Chief Minister Vijayan has dropped his usual evening press briefings even as the virus grows by the day.


New Delhi: On Friday, the day Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan completed 100 days on his second stint, Kerala registered more than 30,000 fresh cases of Covid-19 for the third day running. With the nation’s total cases standing at 46,500, nearly 70% of Friday’s cases came from Kerala, where the total touched a 105-day high of 32,800.

Kerala last registered a higher number of daily cases on 14 May, three-and-a-half months ago. A larger worry was the rising test positivity rate in the state. Kerala recorded a TPR of 19.2% on Friday, up from just over 18% the previous day.

However, Vijayan’s new Health Minister put up a brave face. “Our Covid-19 cases are on the rise but there is nothing to worry about,” minister Veena George told newspersons after a Cabinet meeting to take stock of the Covid situation in the state. She claimed that the state continued to be a model for Covid containment measures in the country.

According to her, Kerala’s “undercounting factor” was the best in the country. “In May, our daily case load reached 40,000. We, however, managed to provide adequate treatment for all the patients…There are certain indicators through which we can say how well a government has contained a pandemic. Fatality is one of the key indicators, and in Kerala, it is 0.5,” Veena George said.

But the Opposition thought otherwise. Congress leader and MP from Thiruvananthapuram Shashi Tharoor said, Kerala is currently in ICU. “Most of the Covid cases in the country are from Kerala. Despite the strength of the second wave in the country going down, the number of cases is not decreasing in Kerala alone,” Tharoor said. KPCC president K. Sudhakaran said the Pinarayi Vijayan government was a total failure in controlling Covid-19. The virus has taken the precious lives of 20,000 people in the state under its rule, he said. BJP state general secretary M.T. Ramesh said the state is being ruled by a government that is affected by Covid. “Pinarayi government is in quarantine for the last hundred days,” he said.

Pinarayi Vijayan chose not to address the press, a departure from the past practice, which stood out. In fact, Vijayan has not conducted a press meet for the past one month or so. Earlier, especially in the months preceding the Assembly election in last April, the evening press briefing by the Chief Minister was a regular feature, sending local TV ratings soaring. This time, Vijayan chose to convey his thoughts on the occasion through one of party mouthpieces, Chintha.

“There are some unnecessary controversies surrounding the second wave. Some sections are trying to create fear among the people by portraying the high numbers during the second wave as a cause for concern,” he wrote in the magazine. Claiming that the state did not waste a single drop of vaccine and successfully inoculated extra doses, Pinarayi asked, “If Kerala model is wrong in Covid containment, then which model should we follow?…No one had died in Kerala due to a lack of oxygen. No person was deprived of medical aid or medical bed.”

Though there were no sermons for public consumption, Pinarayi was in a way replying to Union Minister of State V. Muraleedharan, who has been leading the attack against the Pinarayi-led government on the spike in Covid-19 cases in his home state. This is despite the fact that Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandviya gave a clean chit to the state government after a two-day visit there.

However, Muraleedharan has repeatedly accused the state government of not following the health guidelines issued by the World Health Organizatin and Indian Council of Medical Research. “The state, instead of using scientific methods to contain the spread, is trying to use the pandemic for political objectives. I urge it to follow ICMR guidelines,” Muraleedharan told news agency ANI on Thursday.

Interestingly, the surge in corona cases has not dampened the spirit of politics over the virus in the state. While questions are flung around as to who, the opposition or the ruling front, is currently in quarantine, it is clear that both are in need of fresh oxygen.

At least, the opposition Congress is gasping for breath. The party leadership has been camping in Delhi, in and out of Rahul Gandhi’s house, begging for approval of a list of District Congress Committee presidents. Rahul Gandhi is just an MP from the state, not an office bearer of the party, at least on record.

Still if veteran leaders such as Oommen Chandy from the state have to hang around in front of Rahul Gandhi’s house in Delhi, there must be something wrong with the party in the state. “They have left their backbones here (Kerala),” one Congress leader, who does not want to be named, quipped.

Back to the “Andrew Cuomo” of Kerala. During the height of the first wave, a national English daily carried a long article comparing Pinarayi Vijayan’s daily press briefings to that of the then New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“Vijayan and Cuomo have emerged as stars in this unchartered Age of Coronavirus.  Cuomo’s daily press briefings in which he mixes stories about his family with detailed explanations of his Covid-19 fighting efforts are broadcast live on major cable networks and reach an audience far beyond the boundaries of New York state. Vijayan, too, ends his day facing the press, offering in Malayalam detailed presentation of the heroic ground-level struggle with Covid-19,” the daily wrote.

It is a mystery that Vijayan has preferred to drop his usual evening press briefings even when the virus is growing by the day.

Perhaps the new Health Minister is no threat to his popularity as was the case during his first tenure when K.K. Shailaja was hailed worldwide as the rock star of the anti-corona campaign. It was after the world took note of Shailaja that Pinarayi Vijayan thought it wise to address the state himself (one hour monologue) every evening; and of course with Shailja, Teacher and the Revenue Minister to boot on his flanks.

That neither Shailaja nor Chandrasekharan uttered a word for over one month of that ritual is a matter for posterity to brood about.