//Rice, liquor, notes and votes

Rice, liquor, notes and votes

George Iype in Kalpetta | April 26, 2006 19:17 IST

Tribals in north Kerala’s backward Wayanad district love the elections.

They get handfuls of hundred rupee notes, sacks of rice, liquors bottles and even medicines, only during the elections.

The election campaigning has livened up tribal hamlets in villages like Thirunelli, Vellamunda, Panamaram, Noolpuzha, Nenmeni, Meenangadi and Pozhuthana across Wayanad.

"I got Rs 1,200 this time. My only problem is that elections come and go fast," says Kidaran Chemban, living in a tribal hamlet in Nenmeni. Chemban reasons that if the elections are an every-day affair, then their poverty levels could come down.

Chemban lists the other items that his six-member family managed to get this time, from the ruling Congress and opposition Janata Dal Secular candidates.

They include one sack of rice, two bottles of liquor and a few days work to paste posters in the countryside. "It is after a long time that I got some work and some money," he adds.

For tribals like Chemban, this time, the election in Kalpetta constituency has been the most productive. Because Congress leaders allege the Left Democratic Front candidate M V Sreyamskumar, a media tycoon belonging to the Janata Dal Secular, is splurging money on every tribal household.

"He is a Rs 2,000-crore man. He has lots of money. So the Janata Dal is on a spending spree here to lure the tribals. We have collected many instances of bribery that the supporters of Sreyamskumar have indulged in across the constituency," says his rival candidate K K Ramachandran of the Congress.

But Sreyamskumar, managing director of Mathrubhoomi newspaper and son of Lok Sabha MP and former central minister M V Veerendra Kumar, says the Congress is hurling false allegations at him because "I am winning here."

"I am contesting not because my father is a politician but because people here wanted me to contest. I live here, and I am so close to people in every village here," claims Sreyamskumar.

He says the poor and the tribals in Wayanad can hope to lead better lives only if the LDF is voted to power this time. "Or else, more Muthanga incidents will occur," he added.

Muthanga refers to the tribal uprising that had made headlines in February, 2003. Then, some 2,000 tribe members had forcibly occupied a forest reserve in Muthanga, a village in the Wayanad district.

The tribals then fought with bows and arrows against police who had guns. A tribal man and a police officer was killed in the encounter.

According to the Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha, a leading tribal organisation, half of Kerala’s nearly 400,000 tribal people, most of them landless, live in the Wayanad district. "We have been demanding the distribution of land in the district for the tribal population. But till now, nothing has happened, despite our struggle," says AGM head C K Janu.

Many say Janu is the Medha Patkar in Wayanad. "The tribal population spread across Wayanad are the prisoners of political parties. Janu has been campaigning to ensure a poverty-free life for the tribals," says activist Kalan Mani.

But during elections, Mani says workers of all political parties go to the tribal villages with food items, liqour and money to get their votes.

"Tribals in Wayanad are a crucial vote bank," he points out.

With the free flow of country-made liqour and abundant supply of rice, the tribals are in a happy mood till the elections are over.

But though the tribal colonies are happy with the supply of provisions from political parties, they are also a frightened lot. Some of them have been threatened by both the Congress and Marxists leaders that if they do not vote for them, they would destroy their huts.

Ironically, the tribals in Wayanad have been restored their lands by law, but they have not been given actual possession till date. Though a number of tribal groups have resorted to many agitations for land, no political party has sincerely supported their cause so far.

The Adivasis do not hope that the assembly elections will result in their betterment.