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In Kerala CM's bastion, everyone speaks Red

Last updated on: April 8, 2011 13:17 IST

In Kerala CM's bastion, everyone speaks Red

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In his constituency Malampuzha, locals can't get enough of Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan, his policies and his caustic speeches, says Shobha Warrier

Palakkad, located at the foothills of the western ghats in Kerala, is nearly 350 km from capital Thiruvananthapuram. The district, which has a literacy rate of 81 percent, has been a bastion of the Left Front since 1957.

With the exceptions of 1977, 1984 and 1991, Palakkad has only elected representatives from communist parties. The district elects representatives for the state assembly from the constituencies of Palakkad and Malampuzha.

Malampuzha, a famous tourist spot that is barely 10 kms away from Palakkad town, has been in the news for its high-profile candidate for the forthcoming assembly polls -- Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan.

VS had been campaigning in Palakkad, not only for himself but for other Communist Party of India - Marxist candidates in the district.

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Image: A poster of Kerala CM V S Achuthanandan
Photographs: Shobha Warrier
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'Is the CM insecure?'

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Speaking about the CM's prolonged stay in the district, a local resident quips, "It is puzzling. He has never stayed put in his own constituency for so many days. From April 9, he will be in Malampuzha till the polling gets over. Is he insecure?"

The day I was scheduled to meet the CM at the party guest house next to the CPI-M party office, he was supposed to campaign in Palakkad region, not his constituency Malampuzha.

I was asked to be at the guest house by 9 am so that he could give me an 'exclusive' interview and then proceed on his campaign. Two other journalists (from Delhi and Kolkata) were already there when I reached. They had also been allotted the same time slot for an 'exclusive' interview.

The policemen on duty informed us that Achuthanandan had addressed 16 meetings the previous day and therefore he must be tired. "After all, he is 87. He is also a diabetic. (But) He will be downstairs any moment," he said.


Image: V S Achuthanandan
Photographs: Shobha Warrier
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An 'exclusive' interview with Achuthanandan

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The CM's day usually starts at 5.30 am with pranayaama and other yoga aasanas, followed by a long walk, which he has missed out on since he started camping in Palakkad.

We saw many visitors, including sitting MP from Palakkad M B Rajesh, going in to have word with the CM. Journalists from the party newspaper Desabhimani sauntered in and out of the house. We waited outside.

At 10 am, his campaign managers suddenly became active. It was clear that VS would come down at any moment. We were rushed to the drawing room and warned that we would be allowed to talk to him only for five minutes.

When questioned about the short time granted for the interview, the press secretary replied, "We are giving you five minutes as campaigning is more important than giving interviews. He also has to attend a media conference at the press club."

It was quite evident that the CM's media managers didn't care much about the national press; only the local media mattered.


Image: Achuthanandan campaigns in Palakkad district
Photographs: Shobha Warrier
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First stop: Pallassena

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The promised exclusive interview became a common one with all three of us. Achuthanandan's coterie remained around him, ready to shield him from certain questions.

Less than ten minutes later, we were rudely told to stop asking questions as he had to "address the local media".

At the press club, the CM was not in a hurry at all, slowly reading from a prepared statement and then answering all the questions at a leisurely pace.

Achuthanandan's first visit on the campaign trail was to Pallassena, a small village in Palakkad district, about 25 kms from the city. VS's grey Innova, sandwiched between a convoy of three police vehicles with an ambulance that followed behind, rushed through the city at a breathtaking speed. The convoy then passed through clean, narrow village roads bordered by paddy fields and coconut trees on both sides.


Image: On the way to Pallassena
Photographs: Shobha Warrier
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'VS Zindabad'

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As we neared the village centre at Pallassena, what greeted us was the overwhelming presence of the colour red. Men, women and even small children thronged the road; some were even perched on rooftops and tree tops so that they could get a good view of the leader.

