Column | When Ramesh Chennithala gets a ‘red salute’

When Ramesh Chennithala gets a ‘red salute’
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala

The controversy around the black sand mining at Thottappally in Alappuzzha led to an even stronger reaction from the Congress and the larger United Democratic Fronts when the police filed a case against opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala for visiting the affected area. Chennithala has found a co-accused in a leader of the rival front – CPI’s Alappuzha district secretary, T J Angelos.

Ruling partner CPI and the opposition UDF are united in their opposition to the mining of the beaches of Alappuzha. The CPM is trying hard to justify the official position. CPI central secretariat member Binoy Viswam has visited Thottappally even tough the party’s state committee is yet to take up the issue. He went straight to Thiruvananthapuram to meet chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan to register his protest. It was not clear if Viswam also used the occasion to lobby against the Athirappally Hydro Electric Project (AHEP). Reports of a revival of the project came out on the same day. He, however, castigated the government’s move on Athirappally. The same day, Chennithala also came out against the project.

Both the CPI and the Congress-led opposition would quickly shoot down any suggestion that they are covertly working with each other. Yet they were acting in unison in all the controversies that put the government in the dock recently. This camaraderie was evident in anything from the Sprinklr data controversy to the opposition to the increased electricity bill. The irony of the CPI’s hidden partnership with the opposition, often very successfully, is not lost on the bigger alliance partner. The second-biggest party in the ruling coalition often ends up endorsing the opposition’s arguments.

If Chennithala claims the credit for blowing up the Sprinklr controversy during the lockdown, CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran and national general secretary D Raja urged the government to correct course. The CPI formally told the CMP that the agreement was not in tandem with the left’s declared policy. Raja’s plea made the job easier for CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, who was also against the deal with a private firm.

When opposition racked the muck behind the dredging in the Pampa river, the CPI minister in charge of the portfolio quickly made the amends. Forest Minister K Raju listened to the opposition leader’s pleas rather than the arguments of the chief minister. Obviously, he was encouraged by his party.

The CPI has not rubbished the arguments from the chief minister and electricity minister M M Mani that granting a no-objection certificate to the Athirappally project was just routine procedure. However, the party feels that the CPM was sending out a strong message that it was not one to buck under pressure.

When Ramesh Chennithala gets a ‘red salute’
CPI central secretariat member Binoy Viswam

The opposition has announced a stir by calling for a black out across the state to protest the increase in electricity charges. The CPI has amplified that plaint by passing a motion in their state executive council. When the chief minister announced relaxations in the electricity charge increase, it was a moment of triumph for both the CPI state secretary and the opposition leader.

“The Congress has only followed our position in the data issue and the Athirappally project,” said CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran. “We only took the legally accepted stand in the matter of the Pampa River. We are not for blaming the government for anything, like the opposition does,” he added.

The opposition leader, however, was more aggressive. “The ruling party was forced to back the opposition because of the merit of our arguments. We can very well understand the difficulties of the CPI in remaining in an alliance that is against the people’s wishes,” the Congress leader said.

The CPM has chosen not to respond to the CPI’s barbs. Perhaps the party thinks that the chief minister’s rebuttal of the opposition’s claims is applicable to the alliance partner too.

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