Kerala BJP leaders compete with each other to justify Modi's Somalia remark
"Did not Modi speak the truth?" former state BJP president P.S. Sreedharan Pillai asks . "Everyone knows about the impoverished lives of the tribals in our state."
There may be a lot of anger against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's comparison of Kerala with Somalia, but BJP candidates are solidly backing their leader.
Not just candidates, but even Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and activists insist that Modi did no wrong by highlighting the pathetic state of tribals in Kerala.
"Did not Modi speak the truth?" P.S. Sreedharan Pillai, a former state BJP president, asks. "Everyone knows about the impoverished lives of the tribals in our state."
Pillai, his aides say, is giving sleepless nights to outgoing Congress legislator P.C. Vishnunath in the Chenganur constituency.
At the same time, Pillai said he and his party had decided to ignore the avalanche of criticism mounted against Modi for his Somalia remark. Somalia, located in the Horn of Africa, is a country that has been in the news for some years now for its political instability and chronic civic unrest.
"This is not at all an electoral issue," he added.
At an election rally in Kerala, Modi said the situation in Kerala for the tribals was scarier than what prevailed in troubled Somalia.
The comment triggered a storm, with critics, not just the ruling Congress and the opposition Left, pouncing on it to attack the prime minister.
Kerala BJP president Kummanem Rajasekheran said Modi only spoke the bitter truth.
"The truth is that the rival fronts that have been ruling Kerala for decades have failed to uplift the tribal community. The PM only spoke the facts," he said.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has asked Modi to apologize for comparing Kerala with Somalia. "It is Chandy who should apologise for raising baseless issues," countered Rajasekheran.
Kerala BJP general secretary Sobha Surendran, a candidate in the Palakkad constituency, also slammed Chandy for taking on Modi.
"This will turn out to be Chandy's waterloo. Why has this became an issue? Because Modi spoke the truth? Did not (Marxist leader and former chief minister V.S.) Achuthanandan also say the same thing a few months ago when around 300 infant deaths were reported from tribal areas in Palakkad and Wayand?" she asked.
Modi had said that the child death ratio among tribals in Kerala was scarier than even Somalia.
He also cited media reports to say that tribal children in a place called Peravoor were seen foraging for food in a garbage dump - to make his case that Kerala had not been properly governed.
Surendran said the CPI-M was also attacking Modi because in most backward areas of the state, the Marxists controlled the local bodies and they wanted to cover up their shortcomings.
Rakesh Chand, a close aide of BJP candidate V.V. Rajesh in Nedumangad, in the suburbs of Thiruvananthapuram, said that unlike the UDF and LDF, the voters were not bothered by Modi's Somalia comparison.
"May be because they are all well aware of the infant deaths that have been reported from tribal areas. This is not at all an issue.
"Instead, we are extremely delighted to see the good response that people give us when we approach them," said Chand.
BJP spokesperson J.R. Padmakumar said Chandy and the Left had joined hands on this issue ahead of the May 16 polls.
A.N. Radhakrishnan, the BJP candidate from Manalur in Thrissur district, told IANS that till a week back it seemed to be a Congress-Left fight in Kerala.
"Now, with the arrival of Modi, it has become a fight between the BJP and Chandy. That's because Modi and (BJP president) Amit Shah have been speaking tough."
He too added: "We have been on the streets campaigning, and no voter had any issues on what Modi said. The people are with us because we speak their language."