Assembly Polls: Demand for more Dalit candidates
Thiruvananthapuram, Feb. 19: As the run-up to Assembly general elections in April-May is nearing, the Kerala State Committee of All India SC/ST Confederation urged all political parties to field Dalit candidates in unreserved general seats, too.
This is in view of the overall reluctance exhibited by major parties, grouped up in Marxist-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to field SC-ST candidates in general seats in all past elections, including in the recently held Panchayat-Municipal polls. This was also exhibited in various LDF-UDF Cabinets, where the solitary Dalit representative was given the charge of SC-ST Welfare Ministry, and not other important portfolios like Finance, Education, Electricity, etc. This was in particular adhered to by the Communist-led Governments in this so-called Left-belt State. In the present LDF Government led by E. K. Nayanar, the solitary SC-ST representative K. Radhakrishnan (CPM elected from Chelakkara Reserved seat on CPM ticket) look after the SC-ST welfare portfolio. Notably, although the Nayanar Cabinet is small with only 15 members, Radhakrishnan was not given charge of any other portfolio. Compare this with other Communist Ministers like T. Sivadasa Menon (CPM) holding Finance and Excise, E. Chandrasekharan Nair (CPI) controlling Food and Excise, apart from Chief Minister Nayanar who looks after various departments including the sensitive Home Affairs. It is also an irony that Radhakrishnan remains as the solitary Cabinet member unaffected with charges of corruption in the present Nayanar Ministry. Notably, last week's State Committee meeting of CPM decided not field the party Ministers in Assembly polls except Radhakrishnan and, of course, at his Chelakkara Reserved seat. The ostensible reason behind this decision is said to be the norm of withdrawing all those who have become MLAs twice. However, the real reason is fear of defeat of a large number of reigning Ministers facing rampant corruption charges, who included Sivadasa Menon.
The All India SC/ST Confederations State Committee meeting held here yesterday said that the existing 14 reserved seats (out of total 140 Assembly seats in Kerala) were decided on the basis of the 1971 census. Since then, the population of SCs and STs in the State has increased by 5 per cent. Therefore, the political fronts should field more candidates from the Dalit community, the meeting demanded.
The meeting also flayed the Dalit MLAs belonging to both LDF and UDF for supporting the repeated Adivasi land amendment bills of 1996 and 1999 which sought to legalise the encroached tribal lands, especially in tribals areas of Attappadi and Wayanad. It is to be recalled that the successive UDF-LDF Governments never bothered to implement the 1975 Tribal Land Act, passed unanimously by the State Assembly, which promised restoration of all tribal lands encroached upon since 1960 back to the tribal owners. On the other hand, soon after the present LDF Government came to power in May 1996, it introduced with UDF support an amendment bill to the 1975 parent Act in order to outwit repeated High Court directives asking the Government to implement the provisions of 1975 parent act in both letter and spirit. When President of India K. R. Narayanan rejected to accord Central sanction to the amended bill, the Nayanar government brought yet another bill in 1999 with due UDF support for the same purpose of avoiding High Court stipulations. The issue is still pending in legal wrnagles before the High Court and Supreme Court. The Adivasis of Kerala, who account for only one percent of the State's total population and form the weakest ethnic segment, still await for implementation of an Act passed quarter century ago in the name of their overall welfare.
The State Committee of SC-ST Confederation warned that the Dalits would fight the political fronts if they field candidates not committed to the overall Dalit cause, including the restoration of lost tribal lands from powerful encroachers back to the tribals. It also decided to organise an 'Avakasa Prakhyapana Rally" (Rights Declaration Rally) here on April 7, which will be inaugurated by its National Chairman, Ramraj. The demands to be raised include: Reservation in private sector, Dalit reservation in all sectors including the Supreme Court and Defence Services, more powers and funds to SC/ST Commission, apart from restoration of lost tribal lands back to tribals. The meeting was presided by State Committee President K. K. Ramankutty while General Secretary Vakkanadu Raghavan presented the report.