West Bengal Chief Minister offers a model for Kerala politicians.

The Kerala Left politicians are dreaming to capture power in the next Assembly elections. But Kerala politics is not one of black and white as in Bengal. Here the coalition politics have many shades of alignments and re-alignments.
The question is: do the Communists in this southern bastion one more chance?

In earlier times such a question would have been rebuffed effectively by the Communist pioneers and veterans. Those were their best times. Not anymore.

The Communists in India have been lucky to have won some respectable number of MPS in the UPA coalition government. So, they imagine they have lots of relevance. But they don’t. The Prime Minister uses the West Bengal Chief Minister’s own turnaround as a proof of his own economic reforms agenda!

The Communists in India are in a desperate situation today. The West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya had broken ranks with the so-called Central polit-bureau, a group of office-going type functionaries in the Delhi’s more affluent surroundings with no direct touch whatever with the people in the interiors, the Communists of both the CPI and the CPI(M)know well their time is up. The CPI is in decline. This is official. The 80 year old parent party that split into two in 1964, is officially the CPI (I) is facing so many problems. First, the 80 year-old Secretary, A.B.Bardhan is not keeping good health and a replacement is not in sight. The party has just 9 MPs in the 2004 Lok Sabha. The CPI is seeking a merger with its powerful rival, the CPI (M) and the latter is not too willing for any obvious reasons.

The Communists are known to quarrel among themselves on some petty doctrinaire issue or other. So, in the process they didn’t realise that the ground under their feet was also slipping. As a result in elections after election the CPI which was once a byword for legendary leadership is now in total decline. The EC is also on the verge of derecognising the party for it has not the norms to be recognised as suich.11 MPs are minimum for such recognition, though it can claim such a status if it is present in at least 5 states. Whatever the detail, the substantial question is its voters decline. Its share in the votes in the successive general elections, starting from 8.9 per cent in 1957,today in 2004,its share had come to a mere 1.41 per cent. So, not much need to be said about the one wing of the party. The other, CPI (M) is leading the coalition in West Bengal for long and luckily, the CM there is taking radically unorthodox party line in many critical areas. IT is his priority, so too agricultural land allotment for FDI in large new housing and township and IT, biotech parks projects.

Also the holy cow of banning the strikes in IT had rattled the office-bound theoreticians in Delhi. But they can’t do much for they are frost in coalition with the Congress which is all for further economic reforms with FDI in a number of corer sectors, an anathema to the Communists but they have not much choice. They don’t want to participate in the Central government but want to obstruct at every turn. This suited them well so far but soon the Assembly elections in West Bengal and Kerala would turn the light on the Communist’s real strategy to win elections in the states. That means taking a direct opposition line to the Congress party and its policies.

In Kerala, there was this many-day conference of intellectuals and party think tanks not long ago. CPI (M) General Secretary Prakash Karat spoke at the AKG Centre for Research and Studies. On what? What else but the coming elections and what to offer to the voters. The voters had given in the last elections a good lesson to the Communists. They voted overwhelmingly and Ommen Chandy, the current CM, had done what other could not have done better. Kerala is a problem state both from the human resources point of view as well as the natural resources point of view.

Now, Karat for once wants to “protect the gans of the past in the social sectors and show a viable path for the future. Particularly in enhancing material production”. Fine. The first task of the new Government in Kerala should be to address the agrarian crisis. This, would call for stepping up investment in agriculture and improving the quality and quantity of yield”. Then he went on to the industrial sector. Here he said that “increase in material production would also require focus on the industrial sector and Kerala stood a good chance for developing agro-processing industries and harnessing biotechnology”. The large part of the investment has to come from the private sector, he said. He also wanted FDI to help expand industrial capacity. Then he went on women’s role, caste and communal forces etc.

The Chief Minister Mr.Chandy also spoke along with Karat and what the CM said was not new. The Centre doesn’t give enough funds, doesnt allow the states to borrow funds, and the state had achieved many social targets, so the Centre doesn’t give further funds for the same targets. So, where do we go from these stands?

As for Kerala’s agriculture, we in this magazine, has long standing association in various ways and we know the strengths and the weaknesses of the agro sector. As we are optimists we have our own views.

Our long standing correspondent Mr.R.Hali, a one-time Director of Agriculture and an authority on the state’s agro sector, had written extensively in the pages of this magazine. In a recent communication he points our how the state’s resources are deployed and severely limited. Of course, the drought years are behind us. Now with plentiful of monsoons, the many horticrops are leading to any oversupply and a depression in prices. Over 80 per cent of the agri products/plantation products from the state have to be sold outside the state or outside the country.

The issues are complex and discussed already. The point is that Kerala is ideally posed to bring out so many new development models for small scale cultivation and marketing. We had worked in the past with the Kerala Horticulture Development Corporation and we brought out a special issue on KHDP. Now, the same Council is still function, though under a different name. But the problems, we believe, would remain the same. How to enhance production, productivity, how to tie-up the marketing of the produce for realising the maximum prices.

We have been doing the same services in other parts of the country much more successfully and also in a sustainable way. What we find is that there was this wide realisation of the key role of agriculture in raising living standards of the poor farmers, villagers and the landless labour. But there is no leadership at the political level in a visible way. We are living in the days of globlisation, there are rapid changes, and we need pro-active leadership to give the agri sector the much needed boost in future prospects. This we find is missing today.

There is an active media interest in the state in agriculture. But we wonder what private sector initiatives are there by way of consultancies and to give a new confidence and a workable business models?

The psychology of an ordinary Keralite is he an ordinary worker or an able educated professional is their innate skepticism. They all seem to be doubting Thomases! We read recently in the press how they created problems for one private sector promoter of a medicinal crop. You can’t make politics out of agri projects. You can’t for that matter make politics out of any investments, business developments. Mr.A.K.Anthony came all the way to Bangalore along with his colleagues to Infosys to plead with Narayanamurthy for investments. We don’t know the progress made. The point is the state’s politicians must show solidarity with the IT professionals, they have to swallow their old theories and give up dharnas and strikes in IT and give the IT companies the sort of environment to function in a free and open manner.

In agriculture, you have to invite MNCs to invest in agri processing activities. Only MNCs can sustain big investments. Of course the state can formulate many new, innovative small scale contract farming projects. We in this magazine are willing to collaborate with the state government in its quest for new business development models.

Kerala’s finances are in a mess. The latest Plan allocation for the annual plan at Rs.6,210 crores was an occasion to find out that the fiscal responsibility in the state is zero. Borrowings are channeled into expenditure. Debt ration, debt servicing commitments are above average and outstanding borrowings are almost double the total revenue receipts in Kerala. “This is likely to affect the creditworthiness of the state and constrain Plan performance”. The Left is blind to economic realities and only political defeats will make them awake to world realities.

So, it is nice to hear the CPI (M) stalwarts now have changed their tune. Karat, the Secretary, calls for FDI as it admits that capitalism, more than ever, had demonstrated its resilience has given wealth creation a whole new set of asumptions about development priorities. Better late than never!

You have to go for new alternatives and also for a new generation of well-trained manpower. No investments or talents would come unless the opportunities for growth are irresistible.

Now, other states like Karnataka and AP are in a development, positive mood, be it horticulture, new crops or new agro processing activities.

The Kerala press can cover more of these developments. Intersted parties can access our Internet:www.agricultureinformation.com.

– V.Isvarmurti

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