The Congress fears that Muslims will see Pinarayi as their saviour against CAA.
New Delhi: Barely a month after joining hands to protest against the Centre, the Congress and CPM in Kerala are at each other’s throat over the very issue that had brought them together. It was on 16 December 2019 when the sworn enemies in the state had held a sit-in protest in front of the Palayam Martyrs’ Column in state capital Thiruvananthapuram against the Centre’s new Citizenship (Amendment) Act. This move by Congress’s leader of the Opposition, Ramesh Chennithala, was seen by many in the state as the new beginning in an effort to put up a joint front against the Narendra Modi government at the Centre. Two weeks later, on 31 December, the two parties followed up their unity by convening a special session of the State Assembly and unanimously adopted a resolution against the CAA passed by both the Houses of Parliament and approved by the President. Though symbolic in nature with no constitutional implications, by passing such a resolution Kerala became the first state to oppose the Act officially, that too at a time when nation-wide agitations against the Centre’s move were yet to gain momentum.
Since there were some voices of dissent in the Congress over Chennithala sharing the podium with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, notably from KPCC president Mullapplly Ramachandran who stayed away from the function, the party decided against more such joint actions. Till then, in other parts of the country it was the Congress which was raising its voice against the Act, except perhaps in West Bengal where Mamata Banerjee had been vocal about it since the beginning. However, by leading the protest and passing the resolution, Pinarayi Vijayan and the CPM became the rallying point, so it seemed, for the Muslims who form over 23% of the state’s population.
It was then that Pinarayi Vijayan decided to go national. On 10 January, the state government came up with a front page advertisement in all leading English national dailies opposing the CAA, saying “we are one, first – Kerala as a beacon”. The advertisement, with a portrait of a smiling Vijayan under the shade of a coconut leaf, read: ‘The state is leading the efforts to protect Constitutional values. The Kerala Legislative Assembly became the first in the Union to pass a unanimous resolution against the discriminatory CAA… Kerala stayed NPR procedures that can lead to a National Register of Citizens.” It also said that the state continues to lead in the Human Development Index. “The onward march continues,” the ad concluded. Before putting out the ad, Vijayan had written to 11 non-BJP Chief Ministers requesting them to take measures against the CAA. “The need of the hour is unity among all Indians,” Vijayan wrote, “who wish to protect and preserve our cherished values of democracy and secularism.” He also urged them to emulate him and Kerala by stopping all work connected with National Population Register (NPR), which is seen as the first step towards the creation of a National Register of Citizens.
Suddenly, Vijayan was catapulted to the national level and was seen as someone bold enough to take on the Modi-Shah combine on the contentious Act. Clearly, Vijayan and the CPM had stolen the thunder from the Gandhis’ Congress. At least in Kerala, the Congress workers felt slighted.
The KPCC president was the first to raise the question of legitimacy of the ad. He felt that CPM and Pinarayi were taking full credit for the protest and the legislation by coming up with the advertisement spending people’s money. Ramachandran said that everyone knows that there is no legal or constitutional validity for the resolution passed by the state assembly against CAA, but Congress supported only because it gives a message. “It is Congress that is leading the protests across the country. Even in the state, the Chief Minister slapped charges on 58 people, including many Congress leaders, who were protesting against the CAA,” Mullappally said. But what upset the CPM most was Ramachandran’s comment that the Chief Minister was “a man with Sangh Parivar mind” and his “stand as protector of minority communities was a sham”.
Challenging the Chief Minister to come to northern Kerala, Rmachandran said most of the victims of CPM’s political murders belong to the minority community. “He had not only slapped UAPA against his own party workers but also gunned down innocents as Maoists…He is doing this to please Modi and Amit Shah,” Ramachandran said. No doubt, Mullappally’s concern was purely political. Come November the state will see elections to the local bodies, followed by assembly election in early 2021.
The CPM by making an about-turn on the issue of Sabarimala is hoping to win back those devotees who punished the party in the general elections. The Congress fears that Muslims, who voted en masse for the Congress following Rahul Gandhi’s candidature from Kerala, may now see Pinarayi as their only saviour. The CPM full well knows it. That is why CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan was so confident that no Keralaite would believe Ramachandran’s allegations against the Chief Minister’s Hindutva slant. Be it CAA today or NRC tomorrow, vote matters. Pinarayi and Mullappally know it better than anyone else.