2011- An eventful year for Kerala

Lord Vishnu
Thiruvananthapuram, Dec 20: It was an eventful year for Kerala as the Congress-led UDF voted out the LDF while discovery of treasures in the vaults of the famed Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple drew worldwide attention to 'God's own country' even as tension with Tamil Nadu over the Mullaperiyar Dam escalated.

A gruesome stampede at Pulmedu near Sabarimala hill shrine on Makarsankranthi day claimed lives of 102 pilgrims, most of them from neighbouring Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

Tempers over the long-pending dispute between Tamil Nadu and Kerala rose in December becoming a full-blown crisis for the governments on both sides. A series of mild tremors in Idukki district where the 116-year-old dam is situated, created panic among the people living in the downstream areas.

Kerala wants a new dam to be built arguing that the existing structure is too weak. Tamil Nadu, however, holds that the dam is strong and Kerala's move was meant to annul the 999-year-old lease agreement between the two sides. Water from Mullaperiyar is crucial for farming in five southern districts of Tamil Nadu.

The two-decade-old palmolein corruption scam continued to haunt Kerala, taking an unexpected turn with bureaucrat P J Thomas losing the coveted post of Central Vigilance Commissioner as he is one of the accused in the case in his capacity as Food Secretary when the controversial deal took place in early 1990s when late K Karunakaran was chief minister.

Protests for nationwide ban on production and sale of pesticide Endosulan gained momentum in the state, where nearly 500 people died and scores still suffer serious health problems arising from its use in cashew plantations around cluster of villages in Kasargode district of north Kerala.

The year started with political tempers rising ahead of the Assembly polls in April and even after, the scene remained surcharged.

For the first time, a senior politician went to jail in a corruption case with the Supreme Court sentencing former minister and Kerala Congress (B) leader R Balakirshna Pilli in February.

The state lived up to its reputation of voting to power LDF and UDF alternately but this time the Congress and its allies could manage only a wafer-thin 72 seats in the 140- member house, falling far short of the performance put up in the Lok Sabha polls.

This was attributed to a combination of factors like infighting in the Congress and and widespread apathy towards communally organized constituents in the coalition.

A spirited campaign by Marxist veteran and former chief minister V S Achuthanandan also dented the UDF's prospects though his party was initially hesitant to field him as leader of the LDF.

The Congress could not even emerge as the single largest party in the house while its key allies like the Indian Union Muslim League and the Kerala Congress made handsome gains consolidating their positions in Muslim and Christian dominated areas respectively.

Though state Congress chief Ramesh Chennithala was also elected to the assembly, Oommen Chandy emerged as undisputed choice to head the government considering his popularity, seniority and skills to manage a coalition.

With the death of Kerala Congress (J) leader T M Jacob, the state lost an able politician and administrator. Jacob was food minister in the Oommen Chandy cabinet when he died.

For Kerala politics, it was an year without K Karunakaran, Congress veteran and four time chief ministers who had been a central player in the state for five decades, who died in December last year. His son K Murleedharan, however, made a comeback to Congress politics and got elected to the assembly five years after he left the parent party, whose state unit he headed once.

On the development front, Chandy started his job with the slogan "move fast and get far" to expedite economic progress but got bogged down by vexed issues like Mullaperiyar. However, his mass contact programme, in which instant decisions were taken to grievances of thousands of common people, was widely commended.

The beginning of the work on the much-delayed SmartCity IT park in Kochi was one of the few major projects that got underway during the year while many ambitious schemes like Kochi Metro rail and Kannur airport are yet to take off.

In cultural field, a notable achievement was the best actor national award won by Salim Kumar for his touching performance in "Adaminte makan Abu" (Abu son of Adam), in which he movingly portrayed the role of a street vendor who saves up every single penny to fulfil his lifelong dream of going to Mecca for Haj.

The film, directed by debutante Salim Ahamed, also won honours in the Indian International Film Festival in Goa.

Kerala lost an avant garde cultural figure in the death of Goerge Varghese Kakkanadan, who was among the literary figures who ushered in modernist trends in Malayalam in the early 1970s.

The Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram has always attracted visitors from far and wide due to its structural grandeur and also as the family shrine of the Travancore Royal House, which ruled southern Kerala for centuries.

It was often claimed by old-timers that its underground chambers contained fabulous wealth but not many took it seriously until an inventory conducted on the Supreme Court orders in mid-June found that the temple treasures were much more fabulous than anybody ever thought.

Though the exact monetary value of jewels, gems, stone- studded crowns, trinkets, heavy gold chains, piles of gold and silver coins is yet to be quantified, experts are of the view that wealth would surpass Rs 1 lakh crore by modest reckoning.

The cultural and heritage value of the treasure, according to experts, is well beyond the imagination as discovery of such a huge wealth has been rare anywhere in the world in recent times.

After the stock taking of the five of the six vaults, the precious articles of immense antique value were put back in the cellars and sealed and the security of the temple tightened.

The discovery, which hit headlines worldwide, created a renewed interest in the royal past of Travancore with many writers and commentators praising the princely rulers for zealously guarding such a huge wealth without exhausting them on mundane pleasures or secretly moving to private coffers before the state integrated to the Indian Union in 1947.


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