Vizhinjam, a coastal town located two kilometres south of Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram, is simmering with widespread protests against the construction of a private port by the richest person in India, Gautam Adani. The people living in this coastal town, mostly fishermen, are protesting against the Adani-led construction of Vizhinjam International seaport.
The protests, which have been continuing for the past 140 days, have been called off temporarily, following talks between the protest committee and state government in Kerala, which is controlled by the Left Democratic Front (LDF): a coalition of left-wing political parties, with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) at its head, which under the leadership of Pinarayi Vijayan has controlled the state government since 2016.
The agreement for Vizhinjam port was signed in 2015 by the Congress-led UDF (United Democratic Front) government, but the CPI(M)-led government has continued the project since taking over, and has allied itself with Modi-led central government against the protestors, including its attempts to crush the movement by force.
Adani is both the richest person in India and the second-richest person in the world, whose net worth skyrocketed from $9 billion in 2020 to $127 billion this year. Born in the Indian state of Gujarat into a middle-class family, the exponential rise in Adani's fortunes in the last two decades is closely linked with the rise of Modi in Indian politics. Modi became the chief minister of Gujarat in 2001 and continued until 2014, when he became the Prime Minister of India. As the privatisation policies of the Modi government have accelerated in the past two years, so have Adani’s fortunes: while the majority of Indians have endured misery and hardship from the pandemic, and the current international economic crisis.
Adani has been the biggest beneficiary from the loot and plunder of state enterprises under the name of privatisation. Starting with acquiring the Mundra port in Gujarat after its privatisation more than two decades ago, the Adani Group owns eight airports and 13 seaports. It has tentacles wrapped around the media, defence and cement sectors and has a special licence from Indian Railways to operate several cargo trains for its ports.
Adani also owns a 74 percent share in Mumbai International Airport, which is the second-busiest airport in India after Delhi. Shamefully, India’s so-called Communist Parties are amongst those who have supported the bloodthirsty capitalists and in their private construction projects, which has negatively affected the livelihoods of local people and environment.
Vizhinjam port will be India's first “mega trans-shipment container terminal". The project includes a deep-sea water port and container terminal at Vizhinjam, which could handle Mega Max container ships, and after completion will be able to handle 6.2 million twenty-foot equivalent units of cargo capacity (TEUs). But this whole project is a disaster not only for the environment and ecosystem but also for the livelihoods of thousands of families, who have been living in this area for centuries.
Kerala is among few states in India which still has a big presence of Communist Parties. The Stalinist left, led by CPI(M), opposed this project when they were in opposition. Vijayan at the time said:
“What is being implemented through the Vizhinjam project is colossal corruption by exchanging land worth Rs. 60,000 million to the Adani Group under the pretext of development.”
But after the Vijayan-led government came to power in 2016, they continued the project. The estimated cost of construction for the Adani seaport project is around $900 million at the moment. The Kerala government will also invest huge amounts of money in various aspects of the project, which will be owned by the Adani group for at least 40 years.
According to the agreement, the Adani Vizhinjam Port Company will develop the port on a ‘build, finance, operate and transfer’ basis. 81 percent of the project cost will be financed by the Kerala government and remaining mere 19 percent will be invested by Adani, which means that only Rs. 24540 million from Rs. 12,5000 million will be invested by Adani Ports. The land of 190 acres transferred to Adani ports can be pledged as a loan.
Also, Adani doesn’t need to pay a single penny to the government for the next 15 years, and if profit comes in after that, he will be obliged to share just one percent with the government. After the project is implemented it is estimated that Adani port will reap a profit of Rs. 800,000 million, while the state will shoulder the lion’s share of the costs. Normally contract periods for such projects are 30 years, the one awarded to the Adani Port Company is for 40 years, which will help Adani to reap additional profits of Rs.29,2170 million.
