land encroachers. It is to be recalled that both LDF and UDF had exhibited a remarkable unity during the past 26 years in not implemending the 1975 Tribal Land Act. Unanimously passed by Kerala Assembly and with due Constitutional safeguards, this parent Act envisages restoring all lands lost by tribals since 1960 back to them. To bypass the repeated High Court directives since 1993 on a writ petition filed by Dr. Nalla Thambi Thera, the LDF Government, with due UDF support, brought an amendment bill in September 1996 to nullify the parent Act. It drew widespread attention when a Naxalite group, "Ayyankali Pada", kept the Palakkad District Collector, W. R. Reddy, as hostage in October 1996 to register their protest against the bill. Although a joint-delegation led by Chief Minister E. K. Nayanar and Opposition leader A. K. Antony went to Delhi seeking Central approval for the amendment, President K. R. Narayanan refused to grant Presidential approval and returned the rejected bill in March 1998. Even then, instead of implementing the parent Act of 1975, the LDF Government brought yet another amendment bill in 1999, main clauses of which were stayed by the High Court. The whole issue is still remaining in legal hurdles in both High Court and Supreme Court.
Evidently, since both LDF-UDF openly abet the powerful encroacher-settlers against the basic interests of tribals, the Kundalakudi tribals' initiative of land seizure created widespread panic in them. Apparently, encouraged by it, about 38 acres of forest land close to the village office at Pooppara, in Thodupuzha, Idukki district, was forcibly occupied on Monday (March 26) by a group of Mannan tribals led by their traditional king, Kovilmala Thevan Mannan Raja, of Idukki. This land, taken over by forest department from revenue department about 34 years ago to start eucalyptus and pine plantations, was forcibly occupied by about 60 tribal families from Vathukkudi, Thopramkudi and Mathikettan areas. The forest department officials who arrived from Ponmudi asked the tribals to vacate the place. The tribals, who already constructed huts, refused to heed and insisted that they would leave the place only if their lost ancestoral lands were restored to them in accordance with the 1975 parent Act.
Unmistakenly, the LDF government is worried whether these direct actions of Idukki tribals would be followed by their counterparts in Attappadi (Palakkad district) and Wayanad district where the tribal land problem is more acute than in Idukki. Since general elections to State Assembly is due in May first week, a militant land agitation by landless tribals in traditional tribal areas would not only create law and order problems of wider implications, but also is bound to keep the Marxist government in an awkward position.
The CPI, the second largest LDF constituent after CPM, took the lead to attack Kundalakudi tribals since the State Revenue Minister, K. E. Ismail, belongs to their party. Ironically, Ismail had led tribal agitations, especially in his home-district Palakkad, demanding implementation of the 1975 parent Act till May 1996 when he became the present Revenue Minister to move both the 1996 and 1999 amendment bills to scuttle the very parent Act! Amending the parent Act of 1975 has now become a personal prestige issue for Ismail. The Idukki district CPI is also in league with Tata's Kannan Devan Tea, who grabbed 50,000 acres of revenue and forest land in Munnar area with government's connivance and abetment, according to a detailed investigation report published by "Madhyamam" weekly last year.
The leading Malayalam newspaper, "Malayala Manorama", who always stood against the tribals to protect the interests of Christian encroacher-settlers from Travancore plane areas, published today a totally distorted story on Kundalakudi incidents terming it as a clash between "Tribals and Dalits". Ironically, although an outright anti-Left newspaper traditionally, the involvement of CPI and its trade union wing, AITUC, in attacking Kundalakudi tribals found no mention in "Malayala Manorama" report. It was yet another testimony that this largest circulated newspaper in whole of India is more anti-tribal than anti-Communist. It also proved that India's stereo-typed Communists and Capitalists have collective interests in opposing struggles waged by marginalised social segments like tribals and Dalits. Without mentioning about CPI involvement in the anti-tribal attack, the "Malayala Manorama" news, captioned "Tribal-Dalit clash over Engineering college building", said that the SCs had raised slogans in favour of the college and also claimed their right over part of the land if the college was not to be constructed there!
It is to be recalled that President K. R. Narayanan's rejecting the Tribal Land Amendment Bill of 1996 in March 1998 has not yet been published as a news item by this leading daily newspaper of Kerala! Says C. K. Janu : "Major Malayalam dailies, especially their editions for tribal areas, seldom publish pro-tribal news. This is because of fear of losing circulation. As against the fully literate encroachers with purchasing power to subscribe newspapers, the illiterate tribals are struggling daily for bare survival and mere existence".
Notably, M. P. Veerendrakumar, Managing Director of the second largest Malayalam newspaper, "Mathrubhumi", and his family members were charged with grabbing about 133 acres of land in Chingeri forests of Wayanad tribal district. In a detailed report to the Revenue Board way back in 1988, then Wayanad Sub-Collector, Marapandian, IAS, asked for a high-level in-depth probe. However, nothing had happened till day. Veerendrakumar is also a leading politician of Kerala heading one of the ruling LDF constituents, Janata Dal (S), as its State President. He was also a Union Minister in Deve Gowda's United Front Central Cabinet. Surely, being in Janata Dal and LDF, Veerendrakumar too speaks aloud on "social justice"!