General Elections 2024: Nothing sacred in selling votes in Kerala

General Elections 2024: Nothing sacred in selling votes in Kerala

At Rs 120 a kg, they cannot even recoup the cost of tapping the trees, collecting the milk, processing it, converting it into sheets and drying them before it can be taken to the market.

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Tuesday, March 21, 2023, 10:03 PM IST
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General Elections 2024: Nothing sacred in selling votes in Kerala | Admin

Archbishop Mar Joseph Pamplani stirred up a hornets’ nest while addressing the Catholic farmers’ conference at Thalassery in northern Kerala. He promised the BJP that the church would give the party at least one seat from Kerala if the Centre is able to raise the price of rubber to Rs 300 per kg. Now, it oscillates between Rs 120 and Rs 150. It was such a straight deal that many Christians were reminded of the deal that Judas had struck with the Pharisees under which he would betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Of course, this was a harsh comment but he was solely to blame for it. True, the plight of the rubber cultivators is indeed pathetic. At Rs 120 a kg, they cannot even recoup the cost of tapping the trees, collecting the milk, processing it, converting it into sheets and drying them before it can be taken to the market.

Nothing stops the Central and state governments from ameliorating the conditions of the farmers, who are gradually withdrawing from the cultivation. In Kerala, rubber is not the only agricultural produce that is not fetching the farmer a remunerative price. They have virtually stopped growing paddy because the cost of cultivation is much more than the price of the yield. Many farmers let Coconuts and Areca nuts fall on their own, rather than pluck them from the trees because the plucking charges are unaffordable. That is why Kerala, which has the most fertile land in the country, finds it far more economical to buy food grains produced in the north and vegetables produced in states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. In other words, Kerala has become a consumer state, where manual, agricultural and industrial workers have to be found from among the migrants from Bihar, Bengal and Assam.

In the case of rubber, the farmers in Kerala were pioneers. Despite so much production, Kerala was unable to meet the demands of the rubber industry. Much of the prosperity seen in Central Travancore and northern Malabar regions was on account of rubber. Good times do not last for long. Other Asian and African countries began to cultivate rubber, challenging Kerala’s monopoly. Worse, the invention of artificial rubber, which is being increasingly used for the manufacture of tyres, had a deleterious effect on the farmers. Attempts were made to replace asphalt with rubber in road construction but they ended up as mere experiments. When the global market is surplus with natural and synthetic rubber, Kerala cannot remain an island of prosperity for the rubber farmer. This explains to some extent why the Kerala farmer has been clamouring for a minimum support price of at least Rs 250.

Archbishop Pamplani has only one vote which he can give to any party or candidate. To assume that he has so much control over his faithful that he can trade their votes to fetch a remunerative price for rubber is to suffer from delusions of grandeur. The Christians in Kerala are one of the most educated in the country and they have in election after election proved how they can exercise their franchise according to their own conscience. There might have been a time in the hoary past when they were guided by the pastoral letters signed by the bishops and read in the parishes. They have the right to vote for any party or candidate and they do not need the archbishop’s advice or command.

The areca-leaf cap that the archbishop wore on Sunday would fit a farmer who ploughs the paddy field, not an ecclesiastical head who lives in luxury. What his faithful expect him to wear is a zucchetto or a mitre. It was just a month ago that thousands of Christians congregated in Delhi to protest against the increasing atrocities against them in states like Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. A few months ago, his own brethren in southern Thiruvananthapuram protested against the Adani Port and what it signifies to the fish workers. His fellow archbishop in Bengaluru is knocking on the doors of the Supreme Court for justice for his faithful. For Archbishop Pamplani, nothing matters more than the rubber price. What a fall!

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