By Sanu V. George
After months of hogging the headlines for ‘effective’ tackling of Covid-19 in Kerala, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s image has taken a beating, first to the controversial gold smuggling case and now for the coronavirus spread across the state.
Things were all fine for Vijayan and State Health Minister K.K. Shailaja ever since the Covid pandemic got first reported in the country, when a girl medical student who arrived from Wuhan — the epicentre of coronavirus, turned positive at Thrissur.
Since then the ruling Vijayan government, appeared to have got a new lease of life, especially Shailaja, when she made headlines in Washington Post and close to 50 international media organisations, simply because the way she handled the pandemic situation, when the so-called developed countries found the going tough.
Vijayan the tough task master, who for a while kept away from the centre stage, soon realised that it’s time to join the ‘party’ and took over from Shailaja and soon got prime time TV viewership through his daily interactions with the media.
Vijayan, who created a record of sorts by shooing away the media, unlike his predecessors, made it clear that he will meet the media, when he decides and not when the media will wish.
From a reluctant Vijayan, he will probably go down as the Chief Minister who has met the media the maximum number of times in a tenure of five years.
But things started to go a bit awry, ever since the four international airports opened up to Vande Bharat Mission flights brining in the Kerala diaspora from May 7.
Since then, the number of daily Covid positive cases started rising steadily, first by 100-mark and in the past three days the daily positive cases crossed the 2000-mark and in between Vijayan admitted that it has achieved the dreadful, ‘community spread’ in two coastal hamlets, located at a stone’s throw from Vijayan’s office.
Hitting hard at Vijayan and the flawed Covid tackling strategy was Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala who said, what was happening in the state was a PR exercise instead of tackling a public health hazard effectively.
“Vijayan announced victory in Covid even before the war had started, in his daily PR exercise and when the ‘enemy’ (Covid) actually came before the state, the state has failed, as figures now reveal. Vijayan also has admitted that there has been a community spread,” said Chennithala.
“Vijayan government has faltered in engaging the private health sector. A good 100 days have been wasted by Vijayan in getting the state ready and all what’s happening in Covid is nothing but mere talks and no action. Where are all the beds which Vijayan had announced, that are ready for people who have to be quarantined. Now everything has gone astray,” said Chennithala.
The gold smuggling case with large scale ramifications first surfaced when P.S. Sarith, a former employee of the UAE Consulate here, was arrested by the Customs on July 5 when he was facilitating smuggling of 30 kg gold in diplomatic baggage to Thiruvananthapuram from Dubai.
It turned murkier when the name of Swapna Suresh, a former employee of the UAE Consulate here and employed with the state IT Department, surfaced. The case turned full circle when its links with senior IAS official M. Sivasankar, who has been suspended and booted out from two key posts — principal secretary to Vijayan and also the State IT secretary, were unearthed.
Adding more trouble was when Arun Balachandran’s links with the smuggling gang surfaced and he too was unceremoniously removed, causing a huge dent on Vijayan’s image. Balachandran was Chief Minister’s IT Fellow and later held a key post in the IT department.
Chennithala said the stage has come when whatever Vijayan does to dodge out from the case, is not going to happen, as his two key officials have links with the smuggling gang.
“The situation is such that, even Vijayan will have to be questioned since his close two aides have been booted out. Vijayan just cannot wash his hands off and has a moral responsibility. Even the CPI-M State Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has expressed his surprise that Vijayan failed to identify what his staff was doing. Either Vijayan is feigning ignorance or he is a poor administrator and all what’s said about him, that he is a tough task master, is nothing but an eyewash,” said Chennithala.
Chennithala has written to CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechuri highlighting the way Vijayan is running the show.
For the CPI-M, Kerala is the only remaining bastion for the ‘red party’, as it has realised there is no way that they can return to power in West Bengal and Tripura, and hence what the top brass of the CPI-M will do at its upcoming central committee meeting, later this week remains to be seen, as at times they too have been rubbed the wrong way by Vijayan.