How long will it take for a Chief Minister running a scam-tainted government to come out squeaky clean? Answer: Three press conferences.
In the first press conference of the series, done on September 19 and held more than seven months after the previous one, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had to face disturbing questions that had piled up over a long time -- especially daughter Veena's 'pay-for-no-work' scandal, and the AI-camera and K-FON deals that also hinted at nepotism.
Pinarayi had nothing more to add to the weak defence his party had already mounted. But Pinarayi's triumph was not in the way he played the ball but in deciding to pick up the bat and walk to the crease.
In the second September presser, held just a week later, he had only the Karuvannur bank loot to settle. For this, he employed the CPM's 'done to death' defence about the BJP's conspiracy to discredit the Opposition state governments using central investigating agencies.
Again, what mattered was not the solidity of his defence but his decision to walk into the middle. No one can now accuse Pinarayi of running away from a battle.
Martyr’s crown recovered
In the third presser on October 10, the Chief Minister did not face a single question that would trouble him. In the last two pressers, he was busy putting up a show of counterattack when in reality he was only swinging the bat far away from the line of the ball.
But during the third October 12 presser, the Chief Minister had just the right excuse to play the wounded hero and mount a seemingly heroic fight against the group he despises the most: the media. In short, by the third presser, the tables were turned.
The way the 'bribe for job' allegation against Health Minister Veena Vijayan's office played out helped Pinarayi get into his 'martyr of media syndicate' mode. Haridasan, the person who levelled the allegation against Veena George's office, confessed that he had not paid money to the minister's staff.
The media was merely reporting Haridasan's charges but the Chief Minister called the 'bribe for job' allegation a media creation. Blaming the media without any basis is typical Pinarayi Vijayan ploy whenever a damning allegation erupts.
‘Black grain’ theory in reverse
There was a slight advantage for Pinarayi in the 'bribe for job' issue. He had the accuser's confession to claim a media conspiracy, even if there is no evidence to link Haridasan to the media.
After concocting the media link, the Chief Minister did the inverse of the 'black grain' theory that he had propounded during the second presser of the series.
On September 27, referring to the corruption in the cooperative sector, Pinarayi said the Karuvannur scam was "one black grain in a plate full of white rice". "Just because there is one rotten grain, can the whole rice be deemed bad," so went Pinarayi's theory.
This 'black grain' theory was turned on its head when it came to the media. Here, the Chief Minister seemed to suggest that if the media had conspired to create this 'bribe for job' scandal, it holds true for all the other charges levelled against him and his family.
The Chief Minister sounded as if he had been pushed to his wit's end by the media's repeated fabrications. "See how all modes of communication were used to give wide publicity for fake news. It is time to think where we are going. If it is possible, it would be nice if you could look critically at yourself," he told reporters in a sarcastic tone that also suggested hopelessness.
What does PR expert mean?
Then, as if gripped by a sudden realisation that heaping all the blame on the media would be unconvincing, the Chief Minister included the Congress party in the conspiracy theory.
He said the presence of "one of the country's top PR experts" (poll strategist Sunil Kanugolu) at a Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee executive committee meeting reflected the fake news culture that has pervaded Kerala. "It was to a meeting of top Congress leaders in Kerala that this man was invited and asked to suggest ways to organise party activities," he said and threw a loaded question: "What type of activities?"
Opposition and fake news mafia
"We should be alert to the changes happening in Kerala's political sphere," the Chief Minister said. And what, according to Pinarayi, are these changes? "Manufacturing of fake stories in a big way, and the sale of themes for such untruths".
Pinarayi then hinted that the likes of Haridasan were sent out by the Opposition parties. "If people are required for the operation of these fake themes, it is the responsibility of the political parties to provide them," he said.
And if anyone was reluctant, Pinarayi said various kinds of temptations that would make them take up the job would be laid out before them. It was an indirect, but serious indictment of the Opposition parties in Kerala.
Pinarayi also sprung a surprise. "They (political parties) use various kinds of lures to bring to their side whatever methods of communication that we have. Isn't that what is happening," he said.
In simple terms, Pinarayi meant that the media -- mainstream and social -- was functioning as quotation gangs for political parties.
But when he was subjected to some incisive probing, the wild nature of his allegations vanished. He found fault only with the manner of coverage. "You give maximal coverage for an allegation and when it is proved wrong you give it as a small news," Pinarayi said.