Saturday, September 8, 2012

Kerala, God’s own country, up for SALE

Nizar has a solution for everything under the sun. Even for corruption, that stands in the way of a high speed bullet train or a multi-storied convention centre. Outside his cabin, a middle-aged woman waits for an appointment. She has been struggling to get an approval to start a small-scale unit in her village for the past two years. Nizar asks her to wait outside, perhaps like every other day. Poor folks live a life in waiting. Like fire-files, their hopes, flicker and fall dead. Nizar straightens his polyster Mundu neatly to the left side and chants in Malabari Malayalam: there should be a consensus amongst all parties when it comes to corruption. Just look at our neighbouring states. Both the ruling party and opposition here should emulate this formula. Divide kickbacks equally for every project approved. The ratio, he says, can be worked out: 15:10:10 for Congress, CPM and Muslim League. We would be happy even if we get 5%, you know, after all corruption should not come in the way of state’s development. Nizar works as an officer at the District Industrial Centre, Thiruvananthapuram. He offers me Sulemani chai, a symbol of love and Muslim brotherhood. He and his colleagues at the industry ministry, headed by P K Kunhalikutty, has proposed an out- of –the-box idea to remove the backwardness of the state: construct a multi-storied convention centre in the middle of the iconic Chandrashekran Nair stadium situated in the heart of the state capital. Chandrashekhar Nair stadium It is like having a world trade centre in the middle of Wankhade stadium in Mumbai or say inside Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in New Delhi.Investments, he says, will not be problem. Afterall, the project is an integral part of the urban infrastructure project, awaiting for investment in the Emerging Kerala global investor's meet to be inaugurated by prime minister Manmohan Singh in Kochi next week. This stadium land-grab is an icing on the cake, like an ultimate grotesque avatar of corruption. Out of the 200 odd proposals awaiting for investments, there are hardly a few worth mentioning, and a majority of them are land-grabs masquerading as development projects. After Times of India did a campaign against this Tugalkian project there was a hue and cry and Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy was forced to scrap around 50 unviable proposals after an initial scrutiny. But instead of admitting that Congress was a riding a corrupt horse called Indian Union Muslim league that spares no opportunity to make an easy killing, Chandy defended that these proposals were not final and they were put forward by different companies for public review. Industry minister P K Kunhalikutty, the wily fox he is, corrected him and said that these were indeed projects put forward by the industry department. Greed, like Nizar, is a great survivor. Kerala has been caught up in this mirage of development for quite time now. Planners are clueless on how to chart a sustainable development plan without disturbing the fragile eco-balance of the state, that still has one of the best green covers in the country. The pint-sized state does not have enough barren land to start huge industrial units, so the only option is to develop its coast, like say Singapore. The state should also promote eco-tourism, like say in Venice and Switzerland, countries which have showcased its shallow network of waterways and blue mountains to weary world-travelers with great success. Kerala, infact has much more to offer. An ancient heritage older than Aryan civilization, organic eco-systems and religious beliefs close to nature; Auryvedic sciences and art forms that evolved over thousands of years. But the Nizars of the state are hell-bent on taking us on a different path. My colleague, G Rajiv, wrote a piece two weeks ago, on how bulk of the people-centric projects like education institutions and health care hospitals were proposed to come up in Malappuram, a Muslim majority district. The Times of India did not play up the story, considering the fact that we are a secular newspaper and did not want to hurt any particular community. But the fact remains that Muslims in the state, unlike in the other parts of the country, are well-off. Malappuram today brings in the maximum foreign remittance into the state. It is districts like Wayand (a tribal district), Idukki and many parts of North Malabar that needs specialty hospitals and good educational institutions. The ruling, Congress party, is forced to succumb to the bizarre demands of its ally, Muslim league, to remain in power. The main opposition party, CPM, has failed to bring up these issues, as it has lost all its credibility and principles, and has degenerated into a fascist monolith, indulging in Stalinist political murders for survival. Religion based, vote-bank politics overrides everything. Thankfully, a majority of Keralites still consider themselves Malayalees first, and then maybe think of their religious identity in their private spaces, that is if they are believers.This is no mean achievement, considering communal right wing parties are biding their time, waiting to fill the ever widening secular vacuum in the state. (Nizar is not the real name of the officer who spilled the beans of the scam. The ministry will make him a scapegoat if his identity is revealed. He is just an echo of His Masters Voice.) Artice appeared in Times of India - by Viju B

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