By T S Sudhir
The men at the Chinese fishing net wouldn’t talk. “Money, money, give money, we talk,” said two of them in unison.
“But I am not a tourist. I am a journalist,” I said in Malayalam, hoping to impress upon them that I wasn’t like the Korean tourists who were posing for photographs by the net and making a payment for every picture clicked.
A common language, I realised, doesn’t always help. And the man in charge proceeded to talk business in the local language.
“Five of us will talk. 50 rupees each. No bargain.”
I couldn’t help being amused by the fixed rate. “Venda,” I said and walked away to hear him ridiculing “Nammal ke English channel venda, nammal ke India Vision madi.”.
Harris was conducting the fish auction just a few steps away. At the end of 60 seconds, two kg of fish went for 400 rupees. Mercifully he was auctioning himself on air.
“We are all LDF supporters here and will vote for the LDF too. But we feel the UDF will come to power this time,” he said.
“Why? You don’t think the LDF government has done enough?” I asked.
“It has but it could have done so much more, you see. There is this feeling that the CPI(M) saw too much infighting. The chief minister did not have a free hand to work as he wanted to. All these factors will have bearing.”
Raheem, a fisherman chips in. “Sir, we are not meant to sell fish in this area which is a tourist place. Every government in the past so many years has promised us a new place. But none of them delivered on the promise. Now the fear of being evicted is always on our mind. That is one major issue here.”
Just about everyone who comes to Fort Kochi has a camera adorned around his or her neck. A few steps away, a group of youngsters are clicking photographs. They belong to an organisation called `Make a Difference’. Some of them are young entrepreneurs, some are students.
Reshma, a bright young girl from Thiruvananthapuram says she focusses on the candidate more than the party he or she represents. “It is more important to me that he or she is a clean politician, with his heart in the right place. I vote according to that.”
Ajay, a Malayalee who studied in Chennai and is now working in Kochi, says the difference between the two cities is too stark. “Development is simply not fast-paced in Kochi, the way it is in Chennai. And the little development that we have is all unplanned.”
If development is an issue for the younger lot, for the Church, it is protection of the minorities. I travel to Athirampuzha, on the Ernakulam-Kottayam road, to meet Father Mani Puthiyidom, Vicar of the the 1175-year-old St Mary’s Forane Church.
Christians comprise 19 per cent of Kerala’s population which means one in every five persons is a Christian. In a district like Kottayam, this percentage goes up to nearly 50 per cent. “Both the UDF and LDF candidates come to me to seek blessings and support,” says Father Mani.
The Church is clearly miffed with the LDF government for trying to muzzle the Christian community into giving up rights over the educational institutions it runs. “We were not happy with it at all. The Christians, when they vote on April 13, will bear that in mind.”
What about the VS factor, I ask Father Mani. “V S Achuthanandan is the right man in the wrong party. A bit like A B Vajpayee,” he replies.
As I leave Kerala, it is with the feeling that as always it will be the non-LDF, non-UDF neutral voters who will make the difference. And if these voters are once again dissatisfied with the quality of governance in the immediate past, it will be curtains for Achuthanandan & Co.