The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Kerala had viewed the poor response of people to the protests staged by the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) as an indication of their support to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation drive.
Modi, however, seems to have frittered away the support of the common man by refusing to meet an-all party delegation from the state to brief him about the crisis inflicted by the demonetisation on the cooperative sector that holds deposits worth Rs 1.27 lakh crores.
The delegation was to meet Modi on Thursday and submit a resolution adopted by the Kerala Assembly on the crisis. Rejecting the appointment, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) informed the state government that the delegation could meet Finance Minister Arun Jaitley instead.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan refused to meet Jaitley and turned the heat against Modi by comparing him with the biggest dictators like Hitler and Mussolini that the world saw. He has also sought to use the opportunity to turn people against Modi and his party in the state.
Pinarayi said Modi’s office had turned down the state request for an appointment after a delegation of the state BJP leaders met the prime minister in New Delhi on Wednesday. The state BJP leadership has been running a campaign against the cooperative banks saying they were a den for black money.
The LDF registered its protest against Modi's rebuff by observing Thursday as a 'Black Day'. The front also kicked off a 24-hour agitation in the three-tier local bodies against the discriminatory approach shown by the central government towards the cooperative sector. Black flag demonstrations were taken out in all important areas across the state as part of the agitation.
VS Achuthanandan, former chief minister and veteran leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), viewed the prime minister’s action as an open declaration that he and the BJP were enemies of Kerala. Modi has donned the role of a hardcore RSS activist to work against the interest of the state, he added.
The Congress-led Opposition, which is divided over sharing the platform with the ruling front, sought to evoke Kerala pride by accusing Modi of insulting the people of the state. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said Modi had insulted the people because the all-party delegation proposed to highlight their miseries.
“Modi is a globe trotter but he has no time to listen to a state. He has behaved rudely to the people of Kerala. This is against the very grain of the federal structure of the county. Modi is trying to be the biggest dictator in the history,” Ramesh said.
Congress Working Committee (CWC) member and former defence minister AK Antony termed Modi's stand unwarranted and an insult to all Keralites. He pointed out that this was the first time that a PM had refused to meet a delegation from the state.
Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president VM Sudheeran described Modi’s action as a challenge to the country’s federal system. “The country feels ashamed of the PM. He has behaved with narrow-mindedness and arrogance and insulted the people," Sudheeran added.
Social media users, who did not give much significance to the political agitation against demonetisation, seem to have turned against Modi after his rebuff to the state. Many flayed the PM’s stand on social networking sites saying it is tantamount to insulting the people. Political observers blame the central government for this.
“Public opinion was not in favour of the ruling and Opposition fronts in Kerala when they took to the streets against the restrictions in the cooperative banks. This was because they suspected several shady deals in the sector. They started doubting the central government after it refused to remove the restrictions even after the chief minister agreed to subject the deposits in the cooperative banks to Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and Income Tax department verification,” says NN Pearson, a political analyst in Kochi.
He said that the PM’s refusal to meet the delegation from the state had confirmed the doubts in the minds of the people, who felt it was unfair to deny the services of a sector to the people as a whole just because some indulged in wrong doings.
Many have questioned the restrictions imposed on the district cooperative banks, which function mostly in accordance with RBI norms. With a deposit base of Rs 62,000 crore and advances totaling Rs 33,000 crore, the DCBs play a very important role in the Kerala economy.
State leaders of the BJP have defended Modi saying that the ruling and the Opposition fronts in Kerala were trying to play politics with the demonetisation. BJP state spokesperson J Padmakumar said the state government had announced the visit of the delegation to Delhi without taking prior appointment of the prime minister.
“How can anybody expect a prime minister to meet him at the time of his choice? Modi has many programmes. The state government should have waited for the PM’s convenience. Instead they have taken the PMO’s suggestion to meet the finance minister to the media,” Padmaukumar said.
Party state president Kummanam Rajasekharan said that the delegation could meet the finance minister if their intention was to find a solution to the problem. He said that the central government had started taking measures to address the problems in the cooperative sector.
“Demonetisation is not limited to Kerala alone. All states have different problems related to the issue. The central government is trying to sort them out one by one. The Kerala government wanted to send the delegation to tarnish the image of the BJP,” he said.
Senior CPM leader MV Govindan said there was no point in the delegation meeting Jaitley since the chief minister and state finance minister had met him before but he had no solutions to the problems faced by the cooperative sector in the state.
“On the contrary, the restrictions on the transactions in state cooperative bank and district cooperative banks were tightened after the chief minister and the finance minister met Jaitley. There is no point in meeting him again. It is not going to serve any purpose,” he said.
“The central government is acting on the presumption that the entire cooperative sector in Kerala is steeped in black money. This is wrong. More than 90 percent customers of the cooperative sector are poor farmers, small traders and workers in the unorganised sector. The government cannot punish them in the name of minority wrong doers,” Govindan said adding that the government should allow the cooperative banks to serve the majority by taking action against the others.