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Kerala ‘miracle’ on hold

Thiruvananthapuram, Oct. 12: A.K. Antony’s “miracle” package to rehabilitate Muslim families on a riot-scarred beach in Kerala has been suspended midway with fishermen from the majority community objecting to the immediate return of those who fled after a massacre in May.

By this evening, the district administration had brought 54 families back to Marad in northern Kerala, taking the total number of families which returned since the start of the government-sponsored rehabilitation on Friday to 184.

Around 70 families are still left behind in the relief camps. The families had fled for fear of a backlash in Marad, where Sangh parivar outfits had accused them of aiding assailants who came in from the sea and killed eight Hindus on May 2.

The partial freeze on rehabilitation was in stark contrast with the progress made in the past two days when the refugee families arrived in batches and the government kept its word of distributing compensation totalling Rs 1.46 crore to the bereaved Hindu families and the injured.

The package was drawn up on Gandhi Jayanti as part of a landmark agreement involving both the communities. Chief minister Antony, who succeeded in winning the endorsement of both the Muslim League and the Sangh parivar for the agreement, had described it as a “miracle”.

The breakthrough had also helped Antony silence his bitter rival in the Congress, K. Karunakaran, who was threatening to transform the Marad deadlock into a lethal weapon against the chief minister.

The setback to the package today is expected to gift the dissidents another opportunity to target Antony, who is still nursing the wounds of a crushing bypoll debacle.

The sight of a Hindu family offering tea and snacks to its former neighbours and vouchsafing for their wellbeing on Saturday had kindled hopes of a quick return to normality on the beach. But the administration’s “inept handling” had thrown a spanner into the works.

A committee of Hindu fishermen, the Araya Samajam, alleged that the administration had violated a hidden term of the agreement which said families of the accused would be shifted only towards the fag-end lest it should provoke families of slain Hindus.

The district collector said he was not told about the unwritten part of the pact. If he was, he would not have brought the families from the relief camp, the official said.

After putting the programme on hold this evening, the administration has parked some of the left-out families at a school near the Marad beach.

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