Kerala: Even in adversity, God’s own country teaches the Centre a lesson

Keralites got out to help each other and even the right-wingers in the state have begun to begrudgingly agree that the Central government isn’t supporting Kerala in this hour of crisis

Kerala: Even in adversity, God’s own country teaches the Centre a lesson
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Ashlin Mathew

If one were living in another Indian state far from Kerala, the floods, which devastated the lives of millions of people, are no longer important. As long as rising waters cannot be seen, it’s all good. No matter that the sludge and slush left is almost as high as the waters that had entered the homes.

There are, of course, more important developments in other parts of the country, as Kerala seems to have taken a backseat, as far as national priorties are concerned. But, what hasn’t been fathomed is the vitriol that erupted when the aid from Centre wasn’t enough. Such divisiveness wasn’t visible, or not as prominent, when other states complained about the lack of aid.

Many think the anger is directed towards the fact that instead of remaining passive, the entire state got out to help each other, plead for more funds and didn’t complain against their state government, as is expected in such cases. Could this be what Centre was expecting, in the hope of making a breakthrough in the state? What is not surprising, but reflects some amount of criticality of thought, is that the right-wingers, or ‘Sanghikkal’, as they are known in Kerala, have begun to begrudgingly agree that the Central government isn’t supporting the state in this hour of crisis. “Is this all a ploy to ensure Kerala is debilitated and doesn’t stand on its two feet,” is the question doing rounds even amidst them. In fact, the RSS-linked Malayalam weekly, Kesari, had carried a prominent editorial on its website criticising the Centre’s handling of the flood crisis. They stated that there seemed to be vengeance on the part of the Modi government, while dealing with Kerala.

The editorial said it would be lying if it didn’t point out and criticise the BJP government at Centre for politicising the crisis and highlight the treatment meted out to the state by the movement “we believed in so long”. Echoing the sentiments of most Keralites, the editorial stated that without the existence of Kerala, none of people would be where they are. It went on to add, “Along with feelings for Bharat, each ‘Sanghaputran’ also carries feelings for Kerala”.

The BJP-RSS’ combine could face a severe electoral backlash for the way they have handled the crisis 

Adding a word of approval for the CM, the editorial stated that the BJP-led Centre did not even show the decency that Vijayan had shown when he said “the Centre was cooperating with the state in all matters”. Instead, it had turned its back towards the state. But, as soon as the editorial started to go viral, it was taken down and replaced with a week-old editorial. And, the editor, NR Madhu, became unreachable. Soon, a statement was released that their website was hacked. No matter that nothing else on the website seemed to have been defaced. And the magazine with this editorial which was supposed to hit the stands on Wednesday had still not a few days later. The right-wingers believe that the editor must have been hauled up for the critical comments as the Centre expects everyone to fawn over them. And that is precisely what has caught their goat, because in their minds too no one can or should escape criticism.

The BJP-RSS combine hasn’t got anything right this time around, they lament, and fear they may face severe consequences as they are up against the able leadership of the Kerala CM, who hit the ground running. Even fake news is being busted by the CM’s team and those involved arrested. Fairly moderate right-wing supporters are incensed that RSS, instead of sending their men to help the flood relief work going on in different parts of the state, has been tweeting fake messages about their men on the ground. RSS had recently tweeted an image of their workers, who had helped during the rescue work in the aftermath of the Kollam temple fire in 2016 as flood relief work. And they didn’t stop at that. In Chengannur, it was reported that an empty truck with the banner of Sewa Bharti had been doing the rounds stating that they were helping with the Kerala flood relief work.

The banner on the truck gave the impression that they were supplying relief materials to the camps. When the local residents stopped the truck and questioned the driver, he said he was paid Rs 2000 to do it. In the absence of any other job, he had agreed to do it, while requesting the residents to not beat him up.

Friends of RSS had circulated images of Sangh workers providing aid and relief to flood-stricken Kerala. It was shared widely and once again it was found that those images were from Gujarat floods in 2017. All this has forced at least some of the living-room Hindutva brigade in Kerala to wonder if Centre, while denying aid to Kerala, was hoping it would end up like one of the BIMARU states. Roads, houses, hospitals are almost unusable and several business have been crippled and rightly most people, socialists and otherwise, have questioned if that’s what the Centre wanted – a silent Kerala struggling to get back on its feet.

Going by the mood on the ground and online, silence is unlikely. When a video clip purportedly calling Keralites ‘shameless’ went viral, Keralites from around the world, responded, including a professor Vinod Narayan, who lives in California. He went on to call the journalist in question shameless. But, it’s not just him, many volunteers haven’t understood why none of the Hindutva organisations haven’t quietly contributed to the relief work or opened up their premises just like how a number of other religious institutions had opened up their premises for relief work, in addition to sending cooked food and medical aid.

And none of this was done with a religious bend of mind. “It’s a service to the local community,” is what many stated, refusing to identify with any particular sect. Unlike most parts of the country, it is hardly news in Kerala when people of different religious groups help each other. It is what is called humanity. Centre should take note and follow such steps in the country, at least that is what the volunteers helping with relief believe. That could stop the violence in the rest of the country.

This article has been edited to change the name of a place

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Published: 31 Aug 2018, 7:45 PM