Kerala Opposition rejects CM’s call for united protest against Union government over discrimination

Opposition leader VD Satheesan charged that the financial mismanagement of the state government also contributed to the crisis.

ByK A Shaji

Published Jan 20, 2024 | 7:30 AMUpdatedJan 20, 2024 | 7:30 AM

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and and Leader of Opposition VD Satheesan at an event. (Supplied)

Efforts by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to create a façade of unity across the political divide by involving the Congress-led Opposition UDF in the ruling front’s agitation against the alleged stepmotherly attitude towards the state of the BJP-led Union government in Delhi have come to nought.

On Friday, 19 January, the Opposition firmly rejected the proposal.

The idea of the ruling LDF and the Opposition UDF joining forces in a protest in Delhi against the Union government’s apathy towards the state failed to gain the support of the Congress and its allies in Kerala.

They disagreed with Vijayan’s narrative that attributes the state’s financial challenges solely to neglect by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Letter to Vijayan

Interacting with the media in Thiruvananthapuram, Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, VD Satheesan, said that he had already conveyed to Vijayan directly that the wrong policies and extravagance on the part of the state government had contributed to Kerala’s financial woes.


Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. (Facebook)

In a letter dispatched to the chief minister on Friday, Satheesan reiterated that the Opposition brought issues, such as mismanagement in the tax administration in Kerala, to the state government’s attention through two white papers, but that the ruling LDF had ignored their findings.

While thanking the chief minister for inviting the Opposition for a discussion on the discrimination faced by Kerala, Satheesan expressed suspicion about the political interests of the CPI(M)-led government in extending such an invitation.

The letter came days after Pinarayi Vijayan held discussions, on 15 January, with Satheesan and Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Kerala Assembly PK Kunhalikutty on the alleged negligence of the Union government towards the state on various matters.

Also Read: SC issues notice to Centre over Kerala plea seeking directive on borrowing limits

CPI(M) criticises UDF’s decision

In response to the UDF’s decision, CPI(M) doled out criticism, stating that the BJP-led Union government was neglecting the needs of Kerala and that the explanation given by the Opposition for abstaining from a joint fight was against the interests of the people of the state.

CPI(M) state secretary MV Govindan claimed that there was disagreement within the UDF over its leadership’s decision to skip the joint protest being organised in New Delhi on 8 February.

Speaking to reporters, Govindan declared that the chief minister and all the Cabinet ministers would take part in the LDF’s agitation in Delhi. “MLAs and MPs belonging to the LDF will participate in the agitation. The chief minister has written to all non-BJP chief ministers about the agitation,” Govindan added.

Joint protest in Delhi

Earlier this week, LDF Convenor EP Jayarajan had said that the protest is scheduled for 11 am at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on 8 February. The LDF government has planned various programmes to spread the message of the protest to the people, including house visits across Kerala on a booth basis from 4 pm to 6 pm on the day of the protest.

In the event of an Opposition boycott, the Jantar Mantar protest would involve Vijayan, his Cabinet colleagues, and MPs and MLAs affiliated with the CPI. The Kerala government is also seeking the support of all non-BJP governments across the country for the protest.

During the meeting with Vijayan, Satheesan had allegedly informed the chief minister that the UDF would discuss the issue with its members before deciding whether to join the protest. He later said that the Opposition does not agree with the Left narrative of blaming the Union government for all of the state’s financial problems.

In the meantime, the state government contends that despite repeated communications to the Union government to end its “discriminatory” actions, it has only intensified its “vindictive moves”, making survival difficult for Kerala.

Satheesan, though unwilling to join the LDF in its protest, said that the UDF’s fight to fend off the Union government’s trespasses on fiscal federalism would be independent of the one carried out by the CPI(M).

Also Read: Kerala in a fix after Centre makes unexpected cuts in borrowing limits

Union government vs Kerala

LDF Convenor Jayarajan, while revealing the details of the protest, said that the Union government had cut down the state’s borrowing limit when the government faced an acute financial crisis, severely discouraging welfare programmes that benefit the poor.

Although the Union government is borrowing money from several external agencies, and all states have debt liabilities, Jayarajan alleged that Kerala alone is discriminated against.


Kerala Opposition leader VD Satheesan. (South First)

“The funds for the state, including the share of tax revenue, have been withheld. The protest in New Delhi will highlight the injustice being shown to Kerala,” he vowed.

Jayarajan said that the LDF wanted the agitation to be that of the entire state. “We want the Congress-led UDF to cooperate with the agitation. It is the state’s protest against the policies of the Union government. We want their MLAs and MPs to join the agitation,” he said.

The chief minister will lead the protest march from Kerala House to Jantar Mantar on 8 February. The LDF will also organise house visits across the state at the booth level on the day of the protest, highlighting the state’s concerns. Public meetings will also be organised in all panchayats and local bodies.

Also Read: Kerala borrowing limit halved: CPI(M) says Centre trying to suffocate state

Satheesan slams LDF

In his interactions with Vijayan, Satheesan said that reckless borrowing by the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB) and Kerala Social Security Pensions Limited (KSSPL) from the open financial market had exacerbated the state’s fiscal deficit.

Satheesan said that the UDF had repeatedly warned the LDF that the Union government would only deem the borrowings by state-owned special-purpose vehicles within budget borrowings. Satheesan alleged that the LDF sought to ignore the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act provision — that the difference between a state’s total revenue and total expenditure in a financial year should be a maximum of 3 percent or less.

He said that the LDF disparaged the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) for pointing out that rash borrowings, plummeting tax collection, and mounting debt would mar the state’s macroeconomic stability.

Satheesan said the UDF would not allow the LDF government to use the Union government’s financial embargo on Kerala as a fig leaf to hide its economic mismanagement and lax tax administration. “The Centre’s financial embargo is merely one reason for the state’s financial crisis,” he said.

Satheesan demanded that the state government enumerate the schemes for which the Union government deprived itself of funds.

“The LDF has pussyfooted around the UDF’s questions regarding Kerala’s poor finances. Instead, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has repeatedly portrayed persons who expressed dissent with the state’s financial policies as mentally unsound,” he added.