In 2017, serious irregularities and corruption were disclosed in an official report. According to the report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), Kerala government will lose around Rs. 56,080 million in the concessional period of 40 years of operations. The report also says that the agreement was prepared to favour Adani rather than the state, and that the tendering process was also flawed.
Even V.S Achuthanandan, another leader of CPI(M), the then-Chairman of the Administrative Reforms Commission sent a letter to Vijayan opposing the project and to order a judicial enquiry. During the initial stage of the project itself, it has stated that it will be a huge loss to Kerala state, which is already debt ridden to the tune Rs.3.5 lakh crore (3,500,000,000,000).
Impact on the environment and livelihoods
The Environmental Ministry granted clearance to the project in 2011, but many experts have noted that it is a huge disaster for the environment and will change the pattern of sea currents along with accelerating coastal erosion.
A total of 450 hectares of land will be used for the construction of the project, which will include reclaiming 120 hectares of sea and dredging of the seabed as well. The port development has already seen nearly 600 metres of shore lost to erosion, which has left hundreds of locals homeless, who are now staying at relief camps. Five rows of houses have been lost in Velayutham.
The famous Shamkhumkham beach of Kerala and Veli tourist village has also been lost to coastal erosion. The construction of a breakwater (artificial sea walls) has also led to wave intensification, which has already led to the loss of 60 lives. Fishermen will be unable to go fishing due to the sea port project and this will affect the livelihoods of 50,000 families in the area.
The biodiversity and fish population of the sea is also severely affected due to the project. Activists allege that the construction of the project requires more stones and granite, which can only be acquired by large-scale mining and quarrying, and would further aggravate the ecological damage around the famous Western Ghats in Kerala. Changes in climate patterns have already occurred, which led recently to intense rainfall and landslides, which claimed many lives in Kerala. India is already at the top of the list among the countries being affected by climate change and this project, and Adani coal power plants elsewhere across the country are further adding to this disaster.
A large number of fishermen protested at the entrance gate of the Multipurpose Seaport Project Company in Mullor village for 140 days, an action that was suspended temporarily on 6 December after talks with the government. Earlier the construction work was stopped on 23 August after the protesters barged into the construction site. The protest has been led by the Vizhinjam Action Council. Fishermen from nearly 40 coastal villages of the region participated in the protest.
The protest led to violence on 27 November, when the police of a Communist-led state government attacked the protestors. The protest committee also alleged the influence of the external forces in the violence. Five protesters were arrested by the Vizhinjam police, which led to ransacking of the police station by protesters. Nearly 2,000 protesters vandalised police stations and set police vehicles on fire.
The corporate media houses like News 18, The Print, Kaumady, Deshabhimani, Janam are spreading misinformation about the protesters and backing the Adani Ports Company. The high court of Kerala also accepted contempt proceedings against the protestors for not stopping the protest. As usual, the courts played a reactionary role by intervening and ending the protest in the interests of capital.
Ruling parties all on the same page
The ruling class in India has always used communal violence and religious hatred to divide and crush the movements of the working class. The Kerala government is no exception to this. Most of the fishermen being affected by this project belong to the Christian religion, which is why the ruling class, led by Adani, is using both Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists, whom they usually pit against each other, to provoke violence against the protestors. In a show of rare unity, fundamentalists belonging to Hindu and Islamic religious organisations have joined to support Adani.
The protest movement was spontaneous at the start, without any clear leadership or support from any political parties. In the absence of political or working-class leadership, a number of Catholic priests have emerged as accidental leaders. The protest is currently led by Archdiocese of Latin Catholic church Thiruvananthapuram, and includes other activists as well, in the name of Vizhinjam Action Committee. The police have booked Archbishop Thomas J. Netto and 15 other priests, among others, for taking part in alleged violence. Meanwhile, the development of the port is supported by reactionary caste-ist outfits like NSS, SNDP and other groups.
