Brand Pinarayi takes a beating after spat with Sudhakaran

A. Harikumar

Pinarayi Vijayan has encountered many a harsh criticism from within and outside his party in his long, controversial and outstanding career as a communist leader. But, the Kerala Chief Minister, admired and feared as a badass, has rarely lost his cool in the face of criticisms. He has always brushed aside allegations with a wry smile in measured words.

But after KPCC president K Sudhakaran called his bluff the other day, the usually nonchalant Pinarayi appeared unnerved. The chief minister who had earlier dismissed Sudhakaran as a small fry laboured hard to read out a fitting reply. But, the carefully prepared note rebutting Sudhakaran’s claims sounded like conjecture at many parts. Pinarayi’s charges that Sudhakaran once tried to kidnap his children and a late Congress leader had told him that Sudhakaran entered politics to make money sounded calumny as Pinarayi couldn’t produce any supporting evidence.

Many feel Pinarayi’s reply doesn’t comport with his present status as the chief minister of Kerala. In fact, Pinarayi ended up creating an impression that Sudhakaran could be partly right. The conclusion is at the end of the first round, Sudhakaran has succeeded in damaging the market value of the carefully created brand Pinarayi.

Act of bravado at Brennen College

Sudhakaran’s words that hurt Pinarayi were made in a media interview while going down memory lane to their student days at Brennen College, Thalassery. A few years ago, at a public meet in the RSS stronghold Mangalore, Pinarayi bragged about how, as a student, he had carried out his party work nonchalantly at Brennen College Campus amidstthreatening RSS workers with unsheathed swords. Pinarayi’s words made against the backdrop of Sangh Parivar threat not to allow him to hold meeting at Mangalore when RSS workers are being attacked in Kerala was clearly a PR strategy to boost morale of CPM workers and gain minority support. Subsequently there was much chest thumping by Communists over the claims of Pinarayi projecting him as an intrepid fighter against Sangh Parivar.

But, Sudhakaran in his interview debunked Pinarayi’s talk of bravado as hollow and fabricated. Recounting one of his close encounters with Pinarayi, Sudhakaran said Pinarayi who was senior to him, once challenged him. “He asked me if I were Dhara Singh and I replied with a high kick knocking him out,” said Sudhakaran. “As Pinarayi passed out and fell down, the KSU (Congress students’ wing) workers besieged him and beat him to pulp. Later Pinarayi had to be escorted away in a police jeep,” said Sudhakaran. (Sudhakaran later added that he never wanted to highlight that violent incident which was said off the record to the interviewer. But he didn’t deny it)

Loss of face

It’s not easy to conduct a fact check of the claims and counter claims made during Pinarayi-Sudhakaran spat, but it cannot be denied that the image of Pinarayi as a redoubtable fighter with an indomitable will has taken a beating after the spat. Pinarayi no more sounds invincible. Unlike his predecessors, V. S Achuthanandan who built his brand as a fighter against corruption and injustice and EK Nayanar who developed the image of a witty, down to earth simple politician, brand Pinarayi was created highlighting him as an all-powerful, bold, dexterous leader. Though the CPI (M)’s official propaganda machinery shows restrain while toadying, the left spin doctors spread narratives of Pinarayi as an alpha male, and ruthless but efficient politician through indirect channels.

Pinarayi’s posturing is always aggressive and rhetoric is full of imagery of violence. The Pinarayi cult is built on the premise that he is a strong, purposeful leader who can get things done despite being dictatorial. It is likely that such an image has been built painfully over the years as part of CPI (M)’s propaganda to impress followers and convince Muslim voters in north Kerala that he is the only leader in Kerala who can stand up to the threat of Sangh Parivar. However with single kick Sudhakaran has shattered the image. Sudhakaran’s image as a formidable fighter who had taken on the CPI (M) at its den, Kannur gives credibility to his claims. Sudhakaran has miles to go to emerge as a winner but now he has emerged as a challenger; a dark horse.

The match has begun and Sudhakaran has made the first move with a powerful high kick taking existing champion unawares. It is not known if Sudhakaran’s provocation was a deliberate PR exercise aimed to change the existing political discourse. It has lifted the sagging spirits of the Congress in Kerala after the party’s humiliating defeat in the last assembly polls. The duel between Sudhakaran and Pinarayi could run into several rounds. Though Sudhakaran has more aggression Pinarayi has perseverance. Meanwhile, there could be collateral damages in the Congress. The rise of Sudhakaran as an all powerful leader could make Congress leaders including Oommen Chandy, Ramesh Chennithala and K Muraleedharan insecure. But, Sudhakaran’s policy of all out attack against the left could spark trouble for the Congress at the national level.  Interestingly, Sudhakaran’s policy of ignoring the BJP and going against the CPI (M) full throttle could affect Kerala BJP’s relevance too. Rule of thumb is fans are more interested to watch heavy weight fights rather than flyweight matches. Kerala BJP leaders need to worry.