Old whines & new bottlenecks: A look at how poll demands in Kerala have remained stagnated over the decades

Unemployment, inflation, and higher minimum support price for crops are the chart-toppers on this playlist. However, the evolving desires and demands of Kerala’s people, too often sidelined by politicians chasing wins with emotional hooks, cannot be ignored.
Image used for representational purposes only.
Image used for representational purposes only.

KOCHI: The symphony of election season is on — a grand performance where the orchestra of issues and demands plays on repeat. One might assume Lok Sabha elections are all about grand national visions and bold policies, but instead, they often turn into a jukebox of local grievances and parochial interests.

Unemployment, inflation, and higher minimum support price for crops are the chart-toppers on this playlist. However, the evolving desires and demands of Kerala’s people, too often sidelined by politicians chasing wins with emotional hooks, cannot be ignored.

And, what about those perennial favorites that remain elusive? The Sabari rail project, the alternate route to Wayanad, the long-awaited AIIMS in Kerala, the railway coach factory…. these promises have, for long, stagnated in a waiting room of progress. Assessing them, sadly, is akin to flipping through outdated magazines.

The fluctuating fortunes of rubber farmers, who wield considerable influence in central Kerala and parts of north Kerala, are a major talking point in this election. George Valy, president of the Indian Rubber Dealers’ Association, highlighted low returns, soaring daytime temperatures, and encroachment by wild animals as some of the key issues

“While the prices of rubber and other crops are subject to market forces, and often reliant on the international market, the genuine demand of farmers for support during crises cannot be overlooked,” he said.

“Although certain interest groups have historically exploited farmers as bargaining tools, farmers possess the discernment to comprehend the underlying dynamics,” Valy added.

Policy analyst Resmi Bhaskaran underscored that several longstanding demands for enhanced support to crops and promises such as the establishment of a railway coach factory, the Sabari Rail project and the development of inland water transport have persisted for decades.

“These issues resurface during election seasons, only to fade away shortly thereafter,” she said.

Foremost among these is the enhancement of rail infrastructure and the introduction of modern trains, Resmi emphasised. “Trains destined for Kerala still consist of old, dirty, and rusted coaches,” she observed, pointing out that the fervour over the Vande Bharat train exemplified the aspirations of Kerala’s people.

“The condition of the coaches, including in the case of trains such as the Rajdhani Express, falls far short of those operating between northern state capitals. Even though Kerala has had a Union minister of state for railways, the situation remains dismal,” she said.

The speed of trains is another issue, Resmi noted. “Promises that Kerala would have more super-fast trains were made during past elections. Currently, all long-distance trains are classified as super-fast, but they operate at the speed of passenger trains,” she said.

“Technically, a super-fast train should cover 500km in a maximum of 6.5-7 hours. However, ‘super-fast’ trains, including the Rajdhani, take more than 8 hours to cover the distance within Kerala. This indicates the urgent need for the expansion and upgrade of the rail network here. Despite promises, these needs have never been addressed,” she said.

Highlighting the evolving aspirations of the people of Kerala, Prof Pramod C R of the department of political science at Sree Kerala Varma College, Thrissur, said that “addressing the crisis of the old model and developing a new benchmark presented a significant challenge”.

Pramod believes the political leadership in the state has generally been responsive to the aspirations of the people, readily absorbing their thoughts and subsequently developing policies and institutions to address them. However, he noted that follow-up and execution were often found lacking.

“For instance, Kerala has been at the forefront of accepting new realities and taking pioneering actions when it comes to issues such as gender inequality, climate change, and LGBTQ+ rights. Yet, on the ground, institutions and policies frequently get entangled in red tape, and fail to achieve the intended results,” he said.

Prof Ravindranathan P, department of geopolitics and international relations at Manipal University, said that major issues critical for the nation’s long-term welfare were often ignored during elections. “Instead, politicians attempt to polarise emotions for electoral gains,” he added.

Stephen Robert, a member of the CPM and convener of the Organisation for Preservation of Heritage and Environmental Resources, also lamented that issues such as medical inflation, dwindling public transport, and access to clean air and water were often overlooked or under-discussed during elections.

“Have you seen anyone talk about the rising cost of medical treatments, and procedures like angioplasty, dialysis, and chemotherapy?” he asked.

“Medical expenses have been skyrocketing. You often hear about crowdfunding for treatments. Have you heard any politician promise about reducing the cost of treatment?”

The chorus of unmet demands and evolving issues will continue to resonate till April 26. Will anyone listen?

Related Stories

No stories found.

The New Indian Express