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Updated: March 31, 2014 11:36 IST
Corridors of Power

An un-Healthy poll ploy?

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V.S. Achuthanandan. File photo
The Hindu V.S. Achuthanandan. File photo

Is there more to than meets the eye in VS’s raking up of the drug trials issue

When politicians speak, they have their targets well in sight but, often, their intentions go well beyond the reach of commoners’ cognitive faculties. No wonder Leader of the Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan’s recent criticism of the so-called ‘drug trials’ conducted as part of the Kerala Health Observatory Project has caught many public health activists by surprise.

Many officials in the health department wonder what caused the octogenarian leader to ‘suddenly raise the issue’ when Health Minister V. S. Sivakumar had announced in the Assembly sometime ago that the project, which never involved any drug trial, had been shelved. The Minister, they recall, had also clarified that the project, sought to be conducted in association with Canada-based Population Health Research Institute, involved only collecting details on the morbidity and mortality patterns with regard to the high prevalence non-communicable diseases in the Kerala population. An advisory body comprising top health officials and well-known academics and public health activists oversaw the entire exercise, the findings of which were not handed over to any foreign entity.

Many officials wonder privately whether the Leader of the Opposition had been briefed wrongly about the project by sections not disposed well towards such Health Department initiatives. Since allegations regarding drug trials have always been a politically sensitive topic in Kerala, many health officials wondered whether the entire episode was an election-eve propaganda gimmick, but there was no quick answer coming.

Lesson on how not to…

Lessons on ‘How-to’ are becoming popular with aspiring young leaders of all parties as the election campaign peaks. First it was the KPCC which decided to train its young leaders on public speaking. Soon, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) too decided to follow suit. The only problem, as some of those who attended one of these sessions found, was that the training programme left the younger lot a confused bunch.

“Don’t dare drag in subjects into your speech which you are not familiar with,” was the first advice that Social Justice Minister M.K. Muneer, who was one key trainer, gave the participants. “Speak only about issues that you know well about,” the Minister went on as many among the participants looked at each other as if enquiring whether their past speeches fit the bill. Then came the Minister’s second mantra: “Go well prepared and never beat around the bush.” There were no murmurs of disagreement but, as the Minister concluded his address, a few advices and quips, a trainee was heard whispering into another’s ear: “Seems we are going to be left speechless…”

Will he, won’t he?

The absence of Kannur MLA, A.P. Abdullakutty, from the UDF campaign for Congress candidate K. Sudhakaran has raised no eyebrow. For, the charges levelled against him by solar scandal case accused Saritha S. Nair are so serious that many in the Congress find it embarrassing for the candidate to share space with the beleaguered MLA.

Congress leaders in the district admit that Mr. Abdullakutty's political career has been under threat ever since Saritha levelled charges of sexual molestation against the MLA. Congress circles in the district are also abuzz with different theories about Saritha seeking more time to let the police record her statement. Apparently, they say, the MLA is off the hook for now.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy's comment, during his election campaign in the constituency, that Mr. Abdullakutty must face the legal consequences if he is guilty has also sparked fresh interest in the issue among Congressmen, who are inclined to see hidden meanings in both Mr. Abdullakutty’s silence and Saritha’s seeming ‘delaying tactics’. Some Congress leaders had advised the MLA to file a defamation case against Saritha for making charges that have endangered his political career and are waiting for his response. The ball, they say, is now in Mr. Abdullakutty's court.

Vanishing act

Whenever an election is declared, political parties try to literally cash in on the opportunity and that means times of trouble for business people whose lot it is to pay out handsome amounts to the local leaders who descend on their offices and homes with hefty demands. Some cashew industrialists in Kollam appear to be particularly hit what with certain political formations using the opportunity to threaten them into submission. The threat is that if they do not pay up, there would be trouble in the factories in the days to come.

One particular party has slapped receipts for Rs. 10,000 on every factory owner in town with strict instruction that the payment should be made in a week’s time. If that were all, things would not have been difficult for the industrialists to handle. They have also begun to get calls from alliance leaders seeking upwards of Rs. 25,000 and from individual party leaders for donations in the humble range of Rs. 5,000. Harried by the sudden onslaught, some have found it wiser to make themselves scarce after ensuring that some of the real big ones out there are kept in good humour, but not everybody seems to be that lucky.

With inputs from C. Maya (Thiruvananthapuram), Mithosh Joseph (Kozhikode), Mohamed Nazeer (Kannur) and Ignatius Pereira (Kollam)

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