Highly placed sources in Kerala’s LDF government tell South First that the saga of the recently “abandoned” tour to Israel of Agriculture Minister P Prasad (in the company of 20 of the state’s topmost farmers) is far from over.
Rather, it has become a tussle between the CPI(M) and the CPI, the two biggest constituents of the LDF, and even interventions by CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury and his CPI counterpart D Raja have failed to completely resolve the issue.
A CPI leader, Prasad, is reportedly adamant about the Israel junket that is expected to cost the financially-crunched Kerala government about ₹2 crore. Though Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan intervened and had the junket put off, as South First reported last week, the minister has continued to pressure the government, saying the trip was important.
Prasad has pointed out that a dozen of the selected farmers are meeting their own expenses. He has argued that the government need only meet the expenses of the minister and accompanying officials.
Prasad also claimed that adopting the agriculture model of Israel — an arid country — would significantly transform Kerala, a state with abundant rainfall.
While calling off the junket, scheduled to commence on 12 February, the chief minister had cited the recent deadly shooting that left seven people dead in East Jerusalem, and raised safety concerns.
When the minister continued to insist on the visit at a later date, preferably in March, some CPI(M) insiders began raising political objections, saying Israel was a country with which the Left parties had serious differences.
Both the CPI and CPI(M) are staunch supporters of the Palestinian cause, and they term Israel a “terrorist state” that infringes upon the legitimate rights of Palestinians.
When Prasad refused to relent, saying his visit had nothing to do with Israel and its Zionist political philosophy, the CPI(M) leaders took the issue to Yechury in Delhi who, in turn, met Raja and briefed him about the possible political implications of the visit.
When Raja asked state unit leaders of the CPI why they had permitted Prasad to organise a visit to Israel, he was told that the minister was yet to consult them on the issue.
It was then that Raja told Prasad a firm ‘No’.
However, there is a twist in this tale.
Agriculture Principal Secretary B Ashok, who conceived the junket and landed Prasad in a soup, is now attempting to go ahead with the visit. He has apparently told the government that the team, minus Prasad, would visit Israel with its own money or with the help of sponsors.
The government has said the junket is a closed chapter, but Ashok appears confident he will get approval from the chief minister.
And why is he insistent on the visit?
Because the rich farmers who booked tickets using their own money would lose much in cancellation!