The 16th century essayist Francis Bacon begins his essay entitled ‘Of travel’ with this opening sentence: “Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education, in the elder, a part of experience”. No amount of reading about a place can be a substitute for a visit to that land.
The first essayist in English concludes his essay with an advice that the traveller should not attempt to copy in his land what he saw in the foreign land but he should, nevertheless, “prick in some flowers, of that he hath learned abroad, into the customs of his own country”.
In short, a visit is useless if one does not learn from the good practices and customs in the place one visited. Recently, a friend sent me the link to a message blogged by film star Mohanlal. He talked about his recent visit to Bhutan where he found that the ordinary Bhutanese found pride in keeping their country clean.
Mohanlal is a good communicator and his Malayalam is almost poetic. Anybody who listened to him would feel why Indians could not do what the Bhutanese could do, keep their country clean and neat. The actor would not have gained such insight even if he had read “Beneath Blossom Rain: Discovering Bhutan on the Toughest Trek in the World” by Kevin Grange.
It is truly said that “travel makes a man perfect”. It was in this context that I was very happy to know that Kerala had, of late, been receiving a good number of visitors. The trend was begun by none else but Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
When a fire tragedy occurred at a Devi temple at Paravur in Kollam district in April last year in which 111 people were killed, Modi air-dashed to the place to wipe the tears of the bereaved.
I expected him to air-dash to Gorakhpur when new-born children died at a government medical college there. No, there were other reasons for his visit to Kerala. Election was due in the state at that time, whereas his visit to Gorakhpur would have shown the state ruled by his own party in a bad light.
I went to the Puttingal temple as I was in Kerala at that time and I realised that notwithstanding the tragedy, people in the area wanted the tradition of fireworks to continue. People from the area who live in the Gulf and in Europe and America make it a point to visit Kerala when fireworks are organised at the temple.
Last fortnight, I visited the Baba Raghav Das Medical College at Gorakhpur where dozens of infants died for want of oxygen. True, I just walked inside the hospital premises for less than a hour but the impression I got was that of a ghost hospital. The buildings appeared empty and poorly maintained.
However, there was some activity in the Nehru Hospital on the same campus. Neglect is the word to describe the condition of the medical college hospital.
Modi’s visit to Kollam by air and from there to the Puttingal temple was so brief that he could not see the state or understand the people’s psyche. Otherwise, a few weeks later when he campaigned for his party, he would not have compared Kerala to Somalia in sub-Saharan Africa. His comparison cost the party thousands of votes.
In fact, one BJP enthusiast told me that if Modi had not campaigned in Kerala, the party would have done much better. Modi has a problem, faced by all dictators and those aspiring to be dictators. He listens only to his close confidants and they feed him only information that they think would please him. Indira Gandhi was a victim of this syndrome during the Emergency.
Had he read a little bit about Kerala’s history and about its uniqueness, he would have known that it had been home to the persecuted since time immemorial, a receptacle of ideas from all corners of the world and where temples, churches and mosques stand cheek by jowl.
He would also have learnt that on all social indices like women's literacy, infant mortality and mother's mortality, it is comparable to European countries. At least he would not have mentioned Somalia.
Recently, Kerala had another VIP visitor — Arun Jaitley. When he should have been drafting the umpteenth amendment in the GST law, he took a defence aircraft to console the family of an RSS worker who was killed. He spent a few minutes with the family but did not care to visit the families of any of the Malayali Army jawans and officers killed in Kashmir.
Of course, it was part of an orchestrated campaign to prove that the Marxists were on a killing spree in the state. However, the fact is that for every RSS man killed, there is one or more Marxist killed. The fact is also that Marxists come nowhere near the RSS cadres in terms of physical training and other skills. One RSS leader told me that their strongest unit was the Kerala unit.
No, I do not approve of violence, whether RSS or Marxist but to portray Kerala as a land of “Marxist-Jihadists” is to turn facts upside down. There is gross propaganda about Kerala’s jihadi links. That is why when a murder took place, Governor P Sathasivam summoned the Chief Minister to the Raj Bhavan to give him a piece of his mind.
Worse things happen in other states but the Governors do not murmur, let alone summon the CM. In Gujarat, some Dalits were beaten up because they were found skinning a dead cattle. Early this year, two people were killed and 80-100 homes were gutted at Vadavali in Gujarat, hours after a Muslim Sarpanch was chosen. It was a planned attack on Muslims – not the result of a scuffle. Could anything be more gruesome? Yet, there was no tweet from Modi or summoning of the Chief Minister by the Gujarat Governor.
Even after his attempts to please them, some of the BJP leaders in Kerala are not happy with the Governor. Why? Because he did not sack the government and bring Kerala under President’s rule.
These leaders are desperate. They are nowhere near power. They are also upset that Alphons Kannamthanam, not one of them, was chosen for a ministerial berth at the Centre. It is not that the Hindutva camp is united. They are all divided amongst themselves. If reports came that some of the top leaders were busy collecting bribe money from private medical college owners than furthering the party’s interest, it is internal rivalry in the party that is to blame.
Their conduct shows that they are as good or as bad as the Congressmen, the Marxists and the Muslim Leaguers that they desperately want to replace. When party chief Kummanam Rajasekharan is himself under a shadow for his questionable appointments, it is only reasonable for the party to want to divert public attention from its leaders. In Kerala they do not enjoy power; otherwise, they would have organised some surgical strikes to divert attention as at the Centre.
One BJP worthy in Kerala who grandstands in TV debates had claimed that Rs 4 lakh crore of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes would not return to the banks. If it did so, he would end his political career. The RBI has admitted that more than 99 per cent of the banned currency notes returned to the banks but the BJP leader is still active in politics.
