“Minduka, Mahamune” (Speak up, silent sage), thundered the great poet Vyloppilli Sreedhara Menon in his devastating poem of 1978, ostensibly on Gautama Buddha but actually targeting C. Achutha Menon. The poet was blasting Menon’s silence on the custodial murder of the engineering student P Rajan while he was the Chief Minister during the Emergency. Even while most eminent writers sang paeans to Indira Gandhi’s despotic rule or kept strategically silent, Vyloppilli bravely spoke out, shedding his usual reserve. Achutha Menon, despite being one of Kerala’s most honest politicians, a far-sighted visionary, and a selfless Communist, was haunted throughout his later life by his inaction in this sordid episode. Though he insisted he was totally in the dark about the incident and the domineering Home Minister K Karunakaran was blamed for all the excesses, the Chief Minister could hardly escape the moral responsibility. More so because of his otherwise impeccable credentials.
If Vyloppilli were alive today, the poet would have dared to tell the same to the present Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Just as in the case of Achutha Menon, Vijayan is also likely to be haunted by his “eloquent silence” on the slew of significant questions regarding his government’s various acts of omission and commission. Unlike Menon, Vijayan must also answer the piercing questions about many grave charges against his family. Though being in power may give the rulers a temporary reprieve, democracy has a way of catching up with them. If Achutha Menon’s image suffered grievously from this singular blot, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy also paid a heavy electoral price for not responding convincingly to the various charges of graft he faced while in power, notwithstanding the ongoing attempts to canonize him. Though he was available to the media to raise the questions, Chandy always hid behind his “clear conscience” or the permanent refrain, “The law will take its course.” But unlike Chandy, Vijayan has refused even to meet the media. He has entered the seventh month since he spoke to the media, a record in India for Chief Ministers, similar to what Narendra Modi created for Prime Ministers. Both Modi and Vijayan seem to think that meeting the media is an act of charity, which they are free to exercise or not according to their free will. Perhaps Modi and Vijayan can think so. But not Prime Minister Modi and Chief Minister Vijayan, who are the creatures of people’s will.
Puthuppally verdict and Chandy Oommen’s impressive margin were not unexpected. A constituency that stood with his Appa even when his party was mauled in the rest of the state cannot be expected to turn against him immediately after his passing. Yet, it would be only myopic to see only a sympathy wave in Puthuppally. Did the LDF have any proud achievement to show in Puthuppally despite having been in power under two dispensations? Instead, their campaign was on Puthuppally’s “non-development” even after Chandy represented it for over half a century. Though this appeared to create some ripples, anyone who travelled across Kerala, especially the CPI(M)-dominated party villages in the north, would see through the argument. Puthuppally was no less developed than Dharmadom or Koothuparamba. Perhaps Puthuppally’s neighbouring constituencies may score better in infrastructure development like roads, etc., for which the credit should go to Kerala Congresses.
One is dumbfounded to understand why the Pinarayi government doesn’t see the all too visible public hostility growing against it daily. Is the LDF leadership, once the best judges of people’s minds, too senile to understand it or too smug to brush it all as “bourgeois propaganda”? Has this government created a single major pro-people project other than mouthing about the fatuous fiascos like the K-Rail, which the public kicked into the dustbins? The much-hyped K-Phone project, too, has got embroiled in ugly controversies with fingers pointing to the Pinarayi family. In fact, with every mega project appearing to bear a nepotistic virus in its womb, the shadow of doubt falls on whatever the government announces. Besides, why has the Left abandoned its traditional and much-acclaimed penchant for enhancing human development and focus only on the neo-liberal spectacles, choosing a road it once refused to tread? Does it believe that Kerala has reached the pinnacle of human development, not requiring any more steps in that direction? Doesn’t it realise that Kerala's service sector-driven economic growth since the 1990s has brought hitherto unknown backwash effects like growing inequality or has failed to address perennial problems like industrial and agricultural stagnation or high unemployment? After VS Achuthanandan’s short-lived anti-graft measures of 2006-11, has any of the two LDF governments anything similar to show? The unprecedented return to power in 2021 was only due to the exceptional event of COVID-19. Why the present LDF doesn’t see that every Left government of the past ensured places in history by implementing “big ideas” that helped enhance people’s quality of life like the Land Reforms, Full Literacy projects, the District Councils, or the People’s Planning program. New infrastructure projects are essential for Kerala to move forward, but not those that attract wide public opposition. Even when governments are not interested in improving people's lives, they hire PR agencies to find ways to alter the hostile public discourse or distract the belligerent media. This government is too slothful or smug to attempt even such such moves.
Not only does the government not bother to improve its image, but it continues with its uncanny knack to make it even worse every day. The department specially entrusted with this job is the Police, headed by none other than the CM. This column has discussed how Kerala has never seen a police force more brainless and hubris-filled than that of the past seven years. The equally stupid and spiteful goof-ups are endless: the arrest fiasco of Taha and Allen, the shooting down of Maoists, the aborted Police Act amendments, the excesses against anti-SilverLine activists, abuses against journalists, the assault against black flags and black masks, and the pea-brained operations in the Swapna case. The list now has the crowning glory of the pathetic treatment meted out to 93-year-old A. Vasu in the full glare of the cameras! German philosopher Hanna Arrendt’s “banality of evil” seems like a Kerala Police story today.
Is there any magic pill for all these ills? There could be. Putting an end to the extreme concentration of power within the government, party, and alliance. As long as it continues, every attempt to improve the government’s image, including restructuring the ministry, would be merely cosmetic. But with a party leadership sinking deeper and deeper into impotence, who would bell the cat? These are all tell-tale signs of a tottering totalitarian regime. Its only saving grace could be the totally indolent Opposition and its vacuous leadership.