The ongoing efforts of the Italian Government and the UN in securing the release of two Italian marines, who shot and killed two fishermen off the Kollam coast in 2012, has snowballed into an election issue in the coastal areas.
In what is seen as an attempt to prevent the issue from influencing the poll outcome, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has written to the Prime Minister demanding that the marines should not be sent back without trial and that India should not yield to the pressure from Italy to involve the UN for their release.
However, the issue has already found resonance in the campaign scene in Kollam parliament constituency, where votes from the coastal areas are decisive. CPM candidate and politburo member M A Baby has begun highlighting the UPA Government’s alleged ‘ineffectiveness’ in properly handling the issue.
“Even though the Union Home Ministry first favoured slapping of the tough anti-piracy Act SUA against the Italian marines, there was a U-turn and it was eventually dropped. The role of top UPA leaders, including that of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, is under a shadow of doubt in connection with this volte-face,” Baby told Express on the sidelines of his campaign.
He said the Centre’s “genuflecting in front of Western powers” and its “inability to assure the safety of fishermen engaged in their vocation” will definitely have an impact on the voters in coastal areas across the state.
Baby’s campaign in coastal areas, linking the marines’ murder to the larger question of safety of fishermen and their livelihood issues, seems to have struck a chord among the voters here much to the discomfiture of RSP’s N K Premachandran, who is backed by Congress-led UDF. The RSP leader was quick to highlight the Centre’s swiftness in getting the marines arrested. “The UPA Government was quick in bringing the marines to book. Despite pressure from Italy and now the UN, the Centre has taken a firm stand without compromising on the country’s sovereignty,” Premachandran said.
BJP candidate P M Velayudhan believes the UPA Government’s failure in addressing the safety and livelihood issues of fishermen will translate into more votes for the BJP from coastal areas.
“Narendra Modi’s call for the empowerment of Dalit and backward classes and the party’s firm stand on various issues affecting fishermen have already been received well in the coastal areas,” he said.
“Ensuring safety of fishermen at sea is of prime importance. Political parties seeking votes from us should make their stand clear on illegal mining of mineral sand and attempts to dilute Coastal Regulation Zone guidelines. Setting up a Ministry in the Centre exclusively for the fisheries sector still remains an unfulfilled promise,” said P P John, state president of the Kerala Swatantra Matsya Thozhilali Federation.
Former director of Quilon Service Society Rajesh Martin has worked closely with people in the coastal areas of Kollam for the past many years. According to him, the voice of the fishing community has been stifled by the trade unions.
“It is trade union representatives who speak on behalf of people from the fishing community. These trade union leaders, who are subservient to their political bosses, downgrade real issues and highlight emotional issues to sway the votes. Unless this does not change, the voice of people in the coastal areas will fall on deaf ears,” he said.