A.S. Ponnanna

By P.T. Bopanna

They say in politics, there are no permanent enemies, but only permanent interests. This was proved to the hilt when so-called political adversaries from Kodagu (Coorg) in Karnataka came together on the same platform a couple of days ago.

The occasion was a meeting called to oppose the Kasturirangan report on preserving the Western Ghat forests.

Every sensible resident of Kodagu knows that unless the report is implemented, Kodagu will face environment disaster. The warning signs are already there and the tiny district located on the slopes of Western Ghats was devastated by landslides a few years ago.

If there is no regulation to check damage to the fragile environment of Kodagu, you will have businesses like Marriott who built cottages and villas with swimming pools in the village of Makkandur which suffered huge landslides in 2018.

We all know that the newly elected Virajpet Congress MLA A.S. Ponnanna, is a well-informed politician who has held high posts in the government. I am convinced that Ponnanna is aware of the ecologically sensitive nature of Kodagu and personally would be interested in the implementation of the Kasturirangan report to save the fragile environment of Kodagu.

But he cannot take an independent stand on this issue because his leader Siddaramaiah is opposed to the report. Not that chief minister Siddaramaiah is anyway bothered about Kodagu beyond celebrating Tipu Jayanthi, but the chief minister is reportedly guided in these matters by his close cabinet colleague whose family was into timber business.

In the circumstances, it was not surprising to see the present Congress MLAs from Kodagu, being seen on the same platform with the previous BJP MLAs.

It was a rare photograph to see sworn political enemies Ponnanna and K.G. Bopaiah, the defeated BJP MLA from Virajpet, smiling at one another, as though they were long-lost friends.

Being a shrewd politician, Bopaiah did not personally abuse Ponnanna during the election campaign, but deployed theatre personality Addanda Cariappa to badmouth Ponnanna!

The same goes for Appachu Ranjan, the BJP candidate who was defeated by Mantar Gowda of the Congress from Madikeri constituency. Videos of their meeting showed much bonhomie, though a few months ago, Ranjan had claimed that Mantar was an ‘outsider’ and had no locus standi to represent the constituency.

Though only a few dozen villages in Kodagu come under the ecologically sensitive zone (ESZ), politicians in Kodagu had wrongly claimed from the beginning that the implementation of the report would affect the entire district.

Politicians resorted to disinformation campaign at the instance of the Kerala timber lobby who were worried that the implementation of the report would adversely affect their business.

It is no secret that the main source of political funding in Kodagu is done by the Kerala timber merchants.

A few years ago, when the BJP had called Kodagu bandh on a forest issue, the bandh was supported also by the Congress. I think in the entire country, Kodagu is the only place where a BJP bandh is supported by the Congress!

Further, many planters who have encroached on forest lands are worried that the report would harm their interests.

Therefore, it is not surprising there is so much opposition to the report. The only exception could be a few environmentalists like Col C.P. Muthanna, who want the entire district to be turned ESZ to prevent an ecological disaster which is bound to happen if the report is not implemented.  

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