The CPI(M) government stated in the high court of Kerala that it did not oppose deploying forces from the central government to crush the protests. The Minister of Fisheries in the Kerala government, V. Abdurahiman called the protesters ‘anti-national’. This is the same language used by Modi and other leaders of RSS and BJP against the movements of the masses. Whether they are students of the universities of Delhi, or farmers from Punjab and Haryan, anyone protesting for their rights is called anti-national by the ruling elite.
The BJP, Congress and CPI(M) are on the same page in supporting the project, whereas there are very few organisations opposing it. The Stalinist left led by CPI(M) has no alternative to the pro-capitalist policies of Congress and Modi led BJP government. More than a decade ago, the CPI(M) lost its support in West Bengal in 2010, after ruling for three decades, as the working class had experienced the horrific character of the bourgeois state, despite being led by Communists.
The watershed event there was the Nandigram incident, where police opened fire on protesting farmers who were agitating to get back their land snatched by the state. The leadership of the Left Front bowed before the Tata company at that time and was following similar policies as they are doing now in Kerala. The left government in West Bengal snatched land from peasants for corporate development, which led to fierce protest of masses and the fall of the left government. Presently the strength and support of the Left Front has been lost to right wing parties like TMC and BJP in Bengal. The CPI(M) has learned nothing from the experience of Bengal, and are following the same policies in Kerala, which is now the only state in India where the left is in power.
Crisis of Stalinism
The Stalinist parties in India follow the same pro-corporate policies of Congress and BJP in the states where they rule. Their policy of class collaboration, forming political alliances with bourgeoisie parties like Congress, RJD in Bihar and DMK in Tamil Nadu and others, has also led to their declining influence among the working class. The Stalinist leadership of these parties in India follows the so-called two-stage theory, justifying alliances with bourgeois parties with the idea that India needs a bourgeois-democratic revolution before we can talk about socialism. In so doing, they sacrifice the working class on the altar of capitalism.
It is clear now that the capitalist system across the world and in India has entered a blind alley and is unable to play any part in the progress of humanity. It is using all the resources on the planet to enrich the ruling class and is pushing the majority of the population into poverty, hunger and disease. The damage to the climate being caused by this capitalist system is immense, and is endangering life on earth. The only way out for the working class is to overthrow this monstrous capitalist system through a socialist revolution and replace the anarchic market economy with a planned economy that can benefit the human race.
It is important that the workers and revolutionaries across India support the protests of fishermen in Kerala and link this movement with the general movement of the working class in the state and across the country. Only an independent mobilisation of the working class, and organising an indefinite general strike, can end such attacks of the ruling class on the livelihoods of workers from all sectors. A general strike will also hasten the end of Modi’s rule, and will pose the question of power in India: who rules, the bourgeois or the workers?
Ever since the 1991 economic reform, leading to the opening of the economy to the world market, there has been widespread privatisation of all sectors. The current Modi government and earlier governments have been unable to solve the crises of unemployment, inflation and other burning issues faced by the working class. The only solution they present is privatisation of the public sector, including healthcare, banking, insurance, ports, railways, mines and many others. When faced with class anger and struggle Modi and the corporate media use misinformation and try to divide the masses on religious and caste lines.
The Vizhinjam project would further squeeze the working class of that region but stuff the pockets of Modi's corporate friends like Adani. It will also aggravate the miserable plight of the suffering masses, who were brutalised by the pandemic and are now facing an economic slowdown. The protest has been temporarily called off but further protests will follow, as it is unlikely that the government will fulfil its promises. The Stalinist leadership of CPI, CPI(M), CPI(ML) have become politically bankrupt but still they have a following among millions of workers, who have no alternative to the left of these parties at the moment.
It is the duty of the Marxists to take the message of genuine Marxism to the workers of these parties and also organise independently. Only huge solidarity and support for the movement in Kerala and across the country by the working class can stop the Adani Vizhinjam project.
- Fulfil the demands of Vizhinjam Action Council (VAC)!
- Form an expert committee to study the environmental impact of the project!
- Withdraw criminal cases against the masses!
- Solidarity with the fishermen!