Last week, when an agitation began against a GAIL pipeline in Kodiyathoor village of Kozhikode, the ruling CPM described the agitators as “Muslim extremists with a primitive, seventh-century mindset”. It was targeting the Popular Front of India and Solidarity Youth Movement, the youth wing of Jamaat-e-Islami.
The CPM’s criticism comes at a time when it is in a ruling partnership with Jamaat’s political wing, Welfare Party of India, in the village panchayat and also in neighbouring Mukkam municipality. The Welfare Party has two members in each.
GAIL’s 503-km pipeline will run from Kochi to Bengaluru and Mangaluru. After violent protests at Kodiyathoor, police have arrested three dozen persons and are looking for others for rioting and related offences.
Following the CPM’s criticism, Indian Union Muslim League district general secretary C P Cheriya Muhammed said, “The CPM has no qualms about joining hands with a party to rule local bodies. When the same party gets involved in people’s issues, they become extremists with a primitive approach. It is ludicrous,” Muhammed said.
Asked if this does not amount to double standards, CPM district secretary P Mohanan said, “All I can say is that the party is strong in the region. We don’t require any support from Jamaat. Our demand was that the people should get fair compensation,” he said.
During the one decade since the project was conceptualised, the CPM has supported it while in office and protested against it while in Opposition. During the 2011-2016 UDF regime, the CPM led an agitation that raised public concerns about the safety of the pipeline. The party then backed the GAIL Victims Forum. Now, the CPM-led government is determined to see the pipeline completed by the February 2019 deadline. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, meanwhile, has said the Congress would not join the agitation. With neither mainstream party behind them, locals have turned to fringe groups.
The CPM’s shifting stands have embarrassed several local leaders. “Several local CPM workers are backing the protest. In villages in Malappuram, CPM activists are still leading the protest,’’ said a local CPM worker. In September, local CPM legislator George M Thomas had led a protest march against GAIL.
There had been no effort to address public concerns until Monday, five days after the violence. The government decided to form a help desk at the village panchayat to clear local doubts.
“GAIL has not yet convened a meeting to allay people’s fears,” said C K Vijayan, a retired teacher who lives near the pipeline route. “Although people are not against the project, many wanted it realigned away from populated areas. Several people have 5-10 cents land along the route.’’
“I have 26 cents. GAIL hasn’t informed me how much land it needs,” said K Anadanvally, 53, a widow, at Eranjivamu. “GAIL marked a route in front of my house and cleared the route last week. They could have routed it a little away.”
IUML’s Muhammed, who is the patron of the protest forum, said compensation should be hiked for people with small landholdings. “They are being offered only 50% of the fair value. Besides, the alignment has to be altered; it runs along the courtyards of several houses.”
At an all-party meeting in Kozhikode on Monday, agitators demanded realignment and compensation at rates four times the market value. Industries Minister A C Moideen rejected this. “Realignment would trigger fresh issues. However, GAIL will be asked to reduce the stress on landholdings of 5-10 cents. Houses on 5 cents or smaller plots will not be demolished. For small holdings, the government will give a special rehabilitation package,” he said.
While GAIL goes ahead, the action committee of the agitators decided on Tuesday to intensify the stir by fanning out to Malappuram and Kannur.