Is Pinarayi the superstar anti-CAA opposition is waiting for?


In the recently-released Rajnikant-starrer 'Darbar', there is a 10-minute stretch that shows why the superstar's character, Mumbai commissioner of police Aadithya Arunasalam, is the country's most daring police officer.

With his daughter missing, a desperate minister gives Arunasalam a free hand. But the superstar, instead of just saving the minister's daughter, uses this carte blanche to rescue all the little girls trapped in prostitution and drug dens across the whole of Mumbai.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, like the superstar, is not content with the barest of challenges. Any other Chief Minister would have been content using stern words against the BJP government for siring the Citizenship Amendment Act. Not Pinarayi.

Like superstars who reach for the sun and break it, the Kerala Chief Minister has given clear hints that he wants to use this national anger against the CAA to emerge as the most daring opposition leader in the country.

Joint CAA protest
Joint protest organised by LDF and UDF against Citizenship Amendment Act .

After warm up, the kill

Soon after the Citizenship Amendment Bill was passed in the Assembly, Pinarayi declared that the law would not be implemented in Kerala. But this did not give him any unique national advantage, as other chief ministers, Bengal's Mamata Banerjee and Punjab's Amarinder Singh, had already said so.

He was only warming up, like a smiling superstar sizing up his armed opponents. He went step by step. First, he positioned himself as the voice of Kerala. For this, he called a joint anti-CAA protest in Kerala. He and opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala shared the stage, but in the background was a large hero-size image of Pinarayi Vijayan and a smaller sidekick-size image of Chennithala.

Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president Mullapally Ramachandran found this symbolic togetherness politically suicidal and, like a man who had spotted a trap quite late, shouted that the Congress would not be part of any of joint protests with the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

But by then, for engineering a great show of unity, Pinarayi had become a hero for anti-CAA agitators.

David's swag

He was the David with a greater swag than the Goliath. When union home minister Amit Shah, in an attempt to steer the debate away from the National Register of Citizens (NRC), spoke of National Population Register, Pinarayi swiftly blacklisted this exercise, too.

“We will not implement the NRC and the NPR. We will not roll out the NPR. All that we would do is conduct the census. Beyond that we will not proceed even a centimetre. Kerala is not the place to roll out the RSS agenda,” he said.

And then, on the last day of 2019, came the electrifying whistle-worthy moment. With Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan as the leader of the House, the Kerala Assembly unanimously passed a resolution urging the state in no uncertain terms to withdraw the Citizenship legislation. It was the first such anti-CAA resolution in the country.

On one side were the university students, fighting on with bloodied noses and broken limbs, and beside them, opening another front against the BJP government at the Centre, was Pinarayi Vijayan.

CM Pinarayi Vijayan
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan with JNUSU President Aishe Ghosh.

Scene stealer

On January 13, when leaders of opposition met to decide strategy, Pinarayi even in his absence stole the show. The leaders in a resolution exhorted 13 chief ministers opposing the CAA to take a leaf out of Pinarayi Vijayan's book and pass a resolution against the CAA.

Besides exhilarating episodes of confrontation and heroism, Pinarayi's superstar-like narrative has poignant moments, too. When in Delhi recently, Pinarayi found time to meet the bandaged and plastered Aishe Ghosh, the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union president.

He was the first Chief Minister to do so. Not even Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had met her. The Twitter image of Pinarayi ruffling the hair of Ghosh, like a father would a daughter, went viral. Such are moments that even Rajnikant would perhaps yearn for in a movie of his.

And on Tuesday, when it was thought that Pinarayi could surprise no more, he took his fight to the Supreme Court. His government filed a suit challenging the CAA. It termed the CAA “manifestly arbitrary and unconstitutional”.

Pinarayi's actions work as his punchlines. This was Pinarayi's way of saying he was not interested in making noises. He means business.

Superstar's weak point

However, critics also point out a “childish triumphalism” that could undo his ambitions to rise as a pan-India leader. Take for instance the letter he had written to chief minister on January 3. "It virtually dictates what other chief ministers should do. How does he think strong-minded leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Uddhav Thackeray and Arvind Kejriwal would take it," a Congress leader said.

Incidentally, none of the chief ministers have responded to Pinarayi's missive.

Newspaper ad
Kerala government ad which says “We Are One. We Are First: Kerala Shows the Way”.

Then there is the government ad, with the Chief Minister's smiling face, put out to showcase the various firsts that Kerala had achieved. “We Are One. We Are First: Kerala Shows the Way,” it says.

But the thrust is not on the firsts we had achieved in health, education and poverty eradication but on what we had done to protect the Constitution that other states couldn't.

It is as if Kerala is mocking at other states whose support is crucial for a combined fight against the CAA. A superstar cutting the branch on which he sits.