The nearly 45-minute press conference of CPM state secretary M V Govindan in Thiruvananthapuram on November 23 confirmed a growing suspicion. The CPM has been profoundly rattled by the bad press generated by Nava Kerala Sadas.
First there were the reports about the 'wonder bus' for the Cabinet. Then, the presence of a Muslim League leader at the Chief Minister's breakfast meeting at Kasaragod created quite a political flutter.
Damning were the reactions to the Chief Minister's spirited endorsement of DYFI's show of brutal violence. Embarrassing were official circulars about student participation at the 'sadas', the seemingly forced lining up of schoolchildren along the path through which the special bus passed, and even the public reprimand of former minister K K Shailaja for having spoken for an additional five minutes. And all of this in a matter of just five days.
"The evening (news channel) discussions are one-sided and loaded against the government and the Chief Minister," Govindan, in an uncharacteristically bitter mood, said. "I think the time has come for us to seriously ponder whether Left spokespersons should be part of such discussions," he said.
Nava Kerala propaganda machine
Govindan provided confirmation about yet another question that swirled around the month-long event. The Nava Kerala Sadas, as suspected, is a propaganda exercise more than a people's welfare move.
"In fact, the very reason to organise such a programme is to expose the false propaganda unleashed by the bourgeois parties and those holding right wing views," Govindan said. So, by his own admission, the event was a propaganda exercise right from the start.
But later, a 'confused' Govindan suggested that the Nava Kerala Sadas was not yet a propaganda event but would soon be turned into one in order to counter the mischief caused by a cabal that included the Congress and the "right-wing" media.
"The media and the Opposition are attempting to develop innovative means to sustain blatant lies. If things continue in this vein, this (Nava Kerala Sadas) is the only way out for the government to get its point across to the people. We have no choice but to set in motion a massive propaganda enterprise," the CPM state secretary said.
Either way- whether it began as one or has evolved into one- Nava Kerala Sadas functions as a "massive propaganda enterprise". Far more interesting political lessons could be gleaned from Govindan's media interaction. Even while heaping scorn on the media and ridiculing the Youth Congress "suicide squad", Govindan made two anti-government statements.
Govindan sends DYFI a veiled warning
The first sounded like a warning to the trigger-happy DYFI workers who had recently used anything they could lay their hands on- flowerpots, helmets and stones- to thrash 'black flag'-waving Youth Congress workers. The Chief Minister had termed their actions "exemplary" and wanted them to persist with such "life-saving" measures.
Govindan, on the other hand, expressed disapproval. He said the Youth Congress workers were deliberately behaving like "death squads" but gave a clear hint that Youth Congress deeds were not an excuse for DYFI workers to fly off the handle.
"We should go ahead without falling for such provocations and should exercise self-restraint," Govindan said. Further, in what can be seen as a censure of the police department, Govindan said government mechanisms were used to conduct things in a peaceful manner. Two days ago, when Youth Congress workers were assaulted, policemen who escorted the Chief Minister, instead of defusing the situation, had functioned as the DYFI's backup force.
Victims, not perpetrators
Govindan also pointed out the irony of Left workers indulging in violence. He said the Left could never support repression of any kind. "Nor are we of the belief that we could crush anyone using repressive means. If that was so, the Left parties would have been the first ones in the country to be crushed and vanquished," Govindan said.
He said the Left draws its energy from Moyarath Sankaran, a towering pre-Independence Congress leader with strong socialist leanings. Sankaran became a Communist late in life, in 1939. After Independence, he was repeatedly targeted by Congress workers. On May 11, 1948, he was beaten up by alleged Congress workers at Edakkad in Kannur and was handed over to the police. The very next day he breathed his last in Kannur Central Jail.
"It was from his martyrdom that we had derived the strength to withstand any kind of repression," Govindan said. It looks like the CPM state secretary was trying to say that violence had steeled the Left but it had no need to live by it. "Crushing the Opposition using violence is, therefore, not our policy. Violence should be fully avoided," Govindan said.
The second statement that could probably offend Pinarayi was Govindan’s take on schoolchildren raising pro-government slogans as the Cabinet bus moved past their school. "Under no circumstances should children be asked to stand in the sun," Govindan said.
When the question was first posed to him, Govindan said that no one could prevent children from "waving tata in a democratic manner" at the Chief Minister. "They were not like the suicide squads of the Congress jumping towards the bus. These children were lovingly expressing their happiness," he said.
Still, he was eager to clarify. "But the question is whether the children should be made to stand in the sun while doing so. I would say that under no circumstances they should be made to do so."