On December 4, the Nava Kerala Sadas, an ambitious outreach initiative of Kerala's Pinarayi Vijayan government, crossed the halfway mark as it reached the central district of Thrissur.
THE WEEK undertook a journey from the state capital to Thrissur, dubbed the cultural capital of Kerala, to witness this unique programme, where the entire Cabinet tours all the 140 constituencies in the state.
Thrissur is currently a battleground for the ruling party CPI(M), facing challenges due to significant frauds exposed in the Karuvannur Cooperative Bank—a party-controlled entity for four decades—and the alleged involvement of party leaders in these activities.
But many believe the controversy is unlikely to affect the chances of the party. Linshad, an autorickshaw driver affiliated with the left union CITU, believe these issues might not have a substantial electoral impact on the party. "Because the opposition does not know how to take advantage of the situation. Just imagine if the roles were reversed—Congress leaders involved in the fraud and CPI(M) on the other side—then Kerala would have witnessed massive protests."
When asked if he would attend the evening public event of Nava Kerala Sadas, Linshad replied, "Why should I? I am not an active party member or anything." His words, interestingly, seemed to imply that Nava Kerala Sadas was more of a party event than a government programme.
The last public event on December 5, which will see the cabinet presenting itself before the public, was scheduled to commence at 6 pm at the renowned Thekkinkadu Maidan, known for hosting the spectacular cultural festival Thrissur Pooram.
Seventeen counters were set up to receive complaints and petitions from people, including special counters for women and the elderly. Though it was the final hours for accepting petitions, there was no noticeable large rush.
THE WEEK approached a government official from the Revenue Department to inquire about public participation. The official mentioned that the counters had been open since the morning, and many had already submitted their petitions. "The petitions collected at the Nava Kerala Sadas will be sorted and sent to the respective departments," the official explained. "Action on these petitions should be taken within 15 days, and people have the option to track the status of their petition online."
On the significance of this process, given the existence of a grievance redressal system based on collectorates in the state, the official responded, "Here, all the petitions will be considered with VIP status!"
According to data, the inaugural day of Nava Kerala Sadas in Thrissur alone saw over 17,000 petitions submitted to the government, with the majority slated to be handled by the Revenue Department in the upcoming days.
Sreeja Madathil, a 42-year-old woman from Olari, arrived with a petition seeking government assistance for housing. As a worker in Kudumbashree’s Haritha Karma Sena—a waste management initiative of the state government—Madathil, along with her colleagues, filed the petition in her work uniform. Supporting her family solely on her daily wage of Rs 500 since her husband, a former paint worker, developed epilepsy, she also cares for her aged mother-in-law and unwell sister-in-law.
"We pay Rs 6,000 in rent monthly. We own no land and no house. We have submitted multiple petitions in the past to secure a house under the Life Mission [a housing project of the state government], but unfortunately, we did not succeed."
On whether she anticipates a positive outcome this time, Madathil replied in the affirmative. She also shared a rumour: "The minister would read out our names during the public event."
The venue had over 10,000 chairs. Onstage, caricaturist and comedian Jayaraj Warrier entertained the audience with performances, intermittently lauding the Pinarayi Vijayan government. While the chairs remained partially unoccupied, E V Micheal, a slender man of short stature, stood near the last row, observing Warrier's show. He told us she suffered a stroke in 2019, displaying a stiff hand.
However, he was not there to submit a petition, but for his regular evening walk. In slurred words, caused by the stroke, Micheal spoke about the complaints he previously lodged with the revenue divisional office of Ayyanthol.
He lives with his ailing mother and has submitted two complaints in the past, the most recent was in January 2023, regarding his siblings attempting to take control of their property while refusing to care for their mother. "No action was taken. Recently, when I visited the RDO office, the official mentioned that they were occupied with this event [Nava Kerala Sadas]."
Indeed, the entire state apparatus is currently dedicated to the proceedings of Nava Kerala Sadas. A policeman, originally stationed in a local station in Wayanad but now assigned in Nava Kerala Sadas, quipped: "Ith kazhiyunna vare namuku ottam thane… [We have to run from pillar to post till the event ends)".
Besides these public gatherings, Nava Kerala Sadas also includes the Chief Minister meeting with "paura pramukhar" (eminent personalities) from each locality for breakfast, an exercise aimed to help him learn the sentiments of the people.
On December 5, this breakfast event took place at the Dass Continental business hotel. Madhavi, the 'oorumooppathy' (tribal settlement head) of Olakara Adivasi Ooru, was among the guests. (As Nava Kerala Sadas reaches its midpoint, the government is now making conscious efforts to ensure adequate representation of marginalised sections in these breakfast sessions to defend the criticism that the CM is meeting only VIPs personally.)
Madhavi raised a longstanding request for land on behalf of 44 families in the ooru—an appeal they have been pursuing for over two decades. The CMO office later informed the media that the government is actively progressing with measures to address Madhavi's request.
At Thekkinkadu venue by 5:45 pm, almost all chairs were occupied, and three cabinet ministers had taken the stage. Thrissur MLA P. Balachandran invited Irrigation Minister Roshy Augustine to address the audience. He used the next 25 minutes to focus on the achievements of the Pinarayi Vijayan government and criticise the opposition for boycotting the Nava Kerala Sadas. As anticipated, he also addressed the Union government's "negligence" toward Kerala.
Following this, Industries Minister P. Rajeev delivered a 30-minute speech, emphasising the innovative and advanced projects that Kerala was embracing, particularly in 22 priority sectors to ensure sustainable economic growth for the state. The minister also criticised the opposition UDF and the BJP government at the Centre.
By 6:50 pm, Agriculture Minister P Prasad began his speech, coinciding with the arrival of the chief minister and other cabinet ministers in the special Benz luxury coach purchased by the government for this event. Fireworks burst when the chief minister took the stage for the next 10 minutes as Minister Prasad began highlighting the government's positive initiatives and launched an attack on the opposition.
The organising committee presented mementoes to all the cabinet ministers on the dais. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan then addressed the crowd, reiterating the positive accomplishments of the successive LDF governments and highlighting the perceived shortcomings of the opposition, including their boycott of the Keralayeem event and Nava Kerala Sadas. In line with expectations, he also touched upon the Union government's "negligence" towards Kerala.
As his approximately 30-minute speech concluded, another round of fireworks—this time of shorter duration—commenced. Unfortunately, THE WEEK was unable to meet Madathil after the event to ascertain whether she was disappointed that her name or any other petition was not mentioned by any ministers during the proceedings.