In sarvangasana mode

Written by M Sarita Varma | Updated: Mar 14 2011, 05:39am hrs
The popular martial arts movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, opens with a stirring exchange between the two warrior-heroes Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien. The 2000 release has a bitter-sweet resonance with the economic and political chords of the psyche of Kerala today, as the LDF-run state steels itself to possibly hand over the gaddi to Congress-led UDF in the April 13 Assembly elections.

Consider the early scene. The Giang Hu warrior Mu Bai shocks the female warrior Yu Shu Lien by confessing that he has broken off the practice of deep meditation. This is sin in capital letters in the Chinese Wudan warrior style book. Mu Bai explains that during meditation, he was surrounded by light and time and space disappeared, throwing him in a place, my master never told me about. Why did you leave meditation demands Shu Lein. For her, what Mu Bai described was the enlightenment. Ma Bui shakes his head, I didnt feel the bliss of enlightenment. Instead, I was surrounded with an endless sorrow I felt something pulling me back.

This something-amiss dilemma of the Taiwan-Chinese-Hong Kong-American co-production is much like the defining moment for the political movers and shakers of Kerala as they face the voters. One, CM VS Achuthanandanwho promised recovery of huge tracts of illegally occupied land with his much-touted war cry against Tata Tea in Munnarhas been unable to bring under notification about 800 acres occupied by influential private players and even by Left parties like CPI and CPI(M). An equally upsetting dampener for LDF was when the Election Commission axed the eleventh hour implementation of his governments announcement to distribute rice to all ration card holders (below R25,000 household income) at R2 per kg.

Two, for Opposition leader Oommen Chandy, who was counting on riding back to power on a giant wave of anti-incumbency, the crime and sleeze skeletons tumbling out of the Congress-led UDFs (United Democratic Front) cupboard have served rattling apprehensions. Hot on the heels of fresh charges in the decade-old ice-cream parlour sex scandal against PK Kunhalikutty, the supremo of UDFs second-largest party, came the Supreme Court verdict against R Balakrishna Pillai, the founder-chairman of Kerala Congress (B), booking him into rigorous imprisonment for graft, incurring a R2 crore loss to Kerala State Electricity Board in the power project case. Again, burdened with a relatively larger number of alliance partners, UDF is going through a long, painstaking series of seat-sharing parleys.

At another level, LDF, which shows a more united front than UDF, has been unable to proudly front-run CPI(M)s key organiser and state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan in its candidate dossier, as Vijayan still figures as the 7th accused in the R374-crore SNC Lavalin power scam case, involving a Canadian firm. Achuthanandan, whom the CPI(M) is reluctantly forced to back as its election leader because of his populist moorings, faces the toughest opposition from his own party. Sarvangasana (shoulder-stand) is one of my favourite yogic practising postures, revealed Indias oldest CM (Achuthanandan is 5 months older than 86-year-old Muthuvel Karunanidhi, with whom he engages in verbal duels on the 115-year-old Mullaperiyar dam.) in an interview sometime ago.

Ang Lees movies dilemma is also reminiscent of Keralas bitterest economic contrasts. At 9.7% GSDP growth rate, the state claims the highest growth rate (provisional) among the Indian states in 2010-11. At R63,000, its per capita income in 2009 is second only to Haryana. Fine tuning its fleet of PSUs, the state government has whipped up R300 crore in profits in 2010-11, demonstrating an international model of public enterprise efficiency. In tourism revenues, the state is set to gross R16,000 crore in the current financial, against R13,230 crore logged in 2009.

But then, all this stimuli is yet to translate effectively into the R30,000 crore private investment that industry minister Elamaram Kareem targeted at the beginning of his tenure. Should the growth engine be necessarily pulled forward by private investment Not always, says Achuthanandan, who loves to regale crowds, equating MNCs with images of the Onida devil.

At the same time, this is not the official CPI(M) line. Kerala has moved from being a laggard to a leader in economic development, building on its historical lead in social and human development indices. As happens with all human organisations and political entities, many of the beliefs that served the state well in the past need to be critically revisited, said state finance minister TM Thomas Isaac, at the release of a book that he edited (with R Ram Kumar), titled Keralas Economy: Crouching Tiger, Sacred Cows. The book of new thoughts in practical Marxian economics was released on Achuthanandans birthday in 2006.

Since then, Isaac has not been idle in swinging his ideological Left effervescence towards new directions. In Budget 2011-12, he has proposed a blueprint for R40,000 crore worth of designer roads and infrastructure modernisation for the state. This would be dipping for credit from Al Baraka, an Islamic financing NDFC that the LDF government hopes to spawn with support from the states NRIs. Investors from Oman alone have offered R100 billion. There is no question of lack of investor confidence. Reliance Capital and Doha Bank have offered 74% and 40% investment in Al Baraka, but its just that we do not want any single player to have more than 9% equity, says Kareem.

Congress, however, is not too impressed. It is unethical and incredible that a Cabinet, which pulled in opposite directions for the last four and a half years, suddenly comes out in the fag-end of its tenure to announce that it would spin out fancy roads out of loans from a private investment company, which is yet to take shape, says VD Satheesan, Congress legistaur. The LDF government has also been a laggard in the time-bound utilisation of central funds such as the JNNURM funds or the R1,850-crore special package for Kuttanad development. UDF legistaurs are also quick to point out that much of the central investment in the public sector in the statefrom Brahmos to Ezhimala Naval Academyhas come through the office of Union defence minister AK Antony.

Business is abuzz with excitement that the long-drawn spat with Dubais TECOM has come to an end, signalling the $333-million Smartcity IT infrastructure township in Kochi and that too initiated by Achuthanandan. Our only contention is that it should have happened earlier, ringing a loud and clear signal to potential foreign investors, says VK Mathews, chairman, GTech (group of heads of technology companies in Kerala). But then, Achuthanandan knows that, unlike in politics, it is the spate of last minute inaugurations like Smartcity, International Airport Terminal in Thiruvananthapuram, ICTT at Vallarpadam and Vizhinjam port Phase-1 that works best with the voter.

Achuthanandans first job, at the age of 10, was weaving together a coir rug. As the fitness enthusiast sprints to his 87th birthday now, it would be safest for poll crystal-gazers to anticipate him pulling the rug out of adversaries feet, displaying dramatic U-turns in his early allergy to successful corporates like MA Yousef Ali. Usually, an assembly election in Kerala is a boring yawn for psephologists because of its religiously regular see-saw of power: LDF after UDF and vice-versa. This time, the glimpses of crouching tiger economy under LDFs red overcoat could throw in a surprise element. Although voters are no development-watchers, this new twist may at least eat into UDFs victory margin.