For one and a half decades, the environmental activists in Kerala have been fighting fighting against the destruction of rain forests, displacement of Kadar Adivasis, damage on the elephant route, destruction of Vazhachal, climate change and many other threats from the proposed Athirappalli project. The lone battle gathered support of many groups during this historic process. Later, KSSP sided with the activists. Then CPI and some of their mass organisations supported the struggle. Since BJP was looking for an opportunity for a public face in Kerala, they have also decided to fight against this project. And now, Ramesh Chennithala says that the UDF is at also against the project. I am a bit confused now. So who decided this ill-conceived `development’ project? Why did the politicians take so much of time to waste so much of energy of the activists for so many years to arrive at this conclusion? And why is the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan keeping mum? I am aware that a lot of the CPI(M) activists are against the project. But a simple statement from the Chief Minister of Kerala at this moment can save a lot of energy and time of the activists. And by making such a positive statement, I am one hundred per cent sure that nobody will say that the Chief Minister is an `environmental fundamentalist’. People will respect him more for such a people-oriented move.
In any case, the struggle against Athirappalli Project is yet one more feather on the caps of the committed activists in Kerala. They have proved that in this democracy, it is not always the politicians who are leading the people, but the conscious people with determination can lead the politicians also. The Athirappalli struggle seems to be one more case in the history of people’s movements in Kerala, where the politicians are following the footsteps of activists. And I wish that our politicians do it with certain degrees of self criticism and self reflection.
At this moment after four decades of the historic Silent Valley struggle in Kerala, inspiring so many activists and forcing so many of those within the power structures of party politics to step down from their rigid positions and rethink on their notions of `development’ supplied by the corporates, let Athirappalli struggle be the last straw in the struggle for the protection of rain forests in Kerala. What was the need to repeat the same arguments from Silent Valley to Pooyankutty to Pathrakkadavu to Athirappalli except to educate the politicians who unfortunately had the electoral mandate to decide on the ecological future of Kerala? During all these struggles for the protection of rain forests in Kerala, the question `development for whom and at what cost’ followed. And during all these struggles, the politicians who advocated `development fundamentalism’ were forced to retaliate on `strategic grounds’. The question also is, during these long stretches of public debates on environment, development and people, are our politicians educated enough? Perhaps, the impact has been made on some. The others were forced to use the terminology of `environment’ for popular appeal, if not for their political convictions. The dialogues, open fights, flow of information and the consciousness which emerged from the open protests seem to have made more impact on the mainstream psyche and thereby affecting the minds of a section of politicians at least. It is time now for the politicians in Kerala to support the causes of environment and people oriented sustainable development from the stand point of political principles, rather than on strategic grounds.
The activists on the other hand have also understood during these four decades on the need for `inclusive’ activism rather than remaining in their own small `exclusive’ shells in Kerala. The history of various struggles have proved that the only struggles which won were `inclusive’ struggles. The Athirappalli struggle is certainly one more step forward from the perspective of `inclusive’ struggles in Kerala.
And in this divide between the politics of people’s movements and politicians, perhaps we must come to terms with one reality: The diversity of activists and politicians in this country can co-exist. It is only a matter of political will from both sides to generate results.
K.P. Sasi is a film maker. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org