It is against this backdrop that Kummanam Rajasekharan’s Jan Raksha Yatra (Protect People March) was thought of. Mahatma Gandhi used the Dandi March from his Ashram at Ahmedabad to Dandi, a coastal village in Gujarat — a distance of 241 miles — to awaken the people about the ill-effects of foreign rule. He stayed the course and covered the distance in three weeks.
Today it is difficult to find a Kerala leader who has not “marched” from one end of the state to the other, mostly in four-wheelers. Rajasekharan brought his party chief Amit Shah to inaugurate the Yatra. What is Shah’s qualification? Recently, he called Mahatma a shrewd Baniya. It was just a few days ago that he started his own march from Sardar Patel’s house in Gujarat.
He was once accused of having a hand in some encounter deaths in Gujarat. I wish Shah had visited the father of Javed Ghulam Sheikh, born Pranesh Pillai, who lives in Kerala. Rajasekharan should have no difficulty in finding his house at Nooranad as it was at his ancestral house at Thatta that the Nair Service Society was born.
Pillai’s body was found on a road in Gujarat with that of Irshad Jahan and two others. Who was the home minister at that time? Was it not Amit Shah? He was jailed and even exiled from Gujarat. The charges against him included murder, extortion and kidnapping, among others. Thank God, he has been “exonerated” of all charges. Anyway, there could not have been a better person than Amit Shah to inaugurate the march!
It is a different matter that after walking a few kilometres, he flew away to Delhi for urgent consultations with Modi. After all, they are the two great brains that control India and take such momentous decisions as the one to ban 500 and 1000-rupee notes so that all the black money hoarders can convert their black money into white money. It is the greatest money conversion that ever happened in human history.
The media which highlight Honey Preet’s arrest is almost silent when Dalits are beaten up in Gujarat for skinning dead animals to make a living. The next time Shah visits Kerala, he should tell the Malayalis how much daily wages a Gujarati gets in Gujarat. Then the Keralites would know that an average Malayali worker earns double the Gujarati’s wage.
Now the whole world knows that Modi’s Gujarat model of growth was just propaganda. Gujarat will take another quarter century to reach Kerala’s present development stage.
One reason why Kerala is high in crime record figures, it is because all incidents of crime are reported in Kerala.
Since Rajasekharan cannot walk alone, he needs companions. One such was UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. For a whole week, he was at his Ashram at Gorakhpur doing Navratri puja. That is fine as he is a part-time CM and part-time chief priest at the Gorakhnath Mutt. His state is number one in crime. His state is one of the Bimaru states. It is his state which pulls down India’s economic growth figures. It is said that the karsevaks who pulled down the Babri Masjid using pickaxes, ropes and other implements went from Gorakhpur.
Let me quote Mani Shankar Aiyar on him: For Yogi “ who has "phenomenal control" over east UP is, according to the affidavit the Yogi signed before the Returning Officer on the eve of contesting the Lok Sabha election in 2014, currently booked or charged with the following criminal offences: "injuring or defiling places of worship"; "trespassing on burial spaces"; "mischief by fire and negligent conduct with respect to combustible matter"; "rioting with deadly weapons"; and even "attempt to murder".
What a suitable personality to launch the Jan Raksha Yatra in Kerala?
Let me quote Aiyar again, “The "Yogi" has a personal army called the Hindu Yuva Vahini, notorious for its advocacy and practice of violence, and considered responsible for the arson that consumed the Godan Express when Adityanath was arrested in 2007.
“Earlier, in 1999, it was the same Yogi's gangs that were implicated in the firing at a rally being addressed by a Samajwadi Muslim lady leader, Begum Talat Aziz. It is the Yogi's excessive reliance on such vigilante squads that has endowed him with the notoriety of having launched "love jihad", " ghar wapsi" and goonda-gardi in the name of "cow protection".
“The Yogi further consolidated his doubtful reputation when he emerged as the fiery defender of those who had murdered poor Mohammad Akhlaq on suspicion of storing beef in his refrigerator. He has ever been the inspiration for goons taking the law into their own hands”.
Nothing pleases Yogi than the welfare of the cow. Last fortnight when I visited his Ashram, the flex board that I found there showcased the launch of an ambulance service for cows. If Yogi had travelled longer in Kerala, he would have found that the Kerala cows do not roam on roads, devouring plastic and rubbish. They are the best looked after cows in India. Why? The farmer knows the value of the cow.
If an unproductive cow is sold in Kerala — 99 per cent is sold — to the butcher, he will get about Rs 25,000, a substantial amount for a farmer. A male calf fetches the farmer upwards of Rs 5000. Cow is wealth in Kerala, not like in UP where the old ones are allowed to roam and they eventually die of hunger and thirst.
At Gorakhpur, I heard about a farmer whose debt of Rs 6 (six only) was written off by the Yogi government. The joke is that the farmer had to spend about Rs 200 for travel etc to collect the certificate! Yogi would do well to bring up his laggard state, instead of wasting time in Kerala. It will take half a century for him to bring up UP to the level of today’s Kerala.
Riots and communal polarisation help the BJP to come to power. True, Modi’s development agenda caught the imagination of the voters in 2014. Now they are all disappointed because they have learnt that he is a good talker, though he may mistake Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, a Bengali, for Shyamji Krishna Verma, a Gujarati.
The party knows that it needs communal polarisation to win elections the next time. Amit Shah wants a minimum of 350 Lok Sabha seats in 2019. He wants some from Kerala, too, to reach that magic figure. That is why all this Tamasha in Kerala!
The writer, a senior journalist, can be reached at email@example.com
(Published on 09th October 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 41)