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Pinarayi Vijayan’s media campaign bid to counter BJP offensive on law and order

LiveMint logoLiveMint 09-08-2017 Nidheesh M.K.

Bengaluru: An otherwise media-shy Pinarayi Vijayan is courting reporters for the first time since coming to power in May 2016. The communist leader and Kerala chief minister who turned down most interview requests even during his government’s first anniversary, is seen ready to answer questions on TV. His government is running full-page advertisements across editions in major Hindi and English dailies, describing at length why Kerala is number one among Indian states when it comes to law and order, human development indices, good governance and so on.

All this is accompanied by a high-decibel campaign unleashed by his media team which has seen Keralites changing their profile pictures on Facebook to incorporate phrases like ‘Kerala Number One’.

Why is the chief minister at pains to prove that Kerala is a peaceful state, especially to people who are technically not his voters?

It may have much to do with the apparent propaganda war between Vijayan’s Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) along with its ideological parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The BJP and the RSS have been making a concerted attempt to raise the issue of law and order in Kerala, based upon the murder of their political activists allegedly by CPM workers, which some view as an attempt to bring on presidential rule, similar to what happened back in 1959, when the state’s first communist government was dismissed by the then Union government on the issue of law and order.

Political violence between Left and Right activists, and the rhetoric around it, is at least six decades old in Kerala. But matters have come to a head with the murder of a 34-year-old RSS worker in Thiruvananthapuram on 29 July, allegedly by CPM workers. The police, however, maintain that the killing has to do with personal enmity.

The murder attracted nationwide wide attention and turned up the political heat on CPM. Kerala governor P. Sathasivam and Union home minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Vijayan on the law and order front. On 2 August, BJP member of Parliament Meenakshi Lekhi raised the issue in the Lok Sabha, and said Kerala had become “God’s Forsaken Country”, which was followed up by national channels where BJP leaders alleged that the violence was state-sponsored.

The party has kept up the heat with statements from its top office-bearers, including Union finance minister Arun Jaitley who visited the victim’s home last Sunday. On Monday, RSS joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale called Vijayan Kerala’s “chief murderer”.

The CPM believes it is BJP’s game plan to portray Kerala as a lawless state, with a little help from friendly media organizations. Vijayan said the BJP is trying to influence public opinion “to throttle and choke the Left movement and Left government in Kerala.”

“It is an orchestrated and malicious campaign. RSS and BJP are not only tarnishing the government but also insulting the people of Kerala. Any sensible person can see through their game,” he said.

“Basically, this is becoming a private contest between the RSS-BJP and the CPM. There are a large number of very strong statements which are coming from RSS-BJP leaders. He (Vijayan) might be realising that not responding or remaining silent is not the best way forward,” said Sandeep Shastri, national coordinator of public policy think tank Lokniti Network, and a political analyst.

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