Land shortage is a serious issue

Print edition : November 06, 2009

The problems of the downtrodden cannot be solved in isolation, says A.K. Balan.-S. MAHINSHA

AFTER the Kerala government announced a settlement package for the landless people agitating in Chengara, Frontline met A.K. Balan, the Minister for Welfare of Backward and Scheduled Communities and Electricity. Excerpts from the interview:

What is the governments approach to the struggles by the landless poor which are increasing in frequency in Kerala?

The truth is that the government does not have land for distribution. That is the limitation. But we consider it our responsibility to somehow find the land for providing at least a homestead plot and a house to all landless people in the State. We are doing a lot for the welfare of the downtrodden, and people are well aware of it. But non-availability of land is a serious issue, and Kerala society has to address this problem jointly with a sense of urgency. The government alone cannot solve it; the judiciary and the executive too need to play their part. For example, 342 cases involving 13,000 acres of surplus land set apart for redistribution to Dalits by the [land] tribunals have been pending in appeal before the Kerala High Court for over 25 years. The cases have dragged on for so long that it is becoming more and more difficult for the government to reclaim them for the landless people. Similarly, 1,436 cases are pending before the tribunals.

On the very day the Chengara agitation was withdrawn, its leaders gave a call for another agitation.

The intention of a section of people is to use this issue to try and destroy the LDF and the CPI(M) practically and ideologically. But the people of Kerala know very well that within our limitations we are committed to the cause of the downtrodden and that we have done a lot for this section of society. Now they are trying to position Dalits against the party and to provoke the government into launching a police action against them. They cannot otherwise succeed in their efforts. So they are engineering isolated incidents. The murder at Varkala, for example. A murder needs a motive. It should have a purpose. But when those arrested were questioned, they told the police that they did not have a specific purpose and that it was meant to attract attention, to create anarchy.

Anarchy is not a common word. It is a product of an ideology. There may be countries where it will have some relevance. But in Kerala or in Indian society, killing innocent people and creating anarchy to attract peoples attention has been proved ineffective. It has been proved in the context of the naxalite movement in the State that people will not accept such an ideology.

But still, products of that ideology continue to operate in the State. They know that the Left government may not try to use repressive measures against them. Taking advantage of this, they are trying to sow the seeds [of anarchy] among the downtrodden sections. But the government will not let that happen. If that happens, the Dalit community will get isolated from the rest of Kerala society and no one will be able to address any of the problems of that community any longer. Because the problems of these downtrodden people cannot be solved in isolation. They can be solved only if they are seen as the common problem of society in general. That can only be done through the ideology of the working class people and their party.

But increasingly there is an emphasis on caste identity in the agitations that are going on...

If you think that only a Dalit organisation can solve Dalit issues, you must look at Bihar, which gave birth to so many Dalit organisations. Has that State been able to achieve anything like the land reforms that were implemented in Kerala? It is part of a big conspiracy, a product of a politically motivated ideology, to form such organisations, to inject extremist ideas into them, to make them Dalit murderers and to earn for them the enmity of an entire society and then to make them tell themselves, we are isolated, only our own organisation can save us. We are now seeing such trends in many parts of India.

Does the government feel that the problem is spreading in Kerala? Is there any evidence of infiltration of such elements into Dalit colonies and Adivasi hamlets in the State?

That is what it seems. In the context of the Varkala incident, we have realised that in some pockets it has spread very wide and deep. They had planned to conduct eight murders. To kill eight innocent people! To kill you as you walk along the road and to create terror. Is it not the same as what we saw in Wayanad years earlier as part of the revolution led by [naxalite leaders] Varghese and K. Ajitha? We cannot... the Dalit community will never benefit from such actions. At the same time, there are many livelihood issues, which need to be addressed and which Kerala society needs to take up urgently.

So what you mean is that the demands are justified, but their methods are wrong?

The demands are justified as far as they refer to the demand for land by the landless. We will not oppose such a demand.

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