The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Coke froth in Red bottle

Thiruvananthapuram, Feb. 7: Coca-Cola is the latest “instrument of oppression” causing problems for Kerala’s communists, some of who consider the soft drink a “bourgeoisie drink”.

Relationships within the CPM and between the CPM and the CPI are getting increasingly turbulent because of it.

CPM state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and politburo member V.S. Achutanandan have had verbal duels about Coca-Cola at news conferences and public meetings. The CPI has questioned the CPM leadership as a whole on the issue.

The problem centres around the Coca-Cola bottling plant at Platchimada in Palakkad district that, according to various socio-political organisations, including the local CPM, CPI and CPI (M-L), is depleting water resources in the area. These organisations have been seeking the plant’s closure for the last six months.

But things hotted up after A.K. Antony, the Congress-led United Democratic Front government’s chief minister, revealed that it was the last CPM-led Left Democratic Front regime that had given permission to set up the unit.

As Antony’s revelation was backed up by documentary evidence, the LDF could not refute it. The disclosure came up for discussion at the state committee, which concluded on Wednesday, triggering controversy within the CPM. Former chief minister E.K. Nayanar reportedly said he was not aware how permission was given to set up the plant in Platchimada.

Immediately, Achutanandan called for an intra-party inquiry on how the plant was set up without the then chief minister’s knowledge and even told newsmen the party was all set to investigate the matter.

Vijayan, in response, held another news conference that rejected Achutanandan’s suggestion. The CPI came out with a statement saying the CPM should apologise to the people of Kerala for allowing the plant.

Indications were that Achutanandan’s purpose in asking for the inquiry was to fix T. Sivadasa Menon, CPM central committee member and former finance minister, who apparently had a major role in bringing the plant to his home district of Palakkad. CPM sources said he also hoped to strengthen his base among the rank and file.

The CPI was trying to legitimise its position vis-à-vis the agitation against Coca-Cola, which has attracted the support of social activists like Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy.

Vijayan admitted that the LDF government had erred in granting permission to set up the plant without conducting a study, “particularly without examining the availability of water”. But he was categorical that the entire government was responsible and there was no need to initiate an inquiry or punish one leader or the other.

CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet, who is in Kochi, ruled out any formal party inquiry but said he would examine the issue, adds PTI.

Vijayan added that an LDF error does not mean that the present government can wash its hands of the issue. “The problem faced by the people in the area is real and the present government should take measures to solve it,” he pointed out.

The CPM state committee has decided to continue its support to the agitation. But its members as well as the rank and file fear the issue might cause more trouble for the CPM.

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