Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Mochana Yatra carries on

It is a sunny Thursday in February. Oommen Chandy is on one of his campaign stops at Kanjirapally during the Kerala Mochana Yatra. One by one, the leaders from the panchayat, zilla, and the state level step forward with garlands. Somebody places a shawl over his head. Another person gives a bouquet. A lady garlands him with ten rupee notes. The adulation is astonishing to see.

A couple of kilometres outside 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. “Very nice to see you, Sir,” she says.

In the village of Pinnakkanadu a group 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.

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.”

This is just a small glimpse of what Chandy’s life is like every day. But, somehow, the man has remained simple and humble, despite his constant dance with power and sycophancy and its corrupting effects on the soul. Yet, there is also no doubt that Chandy is shrewd and ambitious, because, otherwise, he would not be chief minister.

And it is also a day when Chandy is at his most candid. “One of the most poignant experiences of my life was when I went to Dubai ,” he says. “I was taken to the quarters where the Malayali construction workers stayed. And I was shocked. It was worse than the way our cows lived.”

Chandy pauses for a few moments and says, “I felt a tremendous guilt. I realized that it was our government policies, whether of the LDF or the UDF that forced these men to go and look for work in places like Dubai. We were not able to create enough jobs for our youth.”

It is a stunning admission by a politician, and, more so, for one who is such a seasoned handler of the media. But there is no doubting the sincerity in his voice.

He makes another interesting observation: “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 crore, and Andhra Pradesh, Rs 30,000 crore, while in Kerala it is only Rs 2,360 crore. In all these states so many Malayalis are working in the IT industry. We have to ensure that this migration of talent stops.”

But, today, Chandy knows keenly that the path ahead to create jobs is going to be even more difficult because in the 140-member Assembly, the Communist-led LDF has 68 members in the opposition.

“The problem with the Marxists is that they are clinging on to an ideology which is impractical and out-dated in today’s fast-paced world,” says Chandy. “They always have a negative attitude towards changes. They were against computers and tractors when it was first introduced. That same outlook persists.”

His frustration overflows. “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,” he says. “Overall, it is a total loss for the state.”

Now, the people will have to wait and see whether the 21st chief minister of Kerala can convert this total loss into a total profit. If it is the latter, the youth will stay. Otherwise, the devastating exodus of talent to other states and countries will continue.

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

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