Among his die-hard followers, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has a rather strange sobriquet - "irattachankan", which means that 'he is a man with two hearts'. This tag is somewhat comparable to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "56-inch chest", a mark of valour and defiance.
Whether this hard-line tag has helped Modi or not, the reputation of Vijayan as a tough man is hurting him very badly. Every time he takes an inflexible stand, the pushback from the people of Kerala is so strong that it's taking away a part of the popular support that brought him to power. The state police, that has benefited the most from his "two hearts", remains his biggest liability today.
On Wednesday, when the grieving mother of Jishnu Prannoy, an engineering student who died under mysterious circumstances, was manhandled and dragged on the street by the police, the entire state rose in protest; but Vijayan chose to defend his police and even blamed some "external elements" for fostering trouble.
As in many recent incidents, his conclusion of exculpation came too soon, even before an IG of police finished his task of finding what went wrong. In fact, his language was similar to that of the Director General of Police (DGP), Lokanath Behera, who is now turning notorious for his rising disapproval-rating.
The entire Opposition in Kerala is united against the police, or rather the DGP, and resentment is brewing even within Vijayan's party, the Communist party of India (Marxist). Reportedly, as soon as the state's news channels began broadcasting visuals of the mother being dragged on the street on Wednesday, former chief minister and veteran CPM leader VS Achuthanandan called up the DGP, upbraided him and hung up on him even before he could offer a justification.
Achuthanandan openly termed the event as unfortunate. Cadres of opposition BJP and the Congress took to the streets at many places, while vox populi decrying the alleged police excess continued to pour in throughout the day. But Vijayan was unfazed and refused to ditch his DGP.
While the people of the state, including the mother – who is fasting in a hospital where she has been admitted for an injury she suffered during Wednesday's police excess – are protesting, a defiant Vijayan is busy campaigning for a byelection in the northern part of the state. Obviously, a man with two hearts must guard his reputation. For that's what had made him the strongman of his party for 16 years and a fearsome leader.
Unfortunately, what Vijayan is unable to acknowledge is the increasing possibility of his government sliding into a police state and losing public support. In fact, the justification offered for the police action on Wednesday – that the forces had to intervene because the protest happened in front of the DGP's office, that's barred from such events – appeared to have made the police headquarters more sanctimonious than the government secretariat, from where the chief minister, his ministers and the bureaucracy operate.
If all kinds of protests – some of them even highly disruptive – and never-ending sit-ins are allowed in front of the secretariat, allowing an exceptional immunity to the DGP's office doesn't sound good in a democracy, particularly in Kerala's rights-driven society.
Many senior political activists, including leaders from Communist Party of India (CPI), which is an ally of the government, have questioned this unusual sacredness. Making the police headquarters more sanctimonious than the office of the government indeed sends out a wrong message, a message that makes police more important than the government. It happens only in a police state.
Vijayan and his DGP speaking in the same tongue, while the entire state is angry, gives credence to such an anxiety. Visuals of an IG yelling in a highhanded manner at the political activists who protested against the police excess augmented the fear of a police state, that Kerala had seen during the Emergency.
It's not just the episode on Wednesday that has made Vijayan's bet on the police go bad, but a series of recent crimes and law-and-order situations. The abduction and molestation of a famous movie actor in Kochi; the sequential death of two girl children, who were victims of continuous rape in Valayar; the mysterious death of a girl whose body was recovered from a lake in Kochi; the assault of Shiv Sena moral brigade on young people on Marine Drive; moral harassment of youngsters by police personnel in Thiruvananthapuram; the apparently poor-quality investigation of the sensational Jisha murder case; and several cases of molestation and cover-ups have marred the reputation of the police and the government in recent times.
In fact, in most of these cases, the response of the police has been either shoddy or highhanded. They were below par both in prevention as well as follow up, and even when they tried to make up for their failure with excesses, such as what happened on Wednesday, it reeked of an inferior police state.
That four supporters of the protest on Wednesday, including the private secretary of Achuthanandan when he was the chief minister, were arrested and remanded on flimsy charges clearly betrays a hard-line tactic to scare away dissent. People can protest against the government, but not the police, seems to be the message that's evoking widespread public anger.
Probably Vijayan doesn't want to give away easily, true to his "double-heartedness", and hence is protecting the present DGP and his inefficient police; but going by his record in the recent past, he may have to let go of his intransigence because his horse is yet to become a break-maiden.
He had taken a similar stubborn stand on Vigilance Director Jacob Thomas, who came in for criticism mostly for his inconsistency and rivalry with IAS officers, but had to finally give up. If he doesn't change the way his police functions, which also includes the conduct of the DGP, all that he will be left with will be the pop sobriquet.
The CPM, which takes to the streets even for silly reasons but become a hard-line State when they are back in the barracks, might back him; but not the people.
All this, and we are not even a year into Vijayan's regime.
Updated Date: Apr 06, 2017 16:34 PM