Kasturirangan report, a key factor in battle for Idukki

Kasturirangan report, a key factor in battle for Idukki

The run-up to the Lok Sabha election in Idukki has been dramatic. Protests against the K Kasturirangan panel report on Western Ghats conservation had peaked here late last year, pushing the Congress party into damage control mode. P T Thomas, sitting Congress MP from Idukki, was denied the seat over his differences with representatives of the Catholic Church.

The party has fielded Dean Kuriakose, the state Youth Congress president, reportedly on instructions from the All India Congress Committee (AICC). The opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF), expecting a rebellion in the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) over the Centre’s stance on the Kasturirangan report, had delayed announcement of its candidate from the constituency.

When the High Range Protection Council (HRPC) — a group that along with the Church is agitating against implementation of the report — announced Joice George as its candidate, the LDF wasted no time in endorsing him as its own.
Kuriakose, who visited the Idukki Bishop Mathew Anikuzhikattil seeking his support, was treated to an all-out attack on the Congress party by the Bishop.

 The constituency, traditionally considered a safe seat for the Congress due to the support UDF enjoys in the high-range areas, has now emerged as a turf for an intense battle. And it’s the K-report that could sway it either way.

George comes with support of the HRPC and benefits from the poll muscle of the CPI(M)-led LDF. “It’s not politics anymore. This is a matter of livelihood for thousands of people. Any party or government that puts environment ahead of people’s lives will face a backlash here,” Francis, a spice trader in Idukki, said. But reasons behind the alliance of a Church-backed movement and the Left are lost on Shirley, a housewife.

The Congress is running its campaign on attempts to “clarify” that the state government’s efforts had led to a favourable position by the Centre on identification of ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs) in Kerala. Dean Kuriakose, however, refused to call the Kasturirangan report a contentious poll issue.

“It’s not as huge a concern as the CPM is propagating. The voters are convinced about efforts by the party and the government to make sure that there’s no threat of displacement in the name of environment conservation,” Kuriakose told Deccan Herald.

But the party’s election manifesto has no mention of concerted efforts to permanently address concerns of people settled in the region. “The manifesto doesn’t have to mention it because it’s a commitment that the party has already taken up,” reasons Kuriakose.

BJP candidate Sabu Varghese is projecting the party as an alternative to ensure development in backward regions of the constituency. It is learnt that Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) chief Vijayakant — who has allied with the BJP in Tamil Nadu — is set to campaign for Varghese in Munnar that has a substantial Tamil population. Idukki consists of seven Assembly constituencies: Muvattupuzha, Kothamangalam, Devikulam, Udumbanchola, Thodupuzha, Idukki and Peerumed.

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