Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy is master strategist. First, he diverted media attention from the solar panel scam by launching a second run of the Cabinet reshuffle talks. KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala was forced to play along (see previous posting) though he had decided earlier to remain as KPCC chief.
Then, he turned the mode of agitation of the Opposition (siege of the Secretariat or simply picketing) into an issue when the real issue was whether the administration had manipulated the complaint of Saritha S. Nair, one of the accused in the solar scam. Keeping the Cantonment Gate of the Secretariat open suddenly became the issue. The media concluded that a great battle of the gates was in the offing. Inexperienced television reporters probably believed this while the shrewdest ones realised that this is an opportunity to push up ratings. The Opposition played along and may have probably claimed its flesh behind the scenes.
However, experienced reporters knew that the left parties always claimed that they would picket all the gates of the Secretariat. And invariably, the government always managed to keep the Cantonment Gate open for the entry and exit of Ministers and Secretariat staff. Nowadays, the visual media sets the agenda even for the print. Not to fall behind, Malayalam newspapers cried ‘War!’ while English newspapers decided that ‘siege’ was the appropriate word for what was going to happen.
However, on the day of the siege, it turned out to be a tame affair. There was no confrontation between the police and the LDF workers as anticipated. Both sides embraced peace and soon achieved a truce. Even 67 per cent of the Secretariat staff could get into the Secretariat.
Mr. Chandy then declared two days holiday for the Secretariat on the specious ground that this was to facilitate rehearsal for the Independence Day Parade at Central Stadium behind the Secretariat. The Opposition was not letting in children to practice. The Opposition could claim that they had managed to force closure of the Secretariat; but what was the fun in squatting before an empty Secretariat! And the prospect of continuing the picketing braving the sun and rain for the whole week was not encouraging.
Mr. Chandy then announced that the government was deciding to order a judicial probe, something he was promising all the while after the police completed their investigations. The Opposition seized the opportunity and called off the stir. The BJP alleged that it had a secret pact with government to soft-pedal the Lavlin case against CPI (M) State secretary Pinarai Vijayan and investigation of the murder of T. P. Chandrasekharan who is alleged to have been killed by CPI (M) workers.
Even if this is true, Mr. Chandy is still the winner. His position is secure for the time being. He cannot be successfully challenged now unless some hard evidence crops up against him in the solar scam.