Above: Election officials removing campaign material of various political parties in Thiruvananthapuram/Photo: UNI
Far from putting their feet up and waiting for the results, some election candidates are showing their concern for the environment by cleaning up and even recycling poll debris
By NV Ravindranathan Nair in Thiruvananthapuram
Voting for the 20 Lok Sabha constituencies in Kerala took place on April 23, 2019, but if you thought that the candidates, tired after a three-week-long campaign, would be heading to Ayurvedic resorts for rejuvenation therapy, you couldn’t be more wrong. Far from putting their feet up and waiting for the results to come out, some of them are going around removing the election debris, cleaning up public spaces and recycling election materials by putting them to new use.
Over the past two months, every nook and cranny of Kerala had been plastered with election posters, placards, hoardings, flags and other poll paraphernalia. But now, some candidates, cutting across party lines, are at the forefront in leading their cadres to undo the damage done not just to the cities and towns but to the environment itself.
While P Rajeev, the Left Democratic Front candidate from Ernakulam constituency, issued directions to the CPI(M) cadres to remove posters and hoardings to clean up the neighbourhood, his BJP rival and Union minister Alphons Kannanthanam has pioneered to clean up the mess in Kochi which falls under Ernakulam constituency. Rajeev’s directions have been received positively by the party workers. Following this, people have started pulling off posters from walls and posting pictures of themselves doing so online.
The BJP’s Thiruvananthapuram candidate and former Mizoram Governor, Kummanam Rajasekharan, who received nearly one lakh shawls from his supporters during his campaign, is more aware of the need for being environment friendly. “Instead of throwing the shawls and other materials away, we want to convert them into value added items and make them of use for the public,” he said. No sooner had polling come to an end, he asked his party colleagues to segregate the materials received. He plans to convert the shawls and other materials into cloth bags, caps and pillow covers. “The aim is to promote the use of nature-friendly items and reduce use of plastic,” he told India Legal. To spread awareness about it, he posted his idea on Facebook with pictures of party workers sorting saffron shawls. Showing a way to those who are concerned about the defacement caused in villages and cities during elections, he has asked the workers to remove all hoardings, wall posters and flex boards that contribute to severe environmental damage in the long run.
Two days after polling was over, he launched the recycling process at a function held at his temporary residence at Sastrinagar in the capital city. As he was aware that leaving the shawls, towels and ponnada (piece of traditional handmade cloth draped on a person as a mark of respect) would become an environmental problem, he decided to convert them into useful products. “After elections, party workers came to segregate the shawls, towels and other items given at the receptions accorded to me during the campaign. Fortunately, we have several self-help groups to convert these materials into value added products,” he pointed out. Kummanam also pointed out that members of the self-help groups and tailoring workers owing allegiance to the BMS and BJP have come forward to undertake the work of converting these items into useful products. Volunteers from the Saigramam, an affiliate of the Satya Sai Baba Trust, have also offered to help out with the work. “By converting these materials into useful products, we actually intend to spread awareness about the importance of keeping the environment clean and pristine. Also, we should learn to make the election process eco-friendly,” he added.
It is not the first time that Kummanam has shown his commitment to environmental protection. Even during his campaign trail, he had joined a team of BJP workers to clean up a temple pond in the city marking the observance of World Water Day. He had also ventured out to distribute lakhs of tree saplings across the state while he holds the post of president of the state BJP.
In the past, it was the Left-wing activists who were seen to be keen about engaging in environmental politics. The pro-Left Kerala Sasthra Sahitya and Progressive Writers Forum had always been in the forefront of agitations to protect the environment. But with time, they seem to have lost fervour as their political leadership started participating in activities that damage the environment in the name of development. The double standards of the political leadership came to the fore with the CPI(M) supporting a Church-sponsored candidate, who wanted the central government to withdraw from the move to implement the Madhav Gadgil report on the Western Ghats, in the 2014 Lok Sabha poll in Idukki constituency. The CPI(M)’s double standards came to the fore again when it fielded PV Anwar, a sitting MLA, as its candidate from Ponnani Lok Sabha constituency. A controversial businessman, Anwar had set up a water theme park in violation of all norms on a hill top in Kozhikode district. Despite the park posing a great environmental threat to the people of the locality, the state government gave it a go-ahead.
It is against this backdrop that Kummanam’s environmental politics is gaining relevance. His pioneering role in the agitation against an airport project at Aranmula from 2014 to 2016 had literally catapulted the Sangh Parivar to the forefront of environmental politics. The BJP’s role in taking up the cause of local people at Keezhattoor in Kannur district, a CPI(M) stronghold, against the construction of a National Highway bypass also helped it gain a pro-environment image though it could not convince the party’s own rulers at the centre to concede the demand of the local people for changing the alignment of the project.
When Shashi Tharoor contested from Thiruvananthapuram for the first time in 2009, immediately after polling was over he was seen removing the wall posters and flex boards to clean up public spaces.
Though it was a symbolic gesture, for the political class, it was an eye-opener, making them realise that it was their responsibility to bring public places to their original state after unleashing such atrocities on nature in the name of elections. But they showed no similar fervour about cleaning up the electoral mess.
Referring to the trend of politicians playing a proactive role in post-election clean-ups, noted environmentalist and writer C Rahim told India Legal that Kerala had attained environment literacy as early as 1980 with the agitation for the preservation of Silent Valley.
The pro-green fervour has since ebbed, but, as Rahim says: “Whatever little efforts a few politicians are making give us a ray of hope.”