Pinarayi tames Sudhakaran with a smile. But Lord Ayyappa is a tougher nut to crack

Pinarayi tames Sudhakaran with a smile. But Lord Ayyappa is a tougher nut to crack
Sudhakaran said Pinarayi was unworthy of respect.

It seems Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's political antennae was dysfunctional only when the Supreme Court pronounced its Sabarimala women's entry verdict in September 2018.

Otherwise, the feelers sent out from some advanced part of the Chief Minister's brain are so sharp at catching the political mood of the moment that he knows when to show aggression and when to remain calm or even back down.

Both these aspects of Pinarayi Vijayan's personality, his sound political judgment and the uncertainty that grips him at the mention of Sabarimala, were on show during his customary sunset briefing on Friday.

His political shrewdness came to the fore when he put to rest the "toddy tapper's son" controversy that, if allowed to fester, could have done him and the LDF unnecessary political harm. But later, when faced with the Sabarimala question, Pinarayi looked completely lost.

A couple of hours before the sunset briefing, Congress's Kannur strongman K Sudhakaran, swatting aside internal voices of disapproval, had demonstrated his determination to scale up his anti-Pinarayi tirade.

Sudhakaran said Pinarayi was unworthy of respect. "He called a known freedom fighter like Mullappaly's father derogatory names. When Mullappally's father was sacrificing his life for the freedom of the country, Pinarayi's father was merely whiling away his time," Sudhakaran said.

He pulled out into public discourse not just Pinarayi's infamous 'nikristajeevi' (wretched man) usage against the Thamarassery Bishop but also the improper qualifications E M S Namboodirippad had used for K R Gouri and E K Nayanar for Congress leader M A Kuttappan.

At the press briefing, Pinarayi was asked about Sudhakaran's "toddy tapper's son" comment. The expectation was that Pinarayi would cut Sudhakaran to size the way he had Mullappally Ramachandran when the KPCC chief made what was widely considered misogynist comments against health minister K K Shylaja.

Instead, Pinarayi gave out a laugh like he heard a harmless joke. He said Sudhakaran had not said anything wrong.

"I myself had told that I am the son of a toddy tapper. My elder brother was also a toddy tapper. My second elder brother too worked as a tapper till his health allowed and then went into the bakery business. I take great pride in my family background," Pinarayi said.

A Marxist Chief Minister speaking so openly, and with such great self-esteem, of his working class lineage is a moment of political triumph.

Pinarayi was smart enough to leave it at that. He did not respond to the graver charges, which hinted at ill-begotten wealth. It was clear Pinarayi did not want to further provoke a leader like Sudhakaran who he knew was waiting for him to take the bait.

But this political poise was lost when Pinarayi was probed about Sabarimala. Initially he looked in control, ridiculing the UDF for hoping that Sabarimala would fetch them votes. It was at the operative part that Pinarayi began to lose his grip.

"Our role comes when the Sabarimala review bench pronounces its verdict. At that point, if there is anything that would affect us, we will have to take a stand. In such instances, what the government normally does is to hold discussions with various sections of the society and arrive at a commonly accepted stand," the Chief Minister said.

Pat came the obvious question. "Why then was the government not willing to hold discussions with everyone when the original Sabarimala verdict came?"

Pinarayi's answer: ""It is not now that discussions will be held with everyone. My point is, right now there is no problem in Sabarimala."

The Chief Minister was employing perhaps the most popular trick from the politician's survival book: When faced with a question that could render you speechless, make up your own question and answer it, however foolish it might sound.

The Chief Minister was asked the question once again, perhaps in the belief that he might have heard it wrong the first time. "Why did the government come to a decision earlier without consulting with any Hindu organisations," he was asked.

Yet again he ignored the question but this time his response was thoroughly confusing. "I did not say that I will talk to anyone, only that I would discuss with various sections of the society."

When more questions about Sabarimala were hurled, the Chief Minister wound up the briefing 10 minutes before schedule.

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