There is no doubt that one of the hot topics during the Lok Sabha polls would be the issue pertaining to the implementation of the recommendations of the high-level working group (HLWG) led by K Kasturirangan on the Western Ghats conservation.
The issue, which would have otherwise been confined mainly to one or two districts - Idukki and Wayanad and certain pockets of Kottayam, Kozhikode, and Kannur districts - has emerged as the spicy topic this time across the state thanks to the hue and cry made by Kerala Congress(M) and the mass movement spearheaded by Catholic Church in High Ranges.
While a faction in the KC(M), with the help of the Church, had made an attempt to take the political leverage out of the issue, it emerged as an enigma in the UDF, forcing the Congress leaders to rush to Delhi and to make all their efforts to put pressure on the Centre to issue a draft notification based on the HLWG recommendations.
It was when the K-report created a ‘do or die’ situation for KC(M) with leaders of Joseph faction, including Francis George, Antony Raju and Dr K C Joseph, threatening to quit the UDF and the LDF waiting to captivate them to its side, that the Church intervened in the issue. The Church not only barred Francis George from contesting the election with the support of the LDF but also reportedly directed Joseph faction leaders to stay with the UDF and to wait for a positive response from the Centre.
With the issuance of the draft notification on HLWG report, the Church is almost satisfied with the results, which is expected to augur well for the UDF.
In the meantime, the stance taken by the High Range Protection Council, which spearheads the protests in Idukki, that it would not accept the draft notification may evoke a mixed response from the settler farmers in the region.
It is curious to note that the protest in the areas where Catholic Church had a minor influence was mild or even missing.
LDF’s Futile Attempts
The political reckoning of the LDF faced a major setback when the Church barred Francis from accepting the support of the LDF.
Moreover, the Church sent a strong message to political leaders against joining hands with the LDF, when it abstained from a hartal in protest against the delay in issuing a draft notification.
With Major Archbishop of Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Mar George Cardinal Alenchery welcoming the draft notification, the Church has already cleared its stance on the issue leaving the LDF with no scope to cash in on the uncertainties over the K-report.
Aranmula, the heritage village close to Pathanamthitta, has been in daily news ever since a controversial airport project was announced in the fag end of the last LDF ministry. It divided the prominent leaders of the state Congress as pro and anti-airport.
While the Chennai-based promoters claim that the project would be a boon for the millions of air travellers in the Central Travancore and pilgrims to Sabarimala, the environmentalists and local people cry foul as it would “end up in the destruction of the village”. They allege that the project was given nod after flouting at least a dozen rules of the Land Act and environment.
The satyagraha against the project will enter its 30th day on Wednesday. The project has become an issue of contention in the Congress ever since V M Sudheeran took over as KPCC chief. Neither he, a staunch opponent of the project, nor the Chief Minister, a vehement advocate of the project, can retract from their stands.
The BJP, which is forefront of the agitation, has been trying to cash in on the protest. However, the party is in a spot as the LDF announced Peelipose Thomas, an AICC member who was part of the anti-airport stir, as its candidate.
Though the majority of the MLAs in the Assembly has signed a petition against the project, the Congress is in no mood to change the present MP Anto Antony, as the locals consider him as backbone of the project. It strongly believes the issue will not do any harm in the elections.