The Catholic fishermen based in Thiruvananthapuram’s coastal villages on Tuesday called off the four-month-long sit-in protest held against Adani Group’s Vizhinjam International Seaport Limited (VISL), as they experience no massive tangible gains from it.
The government’s adamant stand that the construction of the Rs 7,500 crore project can’t be suspended or abandoned at this stage with the reluctance of the political parties in opposition to put the weight behind agitation, and the depletion of public sympathy in the wake of last week’s violent incidents, compelled fishermen to pack and return to the villages.
There is no doubt that the agitation brought to public attention issues specific to the fisheries sector of the state, ranging from sea erosions, loss of working days and dwellings, and insufficient fuel subsidy. But, for several woes in coastal life, the protesters were unsuccessful in placing the port project in the dock.
There’s some respite for the fishermen. There has been a declaration regarding the formation of a chief secretary-level committee, which will be monitoring their rehabilitation and perennial demands specific to their livelihood.
The demands associated with rehabilitation had been reportedly agreed upon by the country’s government in the earlier rounds of discussions with agitators, but they continued the stir and demanded suspension of construction until a specialist committee probed sea erosion owing to the port and submitted the report regarding this matter.
Among other demands, there’s no word until now from the government regarding increasing subsidies on kerosene that fishermen use in outboard-engine-fitted boats and increasing the house rent paid by the Indian government to those who have lost houses owing to sea erosion in recent years. The fishermen sought at least Rs 8,000 each month in the form of rent, but the government was unwilling to go beyond Rs 5,500, which the fishermen consider to be inadequate.
The fishermen recognized sea erosion as the crux of woes and then blamed the port that was being developed for it. Banking on expert reports and studies after and before the commencement of the port construction, the government stated that the VISL hadn’t contributed to sea erosions, which stood as an impediment for fishermen who had been trying to pin the blame on the Adani port for their problems, from houses that collapsed to their dwindling livelihoods.
The disappointment of the Latin Catholic Archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram, which spearheaded the agitation, was clear in what the senior priest named Fr Eugine Pereira, the action committee’s general convener said. He said that they weren’t wholly satisfied, but no agitation would be able to meet all the demands. Hence, the agitation is now being called off temporarily.
For the government, the end of the agitation is a big political win that sends out a strong message that no investment or developmental project would be suspended or abandoned in the light of a massive protest.
Over the last six years, CPI (M) in Kerala silenced many protests against the mega projects, despite the fact that it had reportedly backed many agitations when it was in the opposition.
As the Vizhinjam protests turned out to be violent during the last week, CPI (M) raised the allegation of extremist elements behind a fishermen’s agitation. The party used the same extremist allegation against the mass agitations against the huge infrastructural projects and land acquisitions.
At Vizhinjam, CPI (M) backed the BJP’s bid to provide a communal color to the fishermen’s agitation. After the Catholic Church started leading the protest, several Hindu organizations from various religious and social strata joined their hands, seeking the resumption of the construction. Leaders of the CPI(M) had zero qualms about sharing venues with BJP when it comes to the Adani port assignment.
Last week’s violence at Vizhinjam had its origin in the communal polarization — between fishermen who were agitating against the port and the Hindu organizations backing the assignment — which reportedly had built up in recent months. Police action against fishermen on such a minor clash between two sides resulted in a massive attack on cops and also on their premises based in Vizhinjam, which turned the wind in favor of the country’s state government. The church then alleged that the provocation that resulted in an attack was in reality a government conspiracy to put agitators on backfoot. Fishermen, who were hailed for saving thousands of lives during the floods of 2018, had become “anti-nationals”. However, the agitation’s violent turn helped the government pressurize the Catholic Church to call off.
This isn’t the first time that the CPI(M)-led LDF government of Kerala has shown steely resolve and dodgy media maneuvering while ignoring grassroots protests against infrastructural projects.
Having left behind the days of agitations, they have discovered a new angle to dismiss recent mass protests — referring to them as being funded or led by “extremists”.
As individuals protested against the impact assessment survey (social) of the semi-high-speed SilverLine railway assignment, and the construction of a sewage treatment plant based in Kozhikode, the CPI (M) reportedly put the blame on “extremist elements” to be behind both the agitations. They had raised the bogey of extremists back in 2017 when the coastal people based at Kochi’s Puthuvype launched protests against an IOC plant.
References: Scroll.in, Yahoo! News, Indian Express