And The ‘Jatha’ Season Is Back

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Flaunting strength The CPM takes out its Navakerala Yatra led by leader Pinarayi Vijayan
Flaunting strength The CPM takes out its Navakerala Yatra led by leader Pinarayi Vijayan

In Kerala, political processions better known as ‘jathas’ (Malayalam for march) have become a way of life. Despite major changes in the way outreach is done today, the political parties of the state are still fond of jathas to connect with people. This time also, various parties in Kerala have announced as many as eight jathas so far. Two of them, by the Congress and the CPM, have already taken off.

The Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) was the first to organise a procession in the state on 4 January. The Jana Raksha Yatra, as the jatha organised by KPCC is called, was led by president VM Sudheeran. The party that has been ruling the state for the last five years is presently facing multiple corruption charges including the infamous bar scandal and solar scam. Through the jatha, Sudheeran aims to polish his image and motivate the lower rungs of the party. According to Sudheeran, the jatha aims to “free the state from crime and liquor” apart from educating people about the achievements of the Oommen Chandy government and the “anti-people” policies of the central government.

The opposition, however, is critical of Sudheeran’s tall claims. Many of his political counterparts are asking why a ruling party has to conduct a procession to ‘liberate people’. “His (Sudheeran’s) yatra aims at liberating the people of Kerala from the United democratic Front’s (UDF) misrule,” said CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan taking a jibe at the name of the jatha which itself seems to suggest that the last five years of Chandy’s rule were “miserable” for people.

The next to hit the road was CPM leader Pinarayi Vijayan with the ‘Navakerala Yatra’ on 15 January. Vijayan is all set to lead the party in the upcoming Assembly elections. The jatha led by the former state secretary of the party has taken off in style from Manjeswaram in Kasargod. With the jatha, Vijayan also wants to change his image but the UDF government decided to move the high court seeking an early hearing of the revision petitions challenging the CBI court’s decision to acquit Vijayan in the SNC Lavalin corruption case the very day he started the campaign.

The BJP too, optimistic from electoral gains in last November’s local body elections and the alliance with caste organisations in the state, has announced a ‘Vimochna Yatra’ under the leadership of their newly inducted party president Kummanam Rajasekharan. The jatha will commence from Kasargod on 20 January with the main slogans of food, water, job, land, and justice for all. Other parties planning to take out their jathas include — The Communist Party of India (CPI), Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), Indian National League (INL), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Forward Bloc and Trinamool Congress.

Jathas have been an old mode for political as well as religious leaders of the state to interact with the people. Earlier, people would assemble in large numbers to listen to their leader’s address. Today, party workers are the only ones who participate in the jathas.

With the advent of electronic and social media, the relevance of these processions has come down. Today, the jathas are a show of strength and an exercise in energising party cadre rather than a medium of outreach. The political slogans these jathas raise have become redundant and the people think that they are a huge waste of money for which the burden has to be borne by the common man.

When asked about the relevance of these jathas, R Krishnakumar, a teacher by profession, says, “Everyone conducts them to show their political strength. The very slogans by political parties, especially the Congress and CPM, have become repetitive and redundant. Parties should resort to more reasonable ways to campaign; the time has come to stop these futile acts.”