Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan seems to have been forced to temper his criticism of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) after his comments provided fodder for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to try to discredit the protests.
In his reply in the Rajya Sabha, Modi took a shot at the Communist leader, quoting him as saying that certain extremist elements had infiltrated the protests against the CAA and the National Population Register in Kerala.
Vijayan had earlier in the week remarked that a fringe Muslim group in Kerala, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), had infiltrated peaceful protests against the CAA and tried to divide people along communal lines.
Vijayan had said: “Extremist groups like SDPI are intervening on these issues [CAA] and trying to shift the attention from the main issue. As a result, there have been some untoward incidents. In some places, attempts were made to divide people.”
Both the ruling Left Democratic Front coalition and the opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front had opposed the CAA and led separate protests. The Congress at the last minute backed off from holding a joint protest, fearing that it would weaken its hold over the electorate—it had nearly wiped out the Communists in the Lok Sabha elections from the state last year. The SDPI, once an ally of the Congress, was quick to exploit the weakness and hold separate protests, but these were confined to Muslim-majority areas where it has a tiny following. The protests turned violent in some places.
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The Chief Minister accused the SDPI of trying to create trouble. “We need to see that there is a group called SDPI, they think in the extremist line. Those people are infiltrating into some places and creating trouble. The police might have taken action against their activities.”
Reacting to Modi’s comment, Vijayan weakly said: “It is not befitting of a Prime Minister to be part of those who are disappointed with the fact that Kerala is leading the struggle against the communalism of both the RSS and the SDPI.” He did not, however, deny making the comment or find fault with its veracity.
The Chief Minister said Kerala has been at the forefront of the protests against the contentious CAA. “The unity of these struggles is the hallmark of secularism of Kerala. It is understandable that some people might want to malign and misconstrue the movement. Kerala will respond in unison to them. Kerala’s secular ethos is one that is opposed to all forms of communalism. This state is not an arable land for any kind of communalism,” he said.
By categorically mentioning the name of the SDPI — the thorn in the CPM flesh — Vijayan has given ammunition to the Prime Minister. As Congress state leader Ramesh Chennithala said, the SDPI has not infiltrated any protests. “He is trying to glorify the SPDI and trying to legitimise it.”
The Congress had in the past had a tie-up with the SDPI and its sister organisation, the Popular Front of India (PFI). Both fringe Muslim groups were later blamed for murders, assaults and violence and seen as forging links with the Islamic State. The Congress broke off alliances with these two groups following the murder of a member of its cadre a few years ago.
Vijayan is keen to put down the Congress, ahead of the upcoming local body elections. By mentioning the SDPI by name, he had hoped to shame the Congress.
The Congress is miffed that many of its workers were rounded up during the anti-CAA protests. The Chief Minister, however, says no case has been registered against those who protested peacefully and that the 200 cases booked so far were only against those who indulged in violence.
Vijayan’s reply to Modi on Thursday appeared to lack his customary sting. Its mildness could be interpreted as his keenness to ensure that the monies due to the state from the Centre are paid on time.
Last week, the Communists ensured that the state legislature did not pass a resolution against Governor Arif Mohammad Khan, whose barbs have irked the government. Khan has repeatedly clashed with the government over the CAA.
He bitterly criticised the government for approaching the Supreme Court against the CAA without informing him, though the state said there was no constitutional obligation to do so.
Khan had hinted that he would also not read out the government’s stance on the CAA in his address to the state legislature, but he recapitulated at the last minute. It is widely believed that in a payback, the government ensured that the resolution against the governor was defeated in the house.
Economic crisis in Kerala
Kerala is facing a serious economic crisis because of a decline in grants and revenue share from the Centre, according to state Finance Minister Thomas Isaac.
While Kerala’s spending had increased by 15% over the past six years, revenue had risen by only 10%, Isaac told the state legislature on Tuesday.
The Centre had cut Kerala’s share of approved loans, worsening the situation aggravated by two consecutive years of floods. Coming on the back of demonetisation and GST, it had caused the present crisis, he said.
Kerala has been facing a huge liquidity crisis because the Centre has delayed dispensing compensation following the loss incurred due to GST implementation. The compensation, to be paid every two months, amounts to around ₹1,600 crore since October last year.
Despite the floods, New Delhi has not allowed Kerala to take a loan beyond the limit for the rebuilding initiative, Isaac said.
(G Krishnan has reported on politics in Indian and international publications for 40 years.)