Sreelatha Menon / Kannur (Kerala) April 29, 2006
State’s job hopes ride on CPI(M) cooperative ventures.
Kerala’s Marxist leader VS Acuthananthan may have been criticised for holding antediluvian views on market reforms, but he has proved to be a shrewd investor.
He owns shares worth Rs 500 of Kairali TV, which is sponsored by the CPI(M). A market survey suggested that each share of Rs 10 could fetch Rs 50, Kairali Managing Director John Britas says.
In a state that long ago ceased to blip on the radar screen of Indian companies, the CPI(M) seems the only one making investments. A joint venture between a private company and CPI(M) leaning panchayats is setting up a Rs 25 crore water park at Kannur. In neighbouring Tellicherry, a new mall and a hospital have come up with funds from cooperative bodies belonging to the Left.
As employment happens to be a big electoral issue in the ongoing state Assembly elections, the initiatives could earn the party some brownie points, though several cooperative ventures started by the party earlier are struggling to stay alive.
Take Dinesh Beedi in Kannur. The cooperative, which made profits till some years ago is on the verge of closure. A unit in Chirakkal in Kannur district, which used to be the hub of activity is today idle half the week. Its 120 workers get work for just four to five days. And the beedis have not been moving in the market easily.
CITU State Secretary KP Sahadevan, who is the LDF candidate from Kannur, was a member of a commission set up to revive the cooperative. But the report was never submitted by the panel, forcing Sahadevan and other Left leaders to go on an agitation. Now that elections are here, voters here are hoping the LDF forms the government so that the fortunes of Dinesh Bidi can be revived.
Rubco started in 1997, has been making cycle tyres, mattresses, shoes and furniture, but is yet to pay off debt worth Rs 150 crore, which is the total capital invested in it. The investors are mainly small cooperative societies and banks, says Rubco Chairman E Narayanan. However he says the company’s fortunes will turn around. This can only happen if the LDF comes to power.
Service cooperative banks running in hundreds – with at least 355 at the district level itself—have boards controlled by the CPI (M). According to a study by the Reserve Bank of India two years ago, 70 per cent of these banks are doing poorly.
Critics of the LDF say that cooperative ventures run by CPI (M) have suffered because of constant rotation of funds in projects which may not fetch returns. Newer and newer projects are coming up, while the old ones have been left without any support.
On their part, these quasi-CPI (M) undertakings make it a point to assert that the party doesn’t own them.
Half the shareholders of Kairali may be leftists but that does not make it a CPI (M) asset, says Britas.
“Its board has just one CPI (M) person, Thomas Isaac, but that is because he is an economist. The chairman is film star Mammootty,” Britas said. NRI tycoon Abdul Wahab is one of the largest share holders of Kairali. This was despite the fact that Wahab represents Muslim League, a Congress ally.