Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has called for a meeting to sort out the muddy affairs related to the land deals in Idukki. His party, CPM, has formed a coalition to resist the anti-encroachment drive initiated by the revenue department led by alliance partner CPI.
Pinarayi consulted revenue minister E Chandrasekharan before announcing the meeting to ensure that the minister did not stay away from the meeting.
The revenue department came under a shower of abuse when the Devikulam sub collector marked as encroachment a piece of land owned by Idukki MP Joyce George, affiliated to the ruling Left Democratic Front.
The official action raised hackles in the local CPM. If the officials could target the MP, they could point a finger towards any leader. The party men hit the streets to protect the title deeds of their lands, prompting the chief minister to convene a meeting.
The meeting is an attempt to curb the activities of sub collector V R Prem Kumar and other officers and to show them who is in charge of affairs. The CPI will also face the wrath of the bigger ally.
The revenue department is going through an unprecedented phase of controversies, be it under Adoor Prakash in the previous United Democratic Front government or K P Rajendran in the LDF government of V S Achuthanandan.
Chandrasekharan is known as a gentleman but when it comes to principles he is a hard taskmaster. He also draws support from his party boss, Kanam Rajendran, who is a bitter critic of the government.
The case of Joyce George is not an isolated incident. The LDF government has come under a shadow in relation to controversial personalities and their shady land dealings.
A student agitation against the Law Academy Law College in Thiruvananthapuram blew up into a nasty spat between college chairman and CPI leader Narayanan Nair and the revenue department. The government went ahead and pulled down the gate of the institution which it said had encroached public land.
More shock was in store when the revenue department targeted transport minister Thomas Chandy, an NCP leader and resort owner. The action led to the resignation of the minister and the widening of the fissures in the ruling front.
Now, the action against the MP. The CPM vows to keep the issue alive by organizing its cadre against the district administration.
All these incidents have painted a picture of the CPM as an accomplice in irregularities, while earning the CPI credit for standing up to violators. The CPI has rightly placed its bet even as it antagonized the CPM.
CPI's hidden worries
The CPI may have another reasons to go full steam against the land sharks. The party leadership has to save its face against detractors who allege that the other ministers of the party were not up to the mark. A section within the party is not happy with the performance of the other ministers. It could be a concern for the party leadership ahead of the crucial party meetings.
Food minister P Thilothaman has drawn criticism from within the ruling front. Forest minister K Raju refuses to grow beyond his constituency of Punalur, his critics say. V S Sunil Kumar could not match his reputation as a leader with his performance as a minister.
The CPI’s own analysis of the ministries it handles had found that much remained to be desired though the party has not pulled up the ministers publicly. The party is treading with caution here.
The CPI leadership has been accused of goofing up with the selection of ministers. The party has to block any attempt to revive the allegations in the party election.
The revenue department and its daring activities are the only saving grace for the party. The message was clear when K E Ismail was replaced by Chandrasekharan as the party's representative in the LDF.
The CPI has asked Chandrasekharan to go ahead with the promise to distribute land to about 4 lakh landless people in Kerala. Land to everyone would be Kerala's biggest achievement since attaining total literacy, the party feels.
A major impediment to this goal is the inordinate delays in cases related to surplus land. Though the revenue department got hold of 40,438 hectares of land, it could only distribute 28,748 hectares of land thanks to 1,302 suits still pending with the courts.
There are problems with land supposed to be distributed among tribesmen under the forest rights law. More than a lakh petitions are pending before the land tribunals seeking title deeds for lands from the government.
Yet the CPI is focused on untangling the murky land deals of Idukki district. That plan, however, is a double-edged weapon.