Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is usually not someone who backs off from a political spat.
Kerala has witnessed how, like a hot-headed teenager, Pinarayi was impatient to respond to even comments that were better ignored, for instance KPCC chief K Sudhakaran's dishum-dishum college heroics.
Such a leader, who would normally not let a slight go unanswered, is inexplicably mild this Assembly session.
On Tuesday, the Chief Minister remained surprisingly silent even when Opposition leaders questioned his competence and raised grave charges against his government and party.
There were two politically sensitive issues the Opposition had dragged into the Assembly on Tuesday: a mother's fight to get back her new-born and the AISF-SFI fight as part of MG University Senate elections.
In both these issues, since it was the police behaviour that was at the core of the charges, it was the Chief Minister who was better placed to explain the government stand. Instead, he left it to two women ministers to sweat it out.
Women and Child Welfare minister Veena George was asked to defend the government in the Anupama issue. As for the SFI-AISF fratricide, which was introduced by Opposition Leader V D Satheesan as a Submission, higher education minister R Bindu was asked to take the sword.
While making his Submission about the alleged victimisation of AISF (CPM's student wing) leaders, Satheesan had wondered how the Higher Education minister could respond. "My Submission is about the impropriety of the FIR filed by the police in the issue. It was put to the Home Minister. How come it got directed to the Higher Education minister," Satheesan asked the chair.
His charge was that the police had demonstrated preferential treatment for the accused SFI leaders. He said the police was slow to act against SFI leaders who had attacked and showered racist abuses on a woman AISF leader who was a dalit. "On the other hand, the police was quick to submit an FIR when the SFI filed a similar counter charge against AISF leaders, " Satheesan said. "Everyone knows that the SFI charges are false but this is how the police functions, " Satheesan said.
Bindu's official response to the Submission validated the Opposition Leader's complaint. Her reply, mostly about the steps taken to conduct a free and fair election to the Senate, had nothing that was relevant to the concerns about police action. "Never before has such a thing happened in our Assembly," Satheesan said. Deputy Speaker Chittayam Gopakumar, who was in the chair, said that the minister had given her answer. "No one can dictate what a minister should speak, " the Deputy Speaker said.
"If ministers speak according to their whims why should we remain here as the Opposition," Satheesan said and staged a walk out. But before walking out, he looked at the Chief Minister and, in a half amused manner, said: "I thought you would respond to my question. Instead you handed it over to the higher education minister."
Pinarayi sat without uttering a word.
The Chief Minister's silence was far more deafening while the Opposition was taking his government to task for the way it had treated Anupama, a young mother who had her child allegedly snatched from her by her own father, a local CPM bigwig.
RMP's K K Rema questioned the efficiency of the police force. "The Department's spine is highly flexible. They exist to protect their political masters," Rema said.
Most of the Opposition charges were related to police action, especially it's failure to file an FIR even six months after Anupama had filed a complaint about her missing child. Also, the Chief Minister was the chairman of Kerala State Council for Child Welfare, the institution at the heart of the adoption controversy.
Still, Women and Child Welfare minister Veena George was chosen to lead the fight.
Nonetheless, it looked as if Satheesan was doing his damndest best to provoke the Chief Minister. Throwing a challenge at Pinarayi's leadership, Satheesan said that the police was taking orders from the party.
He also took the issue right into the Chief Minister's Office. He said senior CPM leader P K Sreemathy had said that she had informed the Chief Minister's political secretary about Anupama's plight.
The Opposition Leader also taunted the CPM. "Funny thing is, the CPM district secretary called a press conference and said that the party had decided to give the child back to the mother, " he said. "Next time when you table a new law, introduce an appeal provision saying that disputes could be taken to the AKG Centre for final settlement, " he said.
None of these taunts or personal slights seemed stinging enough for the Chief Minister to regain his usual self. Pinarayi remained silent right through, his emotions concealed under a white mask.