January 03, 2021
Kerala: For an Election Manifesto Driven by the People

P M Manoj

THE Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala will soon complete five years in government and the state is moving towards assembly elections. In the campaign for the assembly elections in 2016, the LDF presented a detailed manifesto to the people. Now that the government has implemented its promises to the people, the LDF is holding consultations on what can be done for the people of Kerala in the next five years.

As we look forward, the LDF faces the people with the confidence that it has contributed to laying the foundation for the comprehensive development of Kerala and for a new Kerala itself. The perspectives and opinions of people from different walks of life and different parts of the state are important as we plan our way forward.

In the past, the LDF has used different ways of absorbing people’s contributions to building a manifesto. The events organised to gather people’s views included the International Congresses of Kerala Studies and state-level jathas. Such extensive mass-contact programmes are not practical at this stage because of restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, the views of society are necessary to complete the design for the future of Kerala.

The LDF decided to reach out to all districts by means of a contact programme called “Kerala Paryatanam,” led by chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan. Kerala Paryatanam began in Kollam on December 22. From there, Pinarayi Vijayan travelled to Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, Thiruvananthapuram, and then to Kannur, Kasaragode, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Malappuram, Palakkad, Thrissur, and Ernakulam, completing this phase of the Paryatanam in Alappuzha on December 30 (the event in Idukki, had to be postponed, will be rescheduled). Ministers and senior leaders of the Left Democratic Front participated actively in the events. The sectors represented by the participants in the meetings in each district included industry, agriculture, trade, health and medicine, tourism, university and school education, mass media, law, architecture, IT, social work, art, film, literature, music and dance, and public administration.

At each meeting, chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan made a short introductory speech, which was followed by discussion and comments from the floor. The meetings held in each district as a part of the Kerala Paryatanam were characterised by optimistic discussion. Participants proposed innovative ideas at each meeting. From higher education to industry, from IT to social justice, from art to port development, from tourism to e-governance, from ST development to gender issues – no issue of public interest was outside the scope of the discussions.

The discussions were positive and constructive. There was a complete absence of cynicism. Participants radiated hope and the confidence that, when the LDF makes a promise in the election manifesto, it makes every effort to ensure that the promise is fulfilled.

The following issues are a small selection of the wide range of the discussions:

In every district, the participants said that improvement in the quality of higher education is an immediate need. Many participants expressed the need for high quality higher education with world-class educational standards and facilities. Vice-chancellors and other academic participants gave detailed suggestions regarding university infrastructure and teaching and research facilities. More detailed suggestions included the establishment of an interdisciplinary institute of migration studies and an establishment for research and teaching of the Arabic language and Arabic studies. One participant suggested that after one generation, all women in Kerala should be graduates.

Participants wanted the introduction of the highest levels of skill development and training to be made available to the youth of Kerala to improve their employability in national and international labour markets.

There was a widespread appreciation for the industrial policy of the government, and for the legislation passed by the government to promote the industry. Participants suggested different ways of making the message of industrial promotion filter down to every level of local government. There were recommendations regarding the development of industry-university linkages.

With regard to agriculture, the discussions covered many issues, including raising the price of rubber; improving farm business incomes in coffee production; the development of cold-storage chains; the development of fruit and specialised vegetable cultivation; and floriculture. There was discussion of problems of human-animal conflict villages near forests.

E-governance was also a subject of discussion. Young people in Kerala are educated and responsive to modern technology. The widespread implementation of a policy of people-friendly e-governance can improve administration, provide new digital platforms for economic growth and provide local employment to youth.

There were many suggestions regarding the creative development of tourism. These included suggestions regarding the revival of the industry after the heavy blow of the pandemic, the further development of responsible tourism and ecotourism, and the development of area-based tourism options such as water-based and cruise-based tourism in the northern districts. A participant in Wayanad made detailed suggestions on building the district into a safe tourism destination. There was also discussion on the criteria to grant permission to open beer and wine parlours. There were detailed presentations on the utilisation of the tourism potential in the northern districts.

On health-related issues, there was great support for and appreciation of the achievements of the Aardram Mission. We received suggestions regarding the development of emergency medicine, trauma care, and health facilities for senior citizens. Many suggestions were made on waste management. These included suggestions about the creation of a litter-free Kerala, about the disposal of medical waste, and the rejuvenation and purification of the beautiful rivers of Kerala. Participants stressed the links between tourist earnings and waste management.

Participants in coastal districts are understandably eager to make the best use of their marine and internal waterway resources. Detailed suggestions were made regarding port development in Azheekal, Bekal, Beypore, Kottayam, and Kollam.

Many suggestions were made on waste management. These included suggestions about the creation of a litter-free Kerala, about the disposal of medical waste, and about the rejuvenation and purification of the beautiful rivers of Kerala. Participants stressed the links between tourist earnings and waste management.

One of the consequences of the achievements of the people of Kerala in health is the increase in life expectancy at birth of citizens. As a result, the proportion of elderly people in Kerala is greater than elsewhere in India. In the field of social welfare and social justice, there were suggestions regarding facilities for senior citizens and new investments and facilities for persons with physical and intellectual disabilities. At the same time, it was suggested that equipment and facilities using modern technology should be made available to people with disabilities.

Many participants spoke of the need to enhance women’s empowerment. One participant suggested that the women’s commission proactively identify major social issues and problems facing women in Kerala today, and to campaign to influence public opinion in these matters.

With regard to people of the Scheduled Tribes, detailed suggestions came to us, particularly in Wayanad. These involved issues of skill development, health, education, employment, and human development.

Sports are dear to the people of Kerala, and there were different suggestions regarding the need for specialised facilities for intensive sports training on the one hand and public facilities for broad-based physical culture activities on the other hand.

In many places, participants stressed the need to celebrate the memory of famous writers from Kerala’s literary history. One celebrated writer suggested that a special literary tour of Kerala be created for literary tourists. Another very interesting suggestion came from different parts of the state; it was to introduce new secular festivals in Kerala to be celebrated all over the state.

Suggestions were made orally and in writing. Hundreds of written submissions with suggestions, and some with detailed project proposals, for the LDF manifesto were received in each district. An online forum for the submission of proposals will also be made available to the public.

The Kerala Paryatanam campaign led by chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan is an important step by the LDF in its campaign to ensure that the suggestions and views of the people of Kerala are reflected in its coming election manifesto. The enthusiasm generated by the campaign gives the LDF campaign new energy.