Friday / February 22.




By P. Sreekumaran


THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: There is no mistaking it. Narendra Modi’s maiden visit to Kerala as the Prime Minister was a damp squib though the State BJP unit would have us believe that it was a roaring success.


Despite the strenuous efforts of the BJP to put a positive spin on the controversy-marred Modi visit, the stark reality is that it has defeated the very purpose for which Modi undertook the much-hyped visit.


The main purpose of the Modi mission was to unveil at Kollam the statue of former Congress Chief Minister R Shankar with the avowed objective of appropriating the legacy of Shankar like the way the BJP tried to hijack Sardar Vallabbhai Patel.  However the effort came a cropper in a most resounding manner. The most visible sign of the failure of the visit was the snub administered by Shankar’s family members themselves – his son Mohan Shankar and daughter – who stayed away from the function.  If that was bad enough, insult was added to the BJP injury when they attended a prayer meeting, held around the same time a few metres away, by the Congress in front of a statue of Shankar!


Shankar’s family has not taken kindly to the Prime Minister’s attempt to saffronise Shankar by alluding to his so-called ties with the founder of Jana Sangh, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee. The fact is that Shankar remained a dyed in the wool Congressman throughout his life. Modi’s reference was to the Hindu Maha Mandal established by NSS founder Mannath Padmanabhan and Shankar. But it had nothing to do with the RSS.


But the biggest political mistake made by the BJP and Modi was to keep away Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy from the function. Remember, Modi had accused both the Congress-headed United Democratic Front (UDF) and the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front(LDF) of practising political untouchability. But, ironically, Modi himself was guilty of the ‘crime’ when he ensured that the Kerala CM stayed away from the function at Kollam! It is not difficult to divine the reason why Modi and the BJP wanted Chandy out of the function.  It would have been difficult for the Prime Minister to politicise the event in the presence of the Chief Minister, a staunch Congress leader of over 50 years of political career.


The PM also failed to concede any demand from Kerala’s long wish list. The apathy to the state was evident from the fact that the CM and his colleagues were allowed only 10 minute meeting before the PM left from Delhi.


But the indiscreet act proved politically costly for the BJP and Modi as the ban on the CM drew all-round flak. With the exception of the BJP all the parties roundly condemned the insult to the Chief Minister and the people of Kerala.  Even the opposition LDF joined the chorus of condemnation though it blamed the CM as well.  The Modi snub was the direct result of Chandy’s soft policy towards the RSS and the BJP, reasoned the LDF leaders.


Why has the BJP singled out Shankar for saffronisation? The reason is simple. Besides being a tall Congress leader of standing, Shankar was also a prominent Ezhava leader. The strategy was to hijack the Shankar legacy with an eye on the Ezhava vote in the crucial assembly elections four months away. After all, Ezhavas constitute 27 per cent of the Kerala electorate.  That is why Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam general secretary Vellappally Natesan, who has just formed a political party of his own and who will have an alliance with the BJP for the poll battle ahead, wanted the Prime Minister to unveil the statue of Shankar.


But the move could prove counter-productive as a section within the SNDP itself is unhappy about the Natesan move to saffronise what was essentially an SNDP function. The most potent sign of the brewing resentment was the boycott of the function by Shankar’s son Mohan Shankar, who is also a prominent SNDP office-bearer!  In other words, trouble is brewing for Natesan as the growing resentment could snowball into a revolt against his dictatorial style of functioning in the days to come.


In any event, Vellappally has emerged from the sordid episode with egg on his face. After all, it was Natesan who wanted the CM to stay away from the function after inviting him to preside it over! Natesan acted obviously under pressure from the BJP’s central leadership, which did not want Oommen Chandy to be present at the function.  Natesan had to swallow the bitter pill and was forced to personally request Chandy not to attend the function. The whole episode has exposed him to the charge of both the UDF and the LDF of being an RSS-BJP stooge. It has vindicated the allegation made by the LDF and the UDF that Natesan was implementing the Sangh Parivar agenda of communalizing secular Kerala.  This could prove extremely damaging politically for Natesan and his newly-formed party, Bharatiya Dharma Jana Sena(BDJS).


If anybody has gained from the episode, it is Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. For the CM, who had been badly shaken by the stunning disclosures by solar scam accused Biju Radhakrishnan of accepting a bribe of Rs 5 crore, the sympathy generated by the incident has come as a political windfall – manna from the heaven as it were!


Last but not the least, the turn of events denotes a setback to the BJP’s efforts for forging a third front in the bipolar state. The insult to the CM and the people of Kerala theme is resonating the state, and could have an adverse impact on the BJP’s prospect of ‘opening its account’ in the state assembly elections. (IPA Service)