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‘Un-invite’ row overshadows Modi’s first Kerala visit as PM

KPM Basheer Kochi | Updated on January 22, 2018 Published on December 14, 2015

Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Flouting protocol, Ezhava leader withdraws invitation to Chief Minister Chandy for event Modi is to attend

A controversy created by Ezhava leader Vellappally Natesan, who recently launched a political party expected to form an alliance with the BJP in the upcoming Kerala Assembly elections, has cast a shadow over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first visit to the State as Prime Minister.

Modi, who is touring Kerala on Monday and Tuesday, is scheduled to unveil the statue of the late R Sankar, a former Chief Minister, State Congress chief and a leader of the Ezhava caste, at the SN College in Kollam on Tuesday. Natesan, who is the Secretary of the Sree Narayana Trust, disregarded political niceties and protocol considerations by ‘un-inviting’ Chief Minister Oommen Chandy to the event. The CM had earlier been invited to preside over the ceremony.

Last week, Natesan, who controls the two main institutions of the Ezhava caste – the SN Trust and the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam ‘requested’ Chandy not to show up for the ceremony. Chandy immediately put out a press statement expressing sorrow at being kept out. This instantly blew up into a political controversy with both the ruling UDF and the Opposition LDF sharply criticising Natesan for insulting the Chief Minister of the State. Chandy tweeted on Monday that it was an insult to the people of Kerala as the Chief Minister represented the State. “It is not a personal insult. #Kerala was insulted when its CM was denied the right to participate in an event where the PM is attending. The statue unveiling is not a #BJP function, it is the 1st public event of #PM in #Kerala, denying #CM from attending is protocol violation”.

Natesan owns up

Natesan had initially tried to defend himself saying “intelligence agencies” had anticipated trouble if Chandy attended the ceremony, but the Intelligence Bureau quickly quashed the theory. Natesan also hinted that the Prime Minster’s Office was not keen on Chandy’s presence, but the Centre denied this in Parliament on Monday when the Congress, Trinamool Congress and Communist parties raised the issue.

The BJP too distanced itself from the controversy, forcing Natesan to own up for the step. On Monday, hours before Modi’s arrival, Natesan told the media that he himself was “solely responsible” for the episode and that he stuck to his stand. He also defended himself saying ‘those who send the invitation have the right to cancel it too’. He contended that R Sankar was being celebrated by the SN Trust not for being a Congress Chief Minister, but for being a leader who had worked for the advancement of the Ezhava caste. Sankar, who was the State’s third Chief Minister, headed the Congress government from 1962-64.

However, political rivals have alleged that Natesan ‘uninvited’ Chief Minister Chandy, a Christian, and the local MLA, a Muslim, in order to please the BJP Central leadership. Another theory is that the Chief Minister’s presence at the unveiling ceremony would have diminished Natesan’s importance, and that he would not get much time with the Prime Minister.

The BJP, which had hoped the Prime Minister’s visit would also serve as an informal launch of its electioneering for the Assembly elections, due in April, is upset that the unnecessary controversy created by Natesan has overshadowed Modi’s Kerala tour. Already, a section of the senior State leadership of the BJP is wary of Natesan’s self-projection and is indifferent to an alliance with his party.

Published on December 14, 2015
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