Kochi: The mass gathering of the supporters of controversial public speaker and Bigg Boss contestant Rajith Kumar at the Cochin International Airport on Sunday night exposes the loopholes in Kerala's much-praised efforts to contain the spread of novel coronavirus.
State intelligence's failure to sense the possibility of such a gathering and security force's inability to disperse the crowd have come under criticism after the incident. That the incident happened hours after a coronavirus-infected UK citizen was taken off a plane at the airport makes it much more serious.
The fan show happened despite the government's repeated pleas to avoid all mass gatherings to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The Nedumbassery police on Monday registered a case against 79 people, including Rajith Kumar, a professor at the Sree Sankara College, Kalady, on various charges. Two arrests have been made by the team led by Nedumbassery CI P M Biju. Chelamattom natives Nibas and Mohammed Afsal are the ones arrested.
However, the Opposition calls it a late and purposeless action, and alleged that the police and the district administration failed to anticipate and stop the gathering.
Congress leader P C Vishnunadh on Monday flagged the failure of the state intelligence in preventing the mass gathering at the airport.
“The crowd had started gathering at the airport in small groups much before the arrival of the flight carrying Rajith Kumar. Why did the Intelligence fail to sense the danger and avoid it? The district administration and the police should have convinced the people to go back on their own. Otherwise, they should have disperse the crowd using force,” Vishnunadh, a former MLA and AICC secretary, told Onmanorama.
He said the gathering was planned and announced on social media. He also accused the CISF, which is in charge of the airport security, of failing to avoid the gathering.
Vishnunadh said the incident has exposed the flaws in the government's preventive measures against COVID-19.
Impromptu crowd: Intelligence
The state intelligence officers told Onmanorama that they had no prior knowledge about the crowd as they gathered at the airport unplanned.
“The flight was scheduled to arrive at 9 pm and the people gathered there around 8.50 pm. We had only 10 minutes to alert the local police,” an officer said.
This claim, however, sounds flawed as a proper monitoring of social media alone would have helped the police anticipate such a gathering. Rajith Kumar's fans have been highly active on social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube and they were agitated after he was evicted from the reality show. Rajith Kumar was shown the doors of Bigg Boss after he smeared green chilly in the eyes of fellow contestant and model Reshma, during the show. The intelligence wing would have easily got hints about the welcome had it tracked the cyber activities of Rajith Kumar's fans.
Those defending Rajith say that he was unaware of the gravity of the issues outside as he was inside the Bigg Boss house for the past 70 days. Bigg Boss is a social experiment reality show in which contestants, mostly celebrities, have to stay inside a house for 100 days, cut off from the outside world.
However, in a Facebook video shot after the reception at the airport, Rajith was heard saying the airport authorities had requested him to move out through a different door to avoid facing the crowd. “I insisted that I wanted to meet those who love me,” he said. In another video, he was heard telling airport staff that, “I'm not afraid of coronavirus. I won't be infected by corona as I have a pure heart.”
Rajith is known for his public speeches that have drawn flak from rights activists for misogynist, transphobic and pseudo scientific comments and observations.