CPM govt's political epidemiology: Blaming opposition for systemic failures
When Covid-19 first struck the subcontinent of India, the people were struck with fear, and the state heads and central government did not have a clue as to what needs to be done. Amidst this new chaos, Kerala emerged a model state in tracking, quarantining, and controlling the spread of coronavirus.
As the numbers soared in the country, Kerala was at the bottom of the list alongside small states and union territories. We had become the poster child for Covid management, with several international media celebrating it, including BBC, who had called Health Minister KK Shailaja as Kerala’s “Rockstar” and “coronavirus slayer”. The celebrations had gone until August-September, since then the numbers have gone up, and we weren’t celebrating anymore.
One year since the first patient, India has been able to control the spread of the virus, but with almost 5,000 cases per day, Kerala records almost half the total number of daily active cases in the country. Kerala also leads with the most number of active cases in the country and it is steadily growing. With almost 10-12% Test Positivity Rate, the situation is not seeing signs of improving. So what happened?
Minister Shailaja had blamed it on the various celebrations that had taken place in the state, mainly Onam during August-September 2020. Soon after, she would blame it on the local body polls in December last year. However, as many pointed out, several other states in the country have shown a considerable decrease in numbers despite having organised elections and celebrations. Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh had by-elections in a larger capacity alongside many others on a smaller scale. Hyderabad had its local body elections, and yet none of these states has recorded problematic numbers. In fact, despite the numbers, Maharashtra is showing considerable development in numbers when compared to its initial stages. Many states have also participated in large celebrations including religious festivals and they have lifted restrictions in their borders as well.
In the face of what is clearly a systemic failure, the leaders of the ruling Left Democratic Party have instead resorted to political accusations. Hitting out at the UDF’s Aishwarya Kerala Yatra, Cultural Minister AK Balan have pointed out that the Opposition Leader-led yatra is a “clear violation of Covid protocols”. “By the time the yatra reaches Thiruvananthapuram, the yatra would turn many locations into red zones as Covid-19 protocols are being thrown to the wind,” he added. Following this, Kannur police have filed suo moto cases against 26 UDF leaders and 400 activists for violation of Covid norms, which Ramesh Chennithala have alleged as a case of political motivation.
Interestingly, some of the blatant violations of Covid norms in recent times have happened under the aegis of the government or the CPM. Take for example the recent canteen election at the Kerala Secretariat on January 29. A video that had gone viral since then shows dozens of people gathered together — very close by — having food and drinks and with their masks at their chins. The video shows a heavy rush that is anything but safe or social distancing. However, no police action has been taken in this scenario.
Closer to the party lines, since December last year DYFI (CPM’s youth wing) and SFI (CPM’s student wing) had organised several programmes despite a severe Covid situation in the state. From a large DYFI march in Thiruvananthapuram to several small marches by SFI across the state as part of their golden jubilee celebrations, the two parties have also organised massive public events. Moreover, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had been the chief guest at the large-scale event organised to celebrate their golden jubilee. A perusal of their social media pages would yield dozens of other events — small and big — organised across the state in just the last three months.
However, none of these is the cherry on top of the irony. Just two days back, the government had organised a public adalat where several ministers had gathered to collect thousands of complaints directly from the people. At the Santhwana Sparsham 2021 in Kollam yesterday, Fisheries Minister J Mercykutty Amma, Forest Minister K Raju, and Cooperation Minister Kadakampally Surendran addressed the needs of many who had gathered at the event, interacting with them. Keep in mind that many who had attended and interacted with the ministers were elderly people. Today morning, Kadakampally Surendran informed that he was Covid positive.
The situation went outside the control of the organisers in Alappuzha where thousands had gathered at the adalat where Finance Minister Thomas Isaac, PWD Minister G Sudhakaran, and Food and Civil Supplies Minister P Thilothaman had gathered. Despite “strict rules” and “Covid protocols” thousands thronged the location. However, on both occasions, there has been no action from the side of police or ministers. They are yet to address the rush or even establish better control mechanisms. The situation was repeated in three different locations over two days.
On the flip side, political observers say that it is better to ditch this public programme. The government had claimed that people could file their complaints via Akshaya centres and online facilities. Yet, the ministers felt the need to organise a large public event, where a close gathering of hundreds is a sure possibility, during a time when Kerala is facing a dangerous health situation. Experts note that with elections close by, this could very well be a “political stunt” especially asking as to how the government is going to address thousands of complaints in a short period.
Interestingly, it should also be considered in the background that Oommen Chandy had done a similar programme during his tenure, and the LDF leaders had criticised it, saying that the Chandy was “acting like a village officer” and was “hoodwinking the public”. Another major criticism for Chandy’s mass contact programme was that a need for CM to hear complaints directly meant that petitions of the people were caught in red tape. While the UDF government’s mass contact programme was organised in a healthier climate, the LDF’s Santhwana Sparsham is being held at a time when the public health of the state is in danger. Yet, instead of addressing the faults, the government deemed it fit that it is better to blame the situation on the opposition. The political epidemiology of the LDF government is a very interesting example of hypocrisy.