Thursday, April 07, 2011

Scenes from a yatra


As the election fever reaches fever pitch in Kerala, a look back at the Mochana Yatra held by Opposition leader Oommen Chandy

By Shevlin Sebastian

In Kanjirapally town the sun beats down hard on a Thursday morning. The road is festooned with banners of the leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy announcing his Kerala Mojana Yatra.

At one side of the road, a Toyota Innova car is parked. On the bonnet books and CDs about the life of Oommen Chandy are on sale. P.S. Manu, a Zilla secretary of the Kerala Students Union in Thirvananthapuram, is overseeing the temporary stall. “Sales have been brisk,” he says. “However, most of the buyers are party members.”

Suddenly, groups of party workers arrive on motorbikes, holding Congress flags followed by a team of drummers and lady members. Finally, there is the ever-smiling Oommen Chandy accompanied by K.M. Mani and other leaders in an open van waving to the crowds. Party workers shout slogans. There is a sustained burst of fireworks. The drumbeats reach a crescendo.

Soon, Chandy steps on to the stage, near a row of shops, where UDF leaders like T.M. Jacob, P.P. Thankachan and M.M. Hassan have been waiting patiently. Chandy says, “The people are against the government. The LDF has done nothing. We have to provide employment for lakhs of young people and change Kerala.”

The crowd claps and, one by one, the leaders, from the panchayat, zilla, and the state level, step forward with garlands. Somebody places a shawl over Oommen Chandy’s head. Another person gives a bouquet. A lady garlands him with ten rupee notes. The adulation is astonishing to see.

Finally, Chandy gets into a maroon coloured Toyota Innova car. Inside, he points at the back of his palm. It is bleeding. Somebody's nail has pierced his skin while Chandy was being garlanded. Chandy’s son immediately dips Dettol onto a piece of cotton and dabs it on the wound. Then a plaster is pasted. The posse of cars heads for Erattupetta.

But a couple of kilometres out of Kanjirapally, the car is stopped by a few people. A woman in a blue nightgown rushes up holding a green coconut with a white straw sticking out of it. The former chief minister takes it and passes it on to K.C. Joseph, MLA, who is in the back seat. “Very nice to see you,” says the woman.

Everywhere when the people see him, they wave and give bright smiles. In the village of Pinnakkanadu a large bunch of schoolchildren, in blue uniforms, shout and whoop with joy, as they throw orange flower petals at him. A nun presents Chandy with a bouquet along with a brown envelope. It is a petition asking for financial help for the school.

At Erattupetta, the reception is rapturous. Congress (M) leader K.M. Mani, splotches of red on his face, thanks to the afternoon heat, still has the energy to shout, “Oommen Chandy is going to change the face of Kerala.” A visibly tiring Chandy speaks for a short while and then it is time to go.

The car heads towards Congress worker V.M. Nizar's house for lunch. It is a simple meal which had been specifically asked for by the leader: Kanji (rice gruel), payar (long beans), a dab of lime pickle and a pappadam. It is quiet now after the bustle and the noise of the streets. Chandy eats silently, as Nizar hovers around, a gracious host. Later, Chandy retires to a bedroom for a short nap.

R.K. Balakrishnan, Chandy's additional private secretary, says, “Sir is running a fever and has a cold. He is very weak, but how can we stop the yatra?”

At 3 p.m., Chandy sets out once again, this time to Ramapuram. In the car, he says, “The reception has been fantastic all over Kerala. I was very happy by the welcome I got in Kannur. It is clear people want a change.” (For an exclusive interview, see box).

The cavalcade moves on to Ramapuram, Pampady, Karukachal, Changanacherry, and it ends with a big meeting at Kottayam, Chandy's backyard, where the reaction is strong and positive.

The UDF, with its most popular mascot, Oommen Chandy, is off and running to seize power in the upcoming Assembly elections. Is it the end of the road for the Marxists?


Kerala needs a lot of investment, says Oommen Chandy

The UDF wants to create an environment where there are plenty of investment opportunities. Today, people have money, and they are willing to invest if the state provides the right environment. The UDF has realized that.

Nokkukooli has to be stamped out

The UDF will never encourage nokkukooli (workers being paid to look at non-union workers doing work). One of the main reasons why investment has not come to Kerala is because of labour problems. But I have to say that the labour is changing its attitude. It is a highly competitive environment that we are living in. Industries have to be efficient to survive. That means, the productivity has to improve. Definitely the workers should also get good salaries and proper working conditions.

In this situation, we will not tolerate nokkukooli. All trade unions and political parties are against it. However, I know that it is taking place in different parts of the state and we need to stamp it out. The UDF will display the political will for that.

Marxists have out-dated ideologies

The problem with the Marxists is that they are clinging on to an ideology which is impractical and out-dated in today’s world. They always have a negative attitude towards changes. They were against computers and tractors when it was first introduced. That same attitude persists. The Marxists will resist all moves to improve the investment climate when they are in the opposition, and when they come to power, they will not do anything at all. Overall, it is a total loss for the state.

We should have been No. 1 in IT
If you look at the talent and educational qualities of Malayalis our state should have been No. 1 in the IT industry. Instead, Karnataka has an IT industry worth Rs 76,000 crore, Tamil Nadu has Rs 40,000, and Andhra Pradesh has Rs 30,000, while in Kerala it is only Rs 2,360 crore. In all these states so many Malayalis are working in the IT industry. The UDF will ensure that this migration of talent outside the state stops.

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