Thursday, September 4, 2008

When Politicians Run Businesses and Business Runs Politics

EARLIER THIS week came the news of the inauguration of the water theme park in Pappinissery in Kannur, launched by a business firm controlled by the CPM Kannur district committee. The corporate structure is of a unique model, with a cooperative society as the front organization which legally manages the park but actually it is micro-managed by a group of individuals within the party.

This is not a new experiment on the part of the Communist party in Kerala. In fact, its present organizational structure is built upon such a complex mechanism that has various levels of controls but actually the entire buck stops at the table of the state secretary of the party, who happens to be all powerful in this semi-corporate, semi mafia type of organization.

Kannur’s Dinesh Beedi Cooperative was the original model for this structure. Its success and recent decline are to be studied closely to see what are the possibilities and likely pitfalls for this model. Dinesh Beedi emerged as a strong cooperative movement to withstand the exploitation of workers by the Ganesh Beedi Co, which had control over the beedi market in north Malabar with Mangalore as its base. Then the emerging clashes between Sangh Parivar groups and Marxists got mixed up in this and when Dinesh Beedi Cooperative was formed, this political battle took an ideological veneer with the rival firms becoming the support base for warring groups.

Now the beedi industry is in decline, but the fratricidal battle it spewed continues unabated. In fact, this killing business itself has become more diversified, into a new kind of industry, with the professionals lending their services to various clients like blade companies, private banks, vehicle agents, revenge seekers, etc.

It is evident that the three-decade old murder politics in Kannur is closely linked to this business model of cooperatives/private firms controlled by political parties, controlled by vested groups with close links to business interests, mafia groups, land grabbers, and other operators in the shady economy. It has vitiated business and it has corrupted politics, across party lines. The politics in Kannur might take quite a while to recover itself and assert genuine people’s interests. Perhaps that is why V S Achuthanandan decided to keep away from the inaugural function of the water theme park. That must be why Vayalar Ravi, Congress leader, said political parties running businesses was harmful both to politics and business.

But the dominant section in the CPM seem to think otherwise: Yesterday came the news that a party-controlled cooperative in Kozhikode, would soon launch a star hotel in the heart of the city bringing this noxious business model to this city which had so far kept a decent divide between politics and business. Now this traditionally political city too is taking a new turn, definitely for the worse.