Thiruvananthapuram: When Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan agreed to a discussion on the Vizhinjam issue in the Assembly on Tuesday, there was a feeling that the Latin Church-led coastal agitation that was about to cross five months was nearing the end. Even the remarks of certain UDF legislators who took part in the debate hinted that the government was working towards a solution.
But after the over three-and-a-half-hour discussion, it seemed like the government had not budged an inch from its stated position. It even looked like it was hardening its stance.
This time, unlike in the initial phase of the agitation, the Chief Minister did not merely suspect that the agitation was controlled by mysterious outside forces. He sounded sure.
He gave two reasons. One, he said the agitation dragged on even after it was felt that the government had clinched a deal. The Chief Minister recalled an incident he said he was revealing for the first time.
He said when the leaders of the agitation met him in August, right after the indefinite strike had begun, they were really happy with a formula he had put forward. "We had accepted five of the seven demands. But this still left two unresolved. One was to stop in construction, which I told them in no uncertain terms was not possible," Pinarayi said.
Then, there was the demand to constitute an expert committee to study the impact of construction on the port. "I was not in favour of this as many official studies had failed to establish any link. But since we had to offer them some big concession to allow them to call off the agitation, I agreed to this condition. They were happy and promised us that they would get back soon. But instead of calling off the strike, they increased their demands," the Chief Minister said.
He said discussions were held even after this and yet a solution proved elusive. "This gave rise to the strong suspicion that an entity (Latin Church), which looks solid and cohesive from the outside, was actually controlled by someone else," Pinarayi said.
He said there were such doubts even during the UDF tenure. The Chief Minister quoted from a reply given in the Assembly by the then ports minister K Babu in the Assembly to a question whether there were forces working against the port project.
Babu's 2015 reply was that the UDF had asked the Centre to probe whether there were any forces behind these protests. "The UDF had even thought it beyond the capacity of the state to probe that it had sought the Centre's help," Pinarayi said.
Though caught off guard, Babu responded quickly. He said the protests in his reply were not carried out by the Latin Church. "The Church had not launched any agitation then. Those were protests against the environmental impact assessment study," Babu said.
"I did not name any organisation," the Chief Minister quipped. "I merely stated that there seems to have been attempts to sabotage the project even then," he said.
Nothing more to offer
If at all the LDF Government had any compromise formula up its sleeve, the Chief Minister gave no hint of it.
From his reply, it was not clear whether the government was willing to concede more than what it had already, be it in the composition of the expert committee or in the monthly rent for coastal families living in camps or in the financial assistance for fishermen for days lost to inclement weather.
Archbishop's crime & Adani pact
The Chief Minister also did not find anything wrong with including the Latin Archbishop and other senior leaders of the church in the list of the accused.
He once again extolled the extraordinary restraint shown by the police. Pinarayi also said that the police station attack on November 26 was just a culmination of a series of threats and attacks against the police by anti-port agitators. It was evident that the Chief Minister was saying that he cannot be persuaded to believe that the top leadership of the Latin Church were ignorant of such attacks.
Nonetheless, Opposition Leader V D Satheesan had a poser that the Chief Minister chose to ignore.
"Non-bailable offences were slapped on the Latin Archbishop and Auxiliary Bishop just four days before Adani's petition seeking the assistance of central forces was to be taken up by the High Court," Satheesan said. "Was it done to provoke the hugely emotional coastal folk? Was it part of a deal (with Adani)," he asked.
However, even while making an emotional plea for a better understanding of the travails of the fishermen's community, the Opposition UDF made it clear that it was not for stopping construction.
UDF leaders also condemned the communally-charged remark of Fr Theodosius D'Cruz who had said that there was a terrorist in fisheries minister V Abdurahiman's name. "I called up the leaders of the Latin Church and asked them to withdraw the remark immediately," Satheesan said.
Muslim League leader PK Kunhalikutty said those were words that should not have been heard in Kerala.