Noolpuzha tribesmen's boycott threat rattles politicians
Sulthan Bathery: Sick of their interminable wait for power connection to energise their five-year-old agricultural pump house, about 1,000 angry Mullukuruma tribesmen in Noolpuzha have now decided not to vote this time, giving the jitters to local politicians.
They belong to the Manmadamoola, Athikuni, Chiramoola, Chiramkundu, Alathoor, Kallumukku, Melemoola, Mangamukku and Kuzhimoola tribal colonies in Noolpuzha panchayat, next to the Muthanga wildlife sanctuary. Mullukurumas - besides the Kurichias - are the relatively most advanced among Wayanad tribes, and have been empowered enough to corner a major chunk of the government freebies and concessions originally meant for all tribes.
Unlike the illiterate and helpless lower tribes which still can't hope to achieve even the bare minimum standards needed to avail of government benefits, the Mullukurumas - who have many government servants, bank officers and professionals among them - are not used to being ignored.
The issue involves a pump house and canal costing several lakhs constructed by the DRDA at Kuzhimoola in 1996. This was to help irrigate about 200 acres of Mullukuruma paddy fields in the area using KSEB power at nominal cost. They are currently using 23 community diesel pumps instead, spending money on the fuel by themselves.
After there was no sign of a power connection to the pump house for the next couple of years after its construction, they got the Chief Minister to order the KSEB to do the feasibility survey and prepare the estimate for it, in September 1998. But nothing moved afterwards, and the canal and pump house remained defunct.
Last year, the local member of the CPM-held district panchayat informed the Mullukuruma farmers that the panchayat has allocated Rs 8.25 lakh for the power connection. But KSEB officials have since told the Mullukurumas that the panchayat did not hand over the allocated amount to it to provide the connection. The amount has now lapsed.
The tribesmen who lost patience called a meeting of the entire local community. Though they individually support various parties, the overwhelming consensus was that they ought to stay off the polls, since it is the only way they can hit back at politicians. They have formed a people's committee cutting across their political beliefs.
''The rains have been sparse, and diesel costs are going up. Besides, we could easily have two harvests a year if we get the pump house to function,'' according to a tribal elder. ''See there? That is the power line passing right next to our fields, and it wouldn't take much of an effort to connect the pump house,'' said a young man in the forefront of the boycott move, pointing to the 11 KV high tension power cables going overhead.
Considering their sheer numbers, the boycott decision has clearly rattled the local politicians, particularly the LDF which is believed to be the biggest loser if the threat is carried out. So, frantic efforts are now on to placate the stubborn Mullukurumas before it is too late.
''This is a conspiracy against us, and everyone knows this is a CPM stronghold. These people are being misguided. How can they hope to get what they want without political backing? Which non-political committee has ever achieved anything by taking on politicians,'' asked P V Velayudhan, district committee member of the CPM and member (General Council) of the Kerala Agricultural University. He, along with Athikuni Sreedharan, the beleaguered former local panchayat president and CPM leader, are among those desperately trying to dissuade the tribesmen.
He has no explanation why the panchayat slept over a power connection for over five years, and then allowed even its belated fund allocation for it to lapse in the end.
''Why are you blaming us alone? The UDF-held Sulthan Bathery Block panchayat, whose president herself is a tribeswoman, allowed no less than Rs 1 crore meant for tribal projects to lapse this year. We had not lapsed so much,'' asserted Sreedharan, who is confident that it would be possible to get the tribesmen backtrack before the poll day.