Loud cheers and slogans of VS Zindabad filled the air as his Innova came to a stop in front of the newly constructed AKG Mandiram. (The late AK Gopalan is considered one of the most important communist leaders of Kerala).

VS was scheduled to inaugurate the party building by hoisting the party flag.

As he walked towards the flag pole amidst chants of VS Zindabad, women and men showered red flowers on him. As he hoisted the flag, firecrackers were burst and scenes of jubilance were witnessed. People at the back of the crowd climbed on top of parked vehicles to catch a glimpse of VS.


Image: The AKG Mandiram
Photographs: Shobha Warrier
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'Let Antony answer my question'

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His next stop was a public meeting at the same village and the venue was decked up with red flags, red festoons, red cut-outs, red plastic chairs and a dais decorated in red. The crowd, which looked as if it had been bathed in the crimson colour, turned silent when VS started speaking in his inimitable sing-song style.

When he started attacking (Defence Minister and Congress leader) A K Antony over the Adarsh housing society scam in a  sarcastic manner, the crowd laughed and cheered him on.

"They say Antony is an adarsha purushan (ideal human being). Yes, it is under his ministry that we have the Adrash scam. Flats were promised to the widows of Kargil martyrs. Beautiful flats were built but not a single one was given to the widows. You may ask, who got those flats then? The Maharashtra chief minister and the other ministers shared them among themselves. Could the adrasha purushan Antony do anything? Nothing. He now says there are no farmer suicides in Kerala because of the support given by the central government. If that is so, why is it that Vidarbha, in Maharashtra, a state ruled by the Congress, still has many suicides? Let Antony answer the question," thundered Achuthanandan.


Image: Achuthanandan addresses an election rally
Photographs: Shobha Warrier
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'I am happy with the way VS ruled'

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As the crowd cheered and clapped at each of his jibes and barbs, VS seemed to enjoy every moment of it.

After completing his speech, the chief minister was off to the next village, nearly 45 kms from Pallassena. That is when I caught hold of 75-year-old Thangam, who has been working in the local fields ever since she can remember.

"I was a supporter of the Congress in the beginning but the party did not take care of me. For the last few years, I have been voting for arival chuttika (the hammer and sickle -- party symbol of the CPI-M). I am happy with the way VS ruled in the last five years. I get a pension of Rs 1,500 every month. Nobody has given us anything like this before. But I do not know whether he will come back. I want him to come back but I don't know what others think about him," she said.


Image: Many wanted to catch a glimpse of VS
Photographs: Shobha Warrier
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'Last five years were the golden period of Kerala'

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Actors like Mammootty or Mohanlal or cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar don't fascinate 19-year-old Riteesh.

His heroes are Communist leaders like AKG, E M S Namboodiripad, E K Nayanar and VS. He has also been influenced by the movements launched by the Left Front. 

"So far, I have only been supporting them from the outside but soon, I want to join the party. I proudly say that the last five years under VS were the golden period of Kerala. I am sure the LDF will come back and they will win 100 seats! One of the votes will be mine," he says.


Image: Many wanted to catch a glimpse of VS
Photographs: Shobha Warrier
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'VS fulfilled all his promises'

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Saravanan, a 50 year old chenda (Kerala drum) player at temple festivals, has been an avid follower of the communist ideology since he was young. "I grew up reading books on communist ideology and was very much influenced by them," he says.

Saravanan is also happy with the way Achuthanandan has ruled in the last five years. "Compared to the Congress, VS's rule was a very good one. He fulfilled all his promises. So I and many others like me are hopeful that he will come back, and will do so with more strength."

When asked about the alleged fight between VS and state CPI-M unit general secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, he said, "Compared to the infighting you see in the Congress, it is nothing."

Has Pallassena been a stronghold of the Left?

"I am proud to say that even when the Congress conquered all the nearby constituencies, Pallasena voted only for the Left Front. In fact, we even influenced the next constituency to turn Left. That is our proud history," he says.


Image: Achuthanandan at Pallassena
Photographs: Shobha Warrier
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