The hashtag ammunition unleashed by Kerala defeated Times Now, the baap of TV channels as far coining hashtags go. This time, the channel had a bit more than it could tag.
On Friday, the TV channel ran a top band 'Heads to Thundery Pakistan' over visuals of BJP president Amit Shah landing in Kochi for a three-day Kerala tour. The labelling of Kerala as 'Pakistan' was in the context of the state's opposition to the Centre's gazette notification on cattle slaughter which has been interpreted as an attempt to cut down on the availability of beef and dictate a Malayalee's food choice. It has also set off a nationwide BJP versus Left clash over the issue of cattle slaughter. Given Times Now's editorial position that on many occasions it has been found by viewers to be tilting towards the BJP, it was seen as an attempt to belittle Kerala and its political leadership.
Over the last one week, the ruling CPM has organised over 300 beef fests in different parts of Kerala. Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has been at the forefront of the anti-notification brigade, writing letters both to the prime minister and chief ministers of other states. In a show of political competitiveness, Youth Congress workers threw empathy to the winds by slaughtering a cow in public in Kannur. The act won them a suspension from the party and cases were booked against them.
Kerala has a 25 percent beef-eating population according to the National Sample Survey Office figures of 2011 and cow slaughter is legal in the state. But with the right-wing chorus to ban cow slaughter throughout the country, Kerala is seen as defying the Centre and the BJP and that's enough for it to be branded "enemy country".
So, if earlier, anyone labelled 'anti-national' would be asked to go to Pakistan, India's neighbour has now come home. Or rather, become part of India. As a tweeple put it, Payyoli Express PT Usha will now have to be renamed as Rawalpindi Express, with no apologies to Shoaib Akhtar.
Kerala was livid. It retaliated with the hashtag #ApologiseTimesCow and the verbal assault on social media, revelled in biting sarcasm. Many Malayalees saw the tag as RSS viewpoint of Kerala and its citizens. Several others wanted Vijayan to complain to the information and broadcasting ministry for action to be taken against the channel. The pressure tactic succeeded with Times Now putting out a corrigendum, regretting that 'Pakistan' was typed in place of 'Kerala'. No one on the social media platform seems to be buying that excuse but perhaps it is better than saying the news editor's nephew was in a Suresh Raina-like manner, handling the ticker at that point in time.
For Keralites who are used to only treating the Gulf as an extension counter, Pakistan was the second unwarranted international connection that had been forged. The first one was Somalia by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2016 when during the election campaign, he said, "The situation with the child mortality rate among scheduled tribes in Kerala is more scary than even Somalia."
Never one to let go of an opportunity to reply in kind, Keralites made the hashtag #PoMoneModi trend. The hashtag was a play on one of the most popular dialogues in Malayalam cinema mouthed by Mohanlal in the 2000 release 'Narasimham'. In the movie, Lal dismisses the villain with "Po Mone Dineshaa", a way to ask him to get lost. Though it was lost in translation into English and Hindi, in essence it meant "get lost kid".
This is not the first time that Kerala as a state has come under attack on an issue related to animal rights. In the past two years, on several occasions, animal rights activists have targeted Kerala, pushing for a #BoycottKerala campaign to hurt the state's tourism economy. The reason for the ire then was the Kerala government — both the UDF before 2016 and the LDF thereafter — turning a blind eye to the culling of stray dogs after numerous cases of dog bites (one lakh cases in 2014-15) were brought to light.
Much of this campaign was undertaken online, with petitions floated to also boycott products made in Kerala. An attempt was made to tar the entire state with the same brush, making it appear that it was evil personified. Fortunately, a similar attempt has not been made this time over the cattle slaughter issue as animal rights activists themselves feel the confrontationist attitude only made them lose support and goodwill in Kerala.
The fact that Kerala elected the communists, a group that is fast losing political space in India, also found space in the narrative of the attack. This week, Mohandas Pai took a dig at Kerala tweeting "These folks in Kerala are always behind the times, vote the communists to power, what a joke!" Pai was sent a dossier of social indices, all of them showing Kerala doing far better than several states in India.
In this kind of a heated-up political weather, Shah is trying to manoeuvre the BJP into a position of electoral relevance in Kerala. But it is unlikely that Malayalees would have forgotten the Onam of 2016 when the BJP chief extended 'Vamana Jayanti' greetings. The mythological tale is that Brahmin boy Vamana, an avatar of Vishnu, ended the rule of demon King Mahabali. Onam is celebrated as the day when Mahabali visits his kingdom in Kerala and Shah's greeting was seen as an attempt by Hindutva forces to appropriate Kerala's biggest cultural and harvest festival that is celebrated by all communities.
These instances, including the latest one, only illustrate a lack of understanding about Kerala. The rain has taken birth this monsoon in India's southern state but it would seem it has done little to cool down tempers.
God's own angry country?
Updated Date: Jun 03, 2017 18:00 PM