Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy was on Saturday asked to keep off a function to be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi by the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam, which had invited him earlier to preside over it.
The function, scheduled for Tuesday next, is to unveil the former Chief Minister and Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president, R. Sankar’s statue in Kollam. Mr. Chandy said in a statement that SNDP Yogam general secretary Vellapally Natesan advised him to stay away because “certain quarters” might not like his presence.
Mr. Modi is to unveil the statue at the SN College, managed by the SNDP, the powerful organisation of the Ezhava community. The Prime Minister is also expected to inaugurate the building of the Sree Narayana Guru College of Legal Studies at a function on the college premises.
Mr. Chandy maintained that it was his duty to participate in a function attended by the Prime Minister as per protocol and as a gesture of courtesy. Moreover, the function was connected to a revered Congress leader of yore, and he was duty-bound to attend it. The statement said he decided to stay away because the organisers, after having invited him and insisted on his participation, changed their stance.
Talking to The Hindu , Mr. Chandy said he had informed the Prime Minister’s Office of the circumstances of his decision.
Expressing his unhappiness at the turn of events, Mr. Chandy said he would attend Mr. Modi’s other official functions, including the reception in Kochi and the farewell for him that the State government planned in Thiruvananthapuram.
Mr. Natesan, who initially refused to comment on it “because the function would lose its auspiciousness,” told the media that he had made his request to the Chief Minister on the basis of Intelligence reports that predicted some protests from certain quarters. However, unconfirmed reports quoting State Intelligence sources said that if there were such inputs, it would have been first communicated to the Chief Minister himself.
The issue has found resonance across the political divide in Kerala. The Congress has blamed the BJP for prompting the slight to the Chief Minister. Mr. Natesan’s hobnobbing with the BJP has caused considerable consternation in the State’s bipolar politics.
Senior Congress leader A.K. Antony urged Mr. Modi to call for an inquiry. Mr. Antony said the exclusion of Mr. Chandy after being invited to the function was both shocking and sad. Forces that worked behind the development, putting pressure on the organisers, should be exposed. “Since Mr. Modi is attending the function, it is only fitting that he orders an inquiry into the controversy,” Mr. Antony added.
KPCC president V.M. Sudheeran termed Mr. Natesan’s action an affront to both the Chief Minister and the State. Even if Mr. Natesan was reluctant to name those who put pressure on him, it was clearly the work of communal and fascist forces, he maintained..
Left Democratic Front (LDF) leaders, including Opposition Leader V.S. Achuthanandan and Pinarayi Vijayan, condemned Mr. Natesan’s action.
Sources say the Congress leaders’ suspicion that this had to do with the designs of the BJP’s national leadership is based on two recent developments.
One was the assertive moves of the BJP to make inroads into State politics by allying with the Natesan-sponsored Bharatiya Dharma Jana Sena (BJDS), a political platform of mainly Dalit and backward class organisations.They also see a reflection of attempts of the BJP leadership to usurp the patrimony of iconic Congress leaders such as Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Lal Bahdur Shastri, in the eulogising of R. Sankar in Kerala. Congress leaders say they are also surprised that the PMO did not take up the matter in the context of the protocol issues related to such functions.