This blog has an entry dated May 15, 2006 welcoming V.S. Achuthanandan as the new Chief Minister of Kerala. On May 18th, he completes one year in office and it is time to take a bird's eyeview of what's been happening. The Chief Ministerial post had been eluding VS, as he is affectionately called, right from 1991. In 2006 at 83, with the party apparatus controlled by leaders who have no love lost for him, few expected VS to become CM even though his health was perfect, walk brisk and intellect razor-sharp, thanks to yoga, naturopathy and spartan dietary habits. Yet, he overcame insurmountable odds with persistence, patience and the support of the masses.
Leaders who occupy political office amidst high expectations soon fall with a thud. M.Karunanidhi of Tamil Nadu and Buddhadev Bhattachrjea of West Bengal who assumed office in the same week as VS are sliding down, thanks to the attack on the Dinakaran office in Madurai and the violence at Nandigram. But in Kerala, as he completes his first year in office, VS is riding the crest of a popularity wave, the common people swooning over him in admiration for his integrity and boldness while his enemies in the party and vested interests run for cover.
During the initial months VS was in an euphoria, settling down so to say, as it was the first time in his long political life that he was savouring the privileges of office. But he soon made it clear that it's business when he summoned the Director-General of Police and ordered him to immediately cancel the transfer orders issued to an upright, senior IPS officer while he was raidng the recording studios owned by the wife of a fellow IPS officer on receiving genuine complaints of copyright violations. This send a message to the people that the government stood by rule of law and would not bow before the high and the mighty. The entertainment industry which had been bearing the brunt of copyright piracy was thankful to him. Here was an intrepid leader, who would call a spade, a spade.
It was in Smart City that VS proved his long-term commitments to the development of the state. Smart City was a knowledge-based industry township, the icon of a new Kerala, that would be developed by Teecom Investments, promoters of the Dubai Internet City. The previous government which invited them finalised a deal which was a virtual throwaway of public assets that would have cost the exchequer dear. VS, as Opposition Leader checkmated the same and during the elections he was accused as anti-development on this count. VS stood his ground, renegotiated the agreement and on May 13th, Sunday, Teecom and the State government inked a pact which is widely appreciated as it is sober, balanced and on no account a sell-out of public interest. The investment will create 90,000 new jobs in the IT/ITES sector in the next 10 years. The State Government has 16% equity in the project which can be enhanced to 26%.
Munnar, often described as the Kashmir of the South with its misty peaks, rolling tea gardens, hill streams, grasslands and wooded forests was once an inaccessible part of Kerala, nestling in the Western ghats, its high culture and life style directed by English tea estate managers and a sublatern culture of near illiterate tamil plantation workers. The ambience, traditions and dress rules of the High Range Club in Munnar bear testimony to a bygone era. The departure of the English tea garden owners and managers led to the real estate and building mafia laying hands on this pristine land in the name of tourism promotion. Forests were encroached upon, bogus sale documents registered, revenue records forged, building permits sanctioned, all with the connivance of corrupt officals. Tata Tea which took over the British owned tea estates in Munnar was a willing collaborator and a habitual offender. They also appropriated thousands of acres of public lands. Their policy was to run with the hare and to hunt with the hound. Concrete monstrosities called resorts, totally out of sync with the natural setting began to mar the skyscape of Munnar. Tourists started descending in hordes and the accompnaying vehicular pollution, garbage and noise began to endanger the undisturbed habitats of precious wild life and choke natural resources . It was only a matter of time before Munnar would lose its charm to become an urban jungle. VS, as Leader of the Oposition visited Munnar to bring to light these illegal operations but the government turned a blind eye to it. The mafia was so powerful. When VS became Chief Minster, every one believed that his party would not allow him to touch these land-grabbers as all politicans and officials were dependent on them for funds and free vacations . VS, a seasoned political tactician bided his time for the final blow. Technology had developed beyond the imagination of land-grabbers. Remote Sensing by which lands could be digitally mapped and surveyed by satellites from space came to aid the government. With all its might and in full resolve, government moved ahead and started demolishing resorts and illegal construction on forest lands. No one has dared to come forward with title deeds and revenue records which are the only way of proving ownership, for they know these are fictitious and challenging the government in court with forged records would lead to perjury. The operation is continuing and the land mafia are on the run.
VS has distinguished himself in 365 days. His enemies are lying low, but it is early to write them off. Let us hope they don't have the last laugh.