Issac Communism

It's The Economy, Comrade

With CPM neo-liberals led by Finance Minister Thomas Isaac gaining ascendancy in the state, party old-timers and allies claim they are being denied funds. KA SHAJI reports

KERALA FINANCE Minister TM Thomas Isaac’s attempts at emerging as some kind of “super chief minister” has once again brought the factionalism within the Left Democratic Front government in Kerala to the fore. The CPM’s coalition partners say the Finance Ministry is denying funds for several projects while at the same time pushing for loans from international agencies a la Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. Isaac is known to be close to CPM state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan.And therefore anathema to Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan.
Agriculture Minister and CPI leader Mullakkara Ratnakaran is peeved by the fact that the Finance Department is not sanctioning funds sought for a prestigious crop insurance programme (Kisansree). The minister demanded that the programme be implemented throughout the state and the premium be paid in full by the government. Funds for that had been budgeted. However, Isaac maintained that the programme could be carried out only on a pilot basis. The premium rates were high and coverage was not properly targeted, he argued. Isaac’s public criticisms of Ratnakaran angered CPI heavyweight Veliyam Bhargavan and RSP leader T. Chandrachoodan.
Other departments, especially the Public Works Department under the Kerala Congress, are also miffed at the Finance Department’s withholding of funds. Kerala Congress leader PJ Joseph voiced this criticism in the open. The Transport Department under Janata Dal (MP Veerendra Kumar faction) wants the government to shoulder the pension obligations of the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation but Isaac is not willing to commit funds.
CPI minister C. Divakaran was irked that allocations for the Civil Supplies Corporation were not sufficient. Power tariffs in the state have gone up because the Finance Minister is not willing to extend subsidy. There are restrictions on spending by local self-government bodies. The promise of “one-rank one-pension” for government employees is also in limbo. The Finance Department points out that the amount at its disposal is limited.
“We must have a deep introspection. There would have been no power tariff hike if the LDF had been in the opposition, as it would have resisted any such effort using tooth and nail. But who can we now blame for the poor condition of roads?’’ asked Veerendra Kumar in a recent party meeting. According to RSP All-India General secretary K. Pankajakshan, the Finance Department has been a big failure in revenue collection.
In the latest run-in with the so-called hardliners in the state, Isaac fell out with CPM ideologue and Kerala’s Planning Board vicechairman Prabhat Patnaik. The Marxist economist stayed away from an international conference — “Kerala People’s Plan Revisited”— organised at the behest of Isaac in Thiruvananthapuram on December 14-15. The absence assumes significance as the “people’s plan” is being trumpeted as the biggest achievement of Isaac and his CPM friends Education Minister MA Baby and Pinarayi Vijayan. According to CPM sources, it were ideological differences that kept Patnaik away from the seminar. The conference, attended by “liberal” party members including Minister Paloli Mohammedkutty and Planning Board member CP Narayanan, was boycotted by Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan too.
“We had invited the chief minister to inaugurate the conference. But he said he wouldn’t be in the city as party conferences were going on,” explained an organiser. But Achuthanandan was in Thiruvananthapuram on December 14 when former Planning Board vice-chairman V. Ramachandran inaugurated the seminar. An invite to the conference was also extended to Prabhat Patnaik. “But Patnaik said he would be away in New Delhi conducting exams for JNU students,” the organiser said. In fact, Patnaik was also in Thiruvananthapuram on the inaugural day, delivering a lecture organised by the Kerala University Union very close to the seminar venue. Planning Board member and liberal JNU economist Prof Abhijit Sen, widely seen as Patnaik’s rival, was the chief guest on the opening day of the conference.
This is not the first time Isaac and Patnaik are at loggerheads. While Patnaik is a Keynesian advocate of State spending and is close to Achuthanandan, Isaac’s worldview is closer to the neo-liberal CPM lobby in West Bengal headed by Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.
ISAAC COURTED controversy soon after becoming the Finance Minister by pushing forward a proposal by the earlier Congress government to avail a Rs 1,200 crore loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for the controversial Kerala Sustainable Urban Development Project (KSUDP). The CPM had opposed the loan when it was in the opposition saying the loan came with anti-people clauses. Isaac won the nod for going ahead with the loan from the CPM Politburo even as Achuthanandan and Patnaik expressed strong reservations. Isaac had the last laugh when the government was forced to accept the loan.
However, now it seems that the urban development project has failed to take off as established contractors have refused to respond to tenders for construction work. While there was no response to the tender notices issued by the Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Kochi municipal corporations to upgrade and repair city roads, just one contractor submitted the tender for the work in the Thrissur and Kozhikode corporations. The same fate befell the tender notice for implementing solid waste management projects in Kollam, Thrissur and Kozhikode. The notification was issued in October and the deadline was the third week of November.
“The criteria were fixed as per ADB guidelines, according to which the applicant should have a turnover of 80 percent of the estimate of the project in the three years prior to the year of application,” said a top KSUDP official.
At a CPM meeting recently, Patnaik said the idea that development should be above politics was an imperialist concept being promoted to destroy political activities. Development activities should benefit the people, he said. The statement was seen as a counter to Isaac’s “apolitical development” theory. Patnaik, who took charge of the state planning commission soon after the LDF came to power, fell out with Isaac as soon as he insisted that the focus of the annual plan must be on the agricultural sector than on infrastructural development.
Achuthanandan has also expressed reservations on Isaac’s mode of functioning. “An excessive loading of local self government institutions (LSGIs) with responsibilities and resources may well lead to their outsourcing the decision-making processes to private consultants, which defeats the very objective of democratic decentralisation,” he warned at a recent international seminar on federalism.
“Squeezing the state governments from both ends, from the Centre on the one side, and the LSGIs on the other, will bode ill for our federal structure,” he added. However, Isaac continues to grow powerful within the party through his proximity to Vijayan, despite having earned the wrath of almost all LDF constituents. As the ongoing organisational polls in the CPM point to an easy victory for the Pinarayi faction, Isaac’s hold on decision making would be further strengthened. He is also trying his luck to enter the party Politburo with the support of the Bengal lobby.

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