Even in defeat, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had mostly the media to blame.
He said the Kerala Police Amendment Ordinance, 2020, which was widely seen as the biggest ever threat to free speech in Kerala after the Emergency, was actually thought of because the media houses themselves wanted strict measures to prevent people from using social media to desecrate the lives of women and transgender people.
Pinarayi Vijayan even made it sound as if the media had betrayed him. "You would recall that I once had a discussion with your chief editors," the chief minister told reporters during a media interaction on Tuesday. "Their major recommendation was a strong measure to take on people who were taking law into their hands this way," he said.
Vijayan, however, did not care to say why the scope of the new amendment was so extensive, even infinite, as to include "all modes of communication" and not just the social media. Or, if he was so concerned about women, why his lawmakers failed to give the new law a gender-specific focus.
The CM then appeared to suggest that it was appalling that certain people had thought an LDF government could even think of stifling the media.
“Do you know of any one LDF government in history that had ever attempted to gag even one media house though some of them had nothing but hatred for the Left,” he asked. "This LDF government, too, would not. It was only with good intentions that we introduced the law," Vijayan said.
If so, why did the new amendment forged under his charge empower the police to harass an individual or media house for even unpublished content? As per the stillborn amendment, a person only has to create, not even publish or express or disseminate what she had created, for the clause to be invoked.
Here is the 'about to be repealed' section 118(A) in full: “Whoever creates, expresses, publishes or disseminates through any kind of mode of communication, any matter or subject for threatening, abusing, humiliating or defaming a person or class of persons, knowing it to be false and that causes injury to the mind, reputation or property of such person or class of persons or any other person in whom they have interest shall on conviction, be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with a fine which may extend to Rs 10,000 or with both.”
Vijayan then claimed that his government had not "generally" strayed from Left ideals. Then how come his government could concoct an amendment that even LDF backers, by his own admission, were repelled by?
And how come, the chief minister could not adhere to a CPM deal that he articulated today: “Any new law would come only through the Assembly, not by an Ordinance.
Nonetheless, the chief minister has justifiably said his government's decision to withdraw the ordinance, bowing to popular demand, should be seen as "exemplary". He said his government could not be blind to public opinion.
But if he valued democracy so much, why was the new law not discussed even within the party or LDF forums.
The chief minister did have an answer to this. He pulled out the urgency clause he used to defend the choice of Sprinklr Inc. to manage COVID-19. “It was an extraordinary situation, as you all know. There were instances of even people committing suicides unable to bear the onslaught on their dignity.”
And of course, there was always the media to goad him into action. “Newspapers wrote editorials about the need to have strict laws to prevent such menace,” he said.