Why did the Kerala CM and others including the BJP state leadership not think of including Alphons Kannanthanam, in the all-party delegation?
Can a Central minister achieve what a 22-memebr all-party delegation from Kerala led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan could not achieve? Did Prime Minister Narendra Modi assure a Minister of State in his Cabinet that all those issues raised by the high-level delegation would be sympathetically considered while he had refused to give any such promise to the team earlier in the day? Why did the Kerala CM and others including the BJP state leadership not think of including the only minister from Kerala in the Union Cabinet, Alphons Kannanthanam, in the all-party delegation? These are some questions doing the rounds of the political circles in Kerala after the delegation returned to Thiruvananthapuram empty-handed. Both the CM and the Leader of the Opposition in the Kerala Assembly, Ramesh Chennithala described the meeting as “disappointing”. “The outcome was not a favourable one,” Pinarayi Vijayan told newspersons after the meeting with the PM in the Parliament complex on Thursday, a day before the Lok Sabha was to take up a no-confidence against the NDA government. Significantly, the Prime Minister’s Office, on three previous occasions, turned down requests for a meeting with an all-party delegation from Kerala on the ground that such meetings served only “political ends” and did not address the state’s problems. The Left Front government in Kerala, on the other hand, saw the refusal by the PMO as an affront to the concept of federalism and accused the Centre of being “politically biased and insensitive to the issues of the state”.
Among the many demands raised by the delegation, restoration of Kerala’s ration quota distributed through fair price shops, a final decision on the proposed railway coach factory at Kanjikode in Palakkad district that is hanging fire, a rail line to link the famed Sabarimala temple and immediate Central assistance for flood relief topped the list. “One of the issues we raised was the increase in the allocation of food grains and it should be on par with what we used to get prior to the promulgation of the Food Security Act. But the Prime Minister said…nothing else can be done,” Vijayan alleged. The PM had apparently told Vijayan and Chennithala that “It was the Congress which brought the Food Security Act. The communists supported it. We are just implementing it. Nothing can be done for Kerala separately.” According to some reports, the PM at the outset had expressed his displeasure to the CM about leaving out Kannanthanam from the delegation, though this is not confirmed. But Union Minister of State Kannanthanam, later addressing a press meeting, had corroborated this saying that the PM had summoned him after the delegation left and enquired as to why he was not there. “I told him that no one from Kerala had invited me,” Kannanthanam was quoted as saying. In the absence of a state president yet to be elected, the BJP was represented by party state general secretary P.K. Krishnadas. Obviously, the PM was not impressed with that, or so Kannanthanam believes. The minister who claims to be very close to Pinarayi Vijayan, dating back to his days as a CPM-supported MLA, however, rubbed it on to the CM when he said that it was for the people of Kerala to decide whether keeping him out of such a delegation was good for the state or not. This time, Kannanthanam seems to be right. It has turned out to be bad for the state.
According to reports, the PM also did not give any categorical assurance on sending a Central team to take stock of the damage caused by the continuing monsoon in the state. In fact, while discussing floods in the state, the PM had wondered how the CM could go to the United States at such a critical time; a point strongly contested by comrades back home citing crores spent on the Prime Minister’s trips abroad. The PM also wanted to know how many affected areas the CM had visited by this time. Pinarayi Vijayan had been away in the US for a fortnight and had returned only on Wednesday. He is yet to visit any flood affected areas in the state. Though party to the delegation, the state BJP had been critical of the state government saying everything was done in a haphazard manner in the absence of the CM. While the CM told newspersons that there was no commitment on the part of PM to send a Central team, Kannanthanam at his press conference announced that Kiren Rijiju would visit the state on Saturday to assess the situation. Clearly, this has offended the state government, which sees politicisation of the entire issue. More politics was to follow. At the end of the meeting, the PM had reportedly handed over a file to CM Vijayan saying, “I am not giving this to the Opposition leader, nor revealing it to the press; just handing it over to you only.” It supposedly contains details of unfinished projects in the state and unutilised Central funds lying with the state. At the end of the day, people of Kerala wonder who is playing politics, the Chief Minister, Kannanthanam or the PMO. Meanwhile, the dream projects can wait till the general elections of 2019.