Why PM Modi has Troubled Tryst With Kerala
Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to be deeply troubled by Kerala and is possibly in search of something that projects the image of the Southern state in a very negative manner and in complete contrast to its much-acclaimed international status as a role model in several areas, including in human development.
While campaigning for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Karnataka Assembly elections scheduled to be held on May 10, 2023, instead of mobilising the electorate around the achievements of his party that has been ruling the state for three and half years, Modi referred to the film, Kerala Story, the facts of which are admittedly distorted to portray that as many as 32,000 women from Kerala converted to Islam and joined the ISIS.
The Prime Minister made such a claim despite the fact that the film's producer clearly told the Kerala High Court that the figure ‘32,000 women’ would be removed from the film’s teaser, as these are misleading numbers. Ignoring the clarifications of the producer given in the high court, Modi asserted that the film was based on “terror conspiracy”, “shows the ugly truth of terrorism”, and accused the Congress of standing with terrorism because it opposed the film and wanted to shield its vote bank.
‘The Kerala Story’ and ‘The Modi Question’
Let us juxtapose Modi’s statement on The Kerala Story and the Modi government’s stand on the BBC documentary, The Modi Question, which showed exactly what happened in Gujarat when the state was caught in the terrible whirlpool of bloodshed and communal violence in 2002, in which some Hindus lost their lives and disproportionately more Muslims were killed. When the link of the documentary was shared in Twitter and YouTube, the Modi government ordered its removal and students of some universities faced penal action for screening it. The spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs described the documentary as ".... a propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative” and commented that “the bias, the lack of objectivity, and a continuing colonial mindset, is blatantly visible,"
While the facts of the BBC documentary were never contested by the Modi government, except for a bland statement claiming “lack of objectivity”, the figure of “32,000 women” in The Kerala Story has been accepted by its producer as incorrect and he has offered to rectify it. It is paradoxical that The Modi Question has been taken off YouTube and Twitter on the Central government's orders, and now Modi continued to refer to The Kerala Story in his speech in Karnataka, despite its producer admitting factual inaccuracies.
Modi Drew Parallel between Kerala and Somalia
It is astonishing that while in 2023, PM Modi, while campaigning in Karnataka, tried to corner Kerala and Congress in the name of terrorism, as portrayed in a film, in 2016, he had tried in vain to draw a parallel between Kerala and Somalia in his election rally speech in the state and claimed that the infant mortality rate among the tribes of Kerala was worse than that of Somalia.
On Twitter, several people from Kerala started a trend with the hashtag #PoMoneModi (Go Off Modi) and the then Chief Minister Oomen Chandy sharply reacted by dismissing the remarks of Modi as utterly “baseless.”
Chandy charged Modi that his statement likening Kerala to Somalia had nothing to do with reality and was unbecoming of a Prime Minister who caused a great deal of agony to Keralites. The BBC reported this on May 11, 2016 under the caption “Indian PM Modi mocked over Kerala-Somalia comparison” and observed that, “Somalia has one of the highest rates of child malnutrition and infant mortality in the world, while Kerala state has lowest infant mortality rates in India.” It then remarked that “...his …. statement to win Kerala's voters seems to have backfired”.
To unfairly target Kerala on the specious plea that a film projected the state as an ugly face of terrorism or that the infant mortality rate of its tribes was worse than Somalia’s, does in no way enhance the office of the Prime Minister that Modi occupies.
Modi Should Learn from Manmohan Singh’s Remark on Kerala
In fact, Modi should look back to see what his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, said about Kerala while unveiling the statues of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and B R Ambedkar in the premises of the state Assembly on September 3, 2005. Singh said: “Historically, Kerala was perhaps one of the earliest examples of the pluralism and inclusiveness that each of these three patriots has aspired for India”. He proceeded to add that “The tradition of tolerance for a multi-cultural and multi-religious society that we have seen for long in Kerala is what they wanted to establish all over the country”. “That every Malayali, irrespective of religion and creed”, he claimed “shares common cultural bonds through music, dance, cuisine and language is an inspiring example of "Unity in Diversity". Singh then affirmed that “It has fostered a culture of tolerance that symbolizes the idea of India and should inspire Indians across the sub-continent, across the world.”
The ‘Idea of India’ which then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh referred to in the context of the culture of tolerance of Kerala, needs to be defended by every Indian, and Prime Minister Modi should set an example for the rest of the country to follow. In relying on admittedly erroneous figures on Kerala, be it in the context of terrorism or the infant mortality rate, PM Modi is devaluing his own office and distorting the idea of India beyond repair.
Amit Shah’s Remark on Kerala
Home Minister Amit Shah also made a remark on the state during his tour of Karnataka in February 2023. His statement that “only his party (BJP) could keep Karnataka safe and that there is Kerala near you. I don’t want to say much” is a kind of tongue-in-cheek remark, described by John Brittas, CPI(M)’s Rajya Sabha MP from Kerala, in his article “Amit Shah’s comment about Kerala only reveals the BJP’s desperation,” as an “insinuation” about the state.
Strangely, the Vice President of India and Chairman, Rajya Sabha, Jagdeep Dhankar, has sought an explanation from Brittas on his article on a complaint made by a BJP leader from Kerala, terming the said article as “seditious”. One wonders as to how the Rajya Sabha Chairman can call for an explanation from a Member of the House for what she or he writes in a newspaper. This is unprecedented.
People's Defence of Kerala
Leaders relying on erroneous figures to appeal to the electorate for their support do not augur well for our democracy. It is the responsibility of the Prime Minister to set an example for the people to follow. Sadly, the example Modi has set with regard to Kerala is highly demotivating. Can the people correct it by upholding the truth? I am sure they will.
S N Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty to President of India K R Narayanan. The views are personal.
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