Ahead of crucial local body polls in October and assembly polls next year, Kerala’s politics is heating up as ruling and Opposition parties face off in the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Opposition Congress raised a stink over a health data contract given to an American company, forcing the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government to amend the contract. The Congress was also able to raise the issue of steep electricity bills issued for the lockdown period, prompting the reversal of ₹200 crore additional charges. Protests by Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala to drop the demand for covid-negative certificates for expatriates to return also forced the government to postpone the decision.
However, the Congress ended up with egg on its face when its state unit president Mullappally Ramachandran taunted health minister K.K. Shylaja as a ‘Nipah princess aspiring to be a covid queen’. (The reference is to the minister’s successful handling of the Nipah epidemic of 2018, and her ongoing battle to push back the covid-19 in Kerala) He also said a UK publication referred to the minister as a ‘rock dancer’, confusing the actual reference of a ‘rock star’.
Congress leader and parliamentarian Benny Behanan condemned the remark. “Such personal remarks should have been avoided,” said K.P.A. Majeed, state secretary of Indian Union Muslim League, a Congress ally.
The ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) pounced. “He is everything a responsible politician should not be,” said Vijayan, the face of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM which leads the LDF. Vijayan called it a witch-hunt against Shylaja for being a woman and a competent health minister.
The Congress is bent on eroding the support for the LDF. “Since everybody is looking upon the government for the virus mitigation, they have at their disposal large visibility and resources that could affect the prospect of polls. So, we have decided in an earlier state committee meeting to stem their support by all means possible,” said a senior Congress leader, requesting anonymity.
The person said Congress leader Chennithala and other young, tech-savvy leaders are working in tandem with professional agencies to embrace social media to raise issues. The CPM has followed the same strategy, hiring another public relations firm, and has started creating regular vlogs by its leaders on its narrative on the mitigation, the person said.