Government squanders chance to end job aspirants’ stir

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By: P. Sreekumaran

The Pinarayi Vijayan Government bungled badly, yet again, and squandered an opportunity to end the agitation of the job aspirants figuring in the Public Service Commission (PSC)’s rank list.

In protest against the Government’s failure to settle the issue amicably, the job aspirants launched an indefinite fast in front of the Secretariat in the State capital on Monday. They had threatened to launch the fast if the Government did not issue a favourable order by then.

The golden chance to settle the issue amicably came following the intervention of the CPI(M) State Secretariat, which directed the Government to initiate ministerial level talks to end the agitation. In a rare act in asserting itself, the party directed the Chief Minister to talk to the agitators. The party felt that the talks were necessary as the Opposition was succeeding in extracting political mileage from the sensitive issue. Home Secretary T K Jose and Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) Manoj Abraham held talks with the representatives of the rank lists for last grade servant and civil police officers on Saturday.

The two officers had told the agitators that they would try to get a favourable order. Protestors’ representative Laya Rajesh said they were happy with the talks but will continue their stir until they received a written assurance. “It is not that we do not trust the Government. But we want the Government to give it in writing,” she added. With the Government failing to meet the deadline set by the protestors, they went on an indefinite fast. And the Government lost the chance to end the agitation and take the wind out of the sails of the Opposition’s anti-government campaign, which has gained considerable traction.

The demands include appointment of more aspirants in the last grade category in various universities, creation of more vacancies in higher secondary schools and reducing night-watchman duty hours, which, in turn, will create more posts.

The Government erred badly by deputing only bureaucrats to hold talks. The Government’s move, unsurprisingly, invited criticism from the Opposition, which accused it of not being sincere in wanting to end the agitation. The decision to depute the bureaucrats is indicative of the CPI(M) leaders’ arrogance and insensitivity to the demands of the peaceful protestors, the Opposition alleged. Instead of putting the bureaucrats on the job, the Chief Minister himself should have talked to the protestors or deputed ministers to hold the talks. It is a classic case of inept handling of an extremely sensitive issue, which is threatening to spiral out of the Government’s control to the delight of a resurgent Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) led by the Congress.

Another instance of the CPI(M) leaders arrogance came to light when the representatives of the job aspirants went, uninvited, to meet Minister Kadakampalli Surendran at his official residence. The representatives who met the Minister said they were shocked by the remarks made by him. The Minister reportedly told them that they would not get jobs even if the PSC rank lists were extended for ten years! He is also said to have criticized them for becoming playthings in the hands of the Opposition in the State. The shocking response of and the arrogant attitude of the Minister is bound to increase the resentment against the Government and turn public opinion further against it.

Earlier, BJP leader Sobha Surendran stole the limelight by undertaking a 48-hour fast in solidarity with the agitators. Sobha’s act, which has been welcomed by the agitators, took the BJP’s state leadership by surprise. What is more, Sobha, who is at odds with the state leadership, also facilitated a meeting of the protestors with State Governor, Arif Mohammed Khan. Obviously, the Governor also played his part in persuading the government to initiate talks with the job aspirants. Needless to say, Sobha’s individual initiative has not gone down well with the State leadership.

The leadership should, however, thank Sobha for doing what she did. It saved the party the blushes as the BJP had not actively supported the agitation till then. Ironically, the BJP’s Yuva Morcha and the Mahila Morcha, which had planned to take a march to the venue of the protest, changed the decision after Sobha decided to sit on a fast! The whole episode also brought into bold relief the acute factionalism in the State unit of the BJP. BJP’s wishy washy stance enabled the Congress-led UDF to take much of the credit for the support of the Opposition to the protesting aspirants’ struggle. Congress leaders are now openly claiming that the party’s proactive stand on the issue will yield rich dividends in the upcoming Assembly elections.

The Congress campaign in support of the job aspirants is set to receive a big boost with Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi arriving in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday. He is expected to visit the protest venue and address the agitators. The Congress-led UDF is determined to derive maximum political advantage from the job aspirants’ agitation. Rahul, who is in Kerala on a four-day visit, earlier participated in a tractor rally in Wayanad in support of the agitating farmers in Delhi. He will also inaugurate the concluding function in the State capital to mark the end of the “Kerala Aishwarya Yatra” undertaken by Ramesh Chennithala.

The assessment of the Congress is that the yatra was a big success and has gone a long way in robbing the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) of the advantage it had gained in the wake of the front’s spectacular victory in the local body election. Although two pre-poll surveys have said that the LDF will retain power in the State, the Congress does not agree with their forecast. The UDF has managed to recover a lot of ground it had lost to the LDF, and could spring an unpleasant surprise on the LDF, they claimed.

Meanwhile, Youth Congress state president Shafi Parambil and vice-president K S Sabarinathan, who were on     a fast in solidarity with the job aspirants, were shifted to the hospital as their health deteriorated. Three vice-presidents of the YC, N S Nuzoor, Rigil Makkutti and Riaz Mukkoli replaced them at the protest venue. Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala and former chief minister and senior Congress leader Oommen Chandy had visited Shafi and Sabarinathan at the protest venue and urged them to end their fast in view of the rapid deterioration in their health.

It must be said, in conclusion that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has lost a good opportunity to defuse the situation and deprive the opposition of a powerful weapon to grill the Government. His stubborn refusal to depute ministers for the talks with the protestors cannot but increase the revulsion against the State Government. In the process, the LDF stands to lose the support of a sizable section of the people who were otherwise appreciative of the Government’s record in office. This being the grim ground reality, the Chief Minister himself must talk to the agitators or depute senior ministers to start a dialogue. CPI(M)’s acting state secretary A Vijayaraghavan should also exercise restraint in his remarks on sensitive issues. His latest remark ridiculing the agitation of the job aspirant s’ agitation will only add to the anger against the Pinarayi Government. A bit of humility on the part of senior CPI(M) leaders is an essential prerequisite for the amicable settlement of a highly sensitive issue involving the future of job aspirants in the State. (IPA Service)

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