The Kerala Story: Doordarshan’s decision to broadcast controversial movie triggers political row in Kerala

Both ruling LDF and Opposition UDF have accused BJP-led Central government of sanctioning the movie’s broadcast to allegedly stoke sectarian divisions and cause communal polarisation in Kerala with an eye on Hindu votes in 2024 Lok Sabha elections

April 05, 2024 12:27 pm | Updated April 09, 2024 10:54 am IST - Thiruvananthapuram

People walk past the poster of the movie ‘The Kerala Story’ outside a cinema hall in New Delhi. (file)

People walk past the poster of the movie ‘The Kerala Story’ outside a cinema hall in New Delhi. (file) | Photo Credit: ANI

A political row has broken out in Kerala over Doordarshan’s contentious decision to beam the allegedly Islamophobic movie The Kerala Story.

At least a score of Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) activists attempted to storm the precincts of the Doordarshan Kendram in Thiruvananthapuram on April 5 morning demanding that the national broadcaster rescind its decision and apologise.

The Youth Congress has also planned similar protests in front of Central government offices later in the day.

The squabble has found the ruling front and the Opposition in Kerala on the same page for once.

Both the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) have accused the BJP-led Central government of sanctioning the movie’s broadcast to allegedly stoke sectarian divisions and cause communal polarisation in Kerala with an eye on Hindu votes in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Leader of the Opposition V.D. Satheesan have separately demanded that Doordarshan cease beaming the “polarising movie.”

On April 4, Mr. Vijayan posted on X (formerly Twitter): “The decision by @DDNational to broadcast the film ‘Kerala Story’, which incites polarisation, is highly condemnable. The national news broadcaster should not become a propaganda machine of the BJP-RSS combine and withdraw from screening a film that only seeks to exacerbate communal tensions ahead of the general elections. Kerala will remain steadfast in opposing such malicious attempts to sow hatred.”

On April 5, Mr. Satheesan moved the Election Commission of India (ECI) to bar Doordarshan from broadcasting the movie. He termed the production “poisonous Sangh Parivar propaganda” garbed as a feature film based on utterly false premises and devious hyperbole.

‘An insult to people of Kerala’

Both leaders said the movie insulted the people of Kerala and sought to scuttle the State’s secular and democratic polity.

In a statement, Mr. Vijayan recalled that BJP leaders had likened Kerala to Somalia, an arguably declining African nation.

He said the BJP blotted out the truth, endorsed by NITI Aayog findings, that Kerala had eradicated extreme poverty and had the country’s best quality of life indices.

Mr. Vijayan said the movie casts Kerala “as a hub of conversions and seeks to disparage the State.”

He pointed out that screenings of the movie triggered protests and caused communal tension across the country in 2023.

Mr. Satheesan said Doordarshan’s notification that it would air the film on April 5 evening violated the model code of conduct in place. He also appealed to Doordarshan to rescind the decision in the public interest.

Union Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan said those opposed to the film’s beaming seemed “scared” of contrarian and dissenting points of view. “They are free to approach the ECI,” he said.

The LDF and the UDF worry that the spat over the broadcasting of the allegedly divisive film might take on a new level of vitriol and perhaps focus the Lok Sabha election campaign on communally divisive issues.

‘Love jihad’ theory

However, the BJP reportedly calculates that the film’s messaging resonates among Christians, including Church leaders, and Hindus, who subscribe to the “love jihad” theory, a supposition that Islamist organisations have tasked radicalised Muslim men with luring impressionable Hindu women into the global jihadist cause.

Both the UDF and the LDF have slammed the hypothesis as a Sangh Parivar conspiracy. They have cast it as another BJP attempt to use popular cinema as a medium for its “divisive messaging”.

The opposing alliances were acutely aware that the movie was the central plank of BJP’s campaigning in the 2023 Karnataka Assembly elections, which the Congress won.

The BJP had claimed that the movie shone a light on a hitherto unknown form of terrorist recruitment. The BJP’s social media handlers urged people to watch the film with their families.

The movie purportedly claimed, arguably without any empirical proof, that Islamists had converted 32,000 Hindu men and women in Kerala to the jihadist cause.

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