Boards and posters had come up nearly a month ago, warning politicians to stay away from homes in Pallichal grama panchayat, where the residents were on a protest against the quarrying activity on the Mookunnimala hills. On Thursday, when the State went to vote, it was a mixed pot of expressions in the panchayat.
While several voters, mostly members of the protest council and their family members, said they did not, and would not, cast their votes, they did not prevent anyone from exercising their right to vote. The rest of the public too, did not seem too enthusiastic about voting. Many said they wanted to go for the NOTA option, others said they would vote, but their preferences would remain secret, and at the same time, express their anger over the unabated razing down of the hills.
The public in the panchayat had taken to the streets several times this year, with the latest protest being on April 2, when they staged a sit-in before the Pallichal panchayat office, demanding the revocation of renewed licences given to quarrying units.
Manoj, one of the protesters, said the protest council had organised a trip for the children of the panchayat to the hills on Wednesday, to ‘give them a glimpse of what the hills looked like’ before they vanished forever. However, a few miscreants tried to create trouble there, they said, allegedly with the tacit support of a few political quarters. The protest, however, would continue, they asserted.Master plan issue
At Kattayikkonam, meanwhile, the residents, who had all along threatened to boycott the polls, lined up in front of the polling booths on Thursday. Once they finished voting, they were back at the protest venue, a makeshift tent erected beside the Kazhakuttam-Venjaramoodu bypass. In front of the venue is a picture of a smiling donkey, with a caption likening it to the smile of politicians during election season. The protest here, now in its fourth phase, was expected to fizzle out after the government order in February announcing the freezing of the Draft Master Plan 2031, which had marked for acquisition residential plots in these areas. The residents here see the temporary withdrawal of the master plan as an election plan, a perception which made them continue the protests.
“All of us had decided together that we will boycott the elections. The different political parties were apprehensive of campaigning here owing to our strong stand. But two days ago, we had a meeting in which we decided to vote according to our conscience,” says Suresh Sasthavattom of the Kattayikkonam Janakeeya Samara Samithi.
Even in neighbouring Attipra, which witnessed protests against the master plan, the issue got sidelined once the elections got closer. “One of the major political parties tried to cash in on the issue, but it did not work out as they expected, as the public saw through this ploy,” said K. Mohanan, a resident of the area.