A capital crisis in Kerala

Kochi is already bursting at its seams

Capital comes from the Latin capitalis, which means ‘head’. The head ought to be on top of the body. But look at the map of Kerala. The head, the state’s capital, is where the foot ought to be. No wonder, Malayalis—that includes this columnist—are at loggerheads with most other Indians on most issues. They still vote the left, and tuck their dhotis to the right. Even the Tamils, their first cousins across the ghats, do neither.

Hibi Eden, the Congress MP from Ernakulam, thought he could try make a change. Not a change of the Malayali heart which still beats for Castro and bleeds for Cuba, but a change of their political head. He has given notice for moving a bill in the Lok Sabha seeking to shift the state’s capital from Thiruvananthapuram in the south to Kochi, which falls within his constituency in central Kerala.

Capital idea!—most non-Malayalis would say. For four reasons. One, Kochi is better air-linked to the rest of the world. Two, Kochi is better road- and rail-linked to the rest of Kerala and to all its god’s own and god-forsaken places. Three, Kochi offers more business. Four, Kochi yields easily to any non-Malayali tongue, unlike Thiruvananthapuram.

Illustration: Bhaskaran Illustration: Bhaskaran

Yes, three quarters of a century after the British left, and three decades after the Englishman’s Trivandrum became our Thiruvananthapuram again, most Indians find the place name as unpronounceable as floccinaucinihilipilification or quomodocunquize. Don’t know what those two words mean, or how to pronounce them? Ask Thiruvananthapuram’s own MP who gets votes with his vocabulary videos that have been going viral.

All the same, the Eden idea has sent his party into a tizzy. Worried that it would cost them votes in Thiruvananthapuram where the Vamanas from the north have been seeking to get a foothold and send Kerala’s socialistic asuras into the netherworld, his party bosses have come down on Eden like a tonne of coconuts.

What do Malayalis in Kerala’s Clapham Common think of Eden’s idea? Most have dismissed it as Tughlaqian. (Sad, we laugh at Muhammad bin for his disastrous Delhi-to-Daulatabad capital shift, but forget that the illustrious Akbar built a dream city in Fatehpur Sikri and abandoned it after 15 years finding it didn’t have enough water.) Malayalis would rather let things remain as they are—political power and all its paraphernalia with Thiruvananthapuram, leaving Kochi to mind its business, literally. Kochi is already bursting at its seams, and the people of the city wouldn’t want another 140 MLAs and ministers, hundreds of babus, and thousands of hangers-on coming in to claim their few houses, hostels, narrow roads and shrinking parking spaces.

Moreover, they know that Eden’s is only a private member bill. Though all MPs are law-makers and any MP can move a bill, laws are actually made from bills introduced by governments. (Not so in the American system where the government is not part of the legislature. All bills in the US Congress are presented by private members.) Private member bills in the Westminster system are those which have been introduced by members—ruling or opposition—other than ministers. In India they are gracefully taken up for discussion on Fridays, and usually withdrawn over assurances from the government that the principle and purpose contained in them have been noted. Hundreds of such private member bills have been presented in the two houses of Parliament since 1952, but only 14 have finally been made into laws.

What capital assurance is Eden seeking from the regime?