Agitation spearheaded by two forums

Even as the protest over the garbage treatment plant at Vilappilsala is steaming ahead, with the public rejecting the verbal assurances conveyed by the government through poet Sugathakumari on Monday, silent cracks appear to be surfacing between the main faces of the agitation.

The protest at present has two outfits spearheading it—the Vilappilsala Janakeeya Samithi (VJS) led by S. Burhan, which actually began the protest a decade ago; and the recently constituted Samyuktha Samara Samithi (SSS), led by panchayat president S. Shobana Kumari and comprising mostly ward members of the panchayat who bear allegiance to various political parties.

Though it was the VJS, with its daily sit-ins at the protest pandal near the plant at Nedumkuzhi from January 2011 that prompted the closure of the factory in December 2011, it now appears the SSS has taken over the reins. Ms. Sugathakumari, according to a VJS activist, met only Ms. Sobhana Kumari and her supporters to convey the message from the government, and though she was requested to visit the Nedumkuzhi pandal too, she returned after the public rejected the government’s assurances in front of the SSS pandal, which is at the panchayat main square.

SSS leaders maintained that the talk of cracks and shadows of doubt cast over them were the handiwork of vested interests trying to weaken the agitation while VJS activists, who would take out a long march from Nedumkuzhi to the Secretariat on Wednesday, indicated that they were feeling sidelined.

“We were not invited for any talks. But we do not have problems with Ms. Shobana Kumari since they too have the raised the same demand—to close the plant and so we have declared our support for that cause. However, the very formation of the Samyuktha Samara Samithi, when the VJS was successfully carrying forward the agitation, has raised concerns among the public here. In fact, when Ms. Sugathakumari announced the government’s proposals, it was not the SSS leaders who rejected it, but the public gathered there,” the activist said. “Politicians here have always been edgy and though they were here with us, the advent of the SSS saw them moving over to there. Though the public respect and support the panchayat president’s fast, there is still a sense of apprehension whether there is a covert move by external forces to sideline the Vilappilsala Janakeeya Samithi and gradually weaken the agitation. However, the public are aware of all these moves and still support us,” the VJS activist said.