On October 19, Health Minister K K Shailaja was offended by comments attributed to union minister for health and family welfare Dr Harsh Vardhan that Kerala had gone from "best to worst" in COVID-19 control.
She promptly called up the union minister but Dr Vardhan told her that he had no intention of showing Kerala in a bad light and was only warning other states against an Onam-like overcrowding that had caused a sudden surge in Kerala. Shailaja was pacified as the Onam surge was an officially acknowledged phenomenon.
However, Chief Minister Pinaryi Vijayan was not in a mood to let Dr Vardhan lightly. He sought to correct the union health minister on his Onam comment, and said that the public crowds that stoked a dramatic rise in COVID cases in Kerala since September were not brought about by the Onam festival but by the “vendetta politics” played by parties like Dr Vardhan's own.
"He (Dr Vardhan) is under the impression that it was Onam that caused the surge," the chief minister said during his customary sunset briefing on Monday. "No major public celebrations were held as part of Onam. People might have got together privately in their homes but nothing had happened during the season that caused the situation to go out of control," the chief minister said.
He even said that people had even adhered to the various restrictions put in place by the government during the season.
"But what happened later was unbecoming of a civilised society," the chief minister said, referring to the street agitations unleashed by the Congress, BJP and their feeder organisations demanding the resignation of higher education minster K T Jaleel.
He described these protests as "unnecessary" and "anarchic".
"Widespread agitations were let loose across the state. There were public calls to join the agitation by throwing away masks and violating social distancing norms. By mingling without masks and taking on the police, they mocked at COVID controls. While on one side efforts were made to strengthen COVID prevention, these unnecessary and anarchic protests gave a completely different message to the public: that there was no need to be vigilant," the chief minister said.
"What happened in Kerala was the tragedy of opposition politics morphing into vendetta politics," Vijayan added.
Political observers also consider the chief minister's refusal to blame Onam for the recent COVID-19 surge has caught especially the BJP on the wrong foot. “A BJP union minister points fingers at Onam and a Marxist chief minister stands up for the secular festival. This should be hugely embarrassing for the BJP, whose political strategy is all about appropriating cultural symbols,” a writer who did not wish to be quoted said.