Why Kerala CM’s invite to Amit Shah for Nehru Trophy boat race has raised eyebrows

Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan, who was a bitter critic of Amit Shah, has invited him for one of Kerala’s most loved events during Onam. What prompts this sudden change of heart?

Nehru Trophy boat race
Nehru Trophy boat race

Ashlin Mathew

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s invite to Union Home Minister Amit Shah to be the chief guest at the annual Nehru Trophy boat race, that too apparently without the race organisers’ knowledge, during the Onam celebrations has raised eyebrows.

Shah is scheduled to be in Kerala to chair the South Zone chief ministers’ conference from August 30 to September 3. Vijayan has requested Shah to return only after participating in the Onam celebrations following the council meeting. A formal invitation was sent from the chief minister’s office on August 23.

The boat race will be held in Punnamada lake on September 4.

Political observers are wondering as to what could be behind Vijayan's newfound bonhomie as he had been a bitter critic of Shah and BJP.

In March 2021, Vijayan had called Amit Shah the “epitome of communalism” in a speech. “The entire country knows that Amit Shah is the epitome of communalism. He will do anything to spread communalism," Vijayan had said.

Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) leader and Kollam MP NK Premachandran said that the boat race organisers had requested the chief minister to be the chief guest at the event. “It was this invitation that the CM passed on to Shah without the knowledge of the organisers,” Premachnadran said.

Senior Congress leaders VD Satheesan and K Sudhakaran pointed out that the invitation for the Nehru boat race was for the leader of a party that has been trying to discredit and erase the contributions of the country’s first prime minister.

“This is an insult to the memory of Pandit Nehru who had visited Alappuzha in 1952 and had donated a rolling trophy with his signature to be awarded to the winner,” said Satheesan, Congress MLA and Leader of Opposition in Kerala assembly.

Nehru had donated a replica of a snake boat bearing the inscription, "To the winners of the boat race which is a unique feature of community life in Travancore Cochin" above his signature. The award was then christened in Nehru’s name.

That people of Kerala don’t like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its communal politics is evident from the fact that the saffron party drew a blank in the 2021 assembly elections despite all its money power and resources. In 2016 it had won one seat.

In turn, the BJP leaders show scant regard for Kerala’s culture and the Malayali sensibilities.

In 2016, during his term as the BJP president, Amit Shah had extended greetings of ‘Vamana Jayanti’ on the eve of Onam with a poster bearing the image of a Brahmin boy placing his foot over the head of a king, presumably King Mahabali.

The greeting had drawn sharp criticism from Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and he had wanted Shah to withdraw the statement as it had hurt the sentiments of the people of Kerala. “It is not suitable for responsible political leaders to hurt the emotional sentiments of people. If Amit Shah has political decency, he should realise this, withdraw the Vamana Jayanti greeting, and render apology to the Malayali community around the world,” Vijayan had asserted.

Notably, the invitation to Shah has come at a time when the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear on September 13 the SNC Lavalin case, in which Pinarayi Vijayan is an accused. The bench headed by Chief Justice of India UU Lalit has instructed that the case should not be adjourned from the list of petitions being considered on the day. The case was brought before the apex court in 2018 and has been deferred more than 30 times since then.

In 2019, CPI(M) had run a campaign against NK Premachandran after PM Narendra Modi inaugurated the 13-km long, 2-lane Kollam bypass on National Highway 66 just ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. The CPI(M) Kerala unit wanted Vijayan to inaugurate the bypass.

Premachandran has now demanded an unconditional public apology from CPI(M) and particularly the chief minister. “Why did the chief minister extend an invitation to the Union Home Minister? They had alleged that I have an unholy alliance with BJP and that is why the PM had come to inaugurate the Kollam bypass,” asserted Premachandran.

He pointed out that the Kollam bypass was a project under NHAI and the Union government, which was completed during LDF’s rule.

He said that there are many other cases against CPI(M) leaders and the chief minister besides the SNC-Lavalin case, such as the gold smuggling and currency smuggling case and the co-operative bank scam.

Slamming the chief minister, Leader of Opposition and Congress MLA VD Satheesan said the decision to invite the Union home minister has come on the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence and when the country is protesting against the release of 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case.

KPCC chief K Sudhakaran demanded from CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury a clarification whether the undue importance given by the CPI(M) Kerala unit to Sangh Parivar leaders was with the blessings of the party's Politburo.

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