Bharatiya Janata Party’s star campaigner Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have messed up his party’s bid to make inroads into the southern state by portraying Kerala as one of the worst states in terms of development and law and order during his extensive campaign in the state.
His comparison of Kerala with Somalia in terms of Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) while addressing an election rally in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday has already created ripples in the social media with people mocking and satirising his poor knowledge of the state and his lack of sensitivity towards the achievements it has made in human development in the last 60 years.
Modi has questioned the very achievements that have made Keralites proud all over the world. He has compared Kerala, which has the lowest IMR of 12 in India with Somalia with a very high IMR of 137 based on an image carried by the media in which a couple of boys belonging to a scheduled tribe were shown eating out of a waste dump in Kannur district.
The state government had already clarified that the boys were among a group of a students in a school at Peravoor who were in the habit of skipping classes and collecting scraps to get food of their liking from hotels. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said there was no need for anybody in the state to eat stale food since his government has been providing rice at Rs 1 per kg to people living below poverty line and mid-day meals, which include egg and milk, to more than 25 lakh students.
He termed Modi’s remark as an insult to Kerala and asked him to withdraw the statement. Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury termed Modi’s comparison of Kerala with Somalia outrageous. He said even school children know that Kerala tops the country in human development indicators.
Kapil Sibal, All India Congress Committee (AICC) spokesman, said Modi had compared Kerala with Somalia as he had not visited the sub-Saharan country so far. He urged the External Affairs Ministry to arrange a visit of the Prime Minister to Somalia to get a clear view of the situation in the country.
Prime Minister did not make any attempt even to clarify his controversial statement in his last election meeting in the state on Wednesday. On the contrary, Modi questioned the wisdom of the educated Keralites in electing the two fronts to power alternately while addressing his last election meeting at Tripunithura.
Earlier, Malayalis from across the world trolled Modi on Twitter under #PoMoneModi, which is a popular movie reference that literally means “go back, son.” Twitterattis predicted doom for the BJP in the election on 16 May for hurting the Malayali pride.
Though the storm of protests against Modi in the social media has not crystallized into a consolidation against the BJP on the ground so far, political observers feel that the Malayali pride he has aroused by his obnoxious comparison of the state that tops the country in human development indices with one of the worst developed nations in the world could lead to a Bihar like situation by the time the state goes to polls on 16 May.
“Keralites are not known to react emotionally like people in Bihar. The politically enlightened people in Kerala will weigh his remarks in political context and react through ballots. The attempt made by Modi and his party men to demean the achievements made by the state will further alienate the party from the people,” says NM Pearson, a political analyst.
He told the Firstpost that the BJP has not been able to win elections in Lok Sabha and Assembly in the state because Keralites could not come to terms with its Hindutva agenda. He said that he was doubtful whether the party’s attempt to make its much-needed electoral breakthrough in the state by consolidating the Hindu votes would succeed.
Pearson feels that the false propaganda by Modi and his party men would diminish whatever chances the party had in winning at least one or two seats in the coming election in the state. Senior journalist BRP Bhaskar agrees with him. He said that the “insensitive and unintelligent” campaign speeches of Modi and his Man Friday Amit Shah would damage the prospects of lotus bloom in Kerala.
The two have portrayed Kerala very badly in their bid to project BJP as a third alternative by bashing the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the United Democratic Front (UDF) ruling the state alternately every five years. Their criticism of successive governments based on various other issues too has not gone down well with the people.
For example, the concern expressed by Modi over the plight of Dalits in the state in the context of the murder of a law and order student at Perumbavoor in Ernakulam has backfired with many pointing out the intolerance his party men have been showing towards various sections of the citizens and the tragic suicide of Vemula and witch hunting of Kanhaiya Kumar.
Their other major refrain regarding development of the state and the rising unemployment has also drawn flak with many saying that a highly environmentally sensitive state like Kerala was not a right place for the Gujarat model of development he experimented during his 13-year rule of the state.
Political analyst Jacob George said Modi’s laments on large scale migration of Keralites to various parts of the country and world were not based on facts. He wondered how the Prime Minister could say people were forced to go out of the state in search of jobs when more than 40 lakhs people from other states have found job in the state.
The number of migrants working in various fields in the state is more than the number of Keralites who have gone abroad for employment. According to a door-to-door survey conducted by the Non-resident Keralites Affairs Department, the number of Keralites living overseas is around 17 lakhs.
The political observers also take Modi’s claim on development with a pinch of salt. A comparison of the state’s performance in key sectors with that of Gujarat puts Kerala far ahead. While Kerala ranks first in human development index, literacy, average life span, female male sex ratio, IMR, health care, toilet facility and cleanliness, the rank of Gujarat ranged from 9 to 25 among all the states.
Kerala also figures in top five ranks in poverty eradication, availability of drinking water, vaccination coverage and electrification of houses. The position of Modi’s Gujarat in these indices is 14, 9, 8 and 11, according to a comparative table put out by a netizen to counter Modi’s comparison of Kerala with Somalia.
This year’s public affairs index survey of think-tank Public Affairs Centre (PAC), Bengaluru placed Kerala top in governance among the states. The survey, which was based on 10 themes, showed the state performing above average in women and children category, crime, law and order.
Curiously, the state leaders of the BJP have hurt the Malayali pride further by justifying the Prime Minister’s assessment of the state. Party state president Kummanam Rajashekharan said that Modi’s allegation was true. He said the condition of scheduled castes and tribes in the state had become worse because of failure by the state government to implement the laws made by the Modi government for their welfare.
“Rapes, public lynching, falling health and educational standards, political murders, child abuse, plunder of natural resources and drug abuse have become the hallmark of the state that once gifted the world with mathematical geniuses like Sangamagrama Madhavan and spiritual giants like Adi Sankara,” says Kummanam.
Critics of BJP view the campaign speeches of Modi and other senior BJP leaders as part of a clever bid to make electoral gains by whipping up communal passions in the state. Opposition leader V S Achuthanandan accused Modi and his party men of trying to divide the people communally.
The chief minister felt BJP was trying to sow seeds of communalism in the state. Kerala is a state where all the communities have been living in peace and cooperation for decades, Chandy said and asked the BJP not to sow the seeds of poison in the state, which was described by Guru Nitya Chaitanya Yathi as ‘Garden of God’.
Yechury said that that the people of Kerala will give a befitting reply to Modi and his party for hurting the Malayali pride through ballots on 16 May.
Updated Date: May 12, 2016 19:34 PM