Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan was forced to climb down on his draconian police Act amendment ordinance, brought in the guise of defending personal reputation, which drew opposition comparison of the country’s only remaining communist chief minister to Hitler.
The anti-climax, which comes barely a day after Pinarayi Vijayan and his ‘yes man’ A K Balan, handling the law portfolio in his cabinet, defended the authoritarian move, follows its widespread condemnation, including opposition from the party’s central leadership.
Apparently aiming to tame the social media, the provisions of the ordinance are so vague that it can be applied to any criticism of any person in any form of media, including newspapers, even without the aggrieved person complaining to the police.
The move was seen by detractors as a bid to institutionalise Pinarayi Vijayan’s intolerance to criticism and his widely known distaste for media. It was opposed by even leftist intellectuals as well as prominent public figures, including activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan and Congress leader P Chidambaram.
It was highly embarrassing for the central leadership of the party that a communist government headed by a senior member of the politbureau brought such a law through the ordinance route although the party had vehemently opposed a similar move by the Modi government.
The decision to withdraw the ordinance came after party secretary Sitaram Yechuri told newspersons in Delhi that the move would be reviewed as it did not confirm to the declared stand of the communist party.
Following this a meeting of the available politbureau and state secretariat members was held here, which discussed the growing clamour against the Kerala government move. The meeting ultimately decided to withdraw the controversial ordinance.
The chief minister came up with a face-saving alibi that the matter needed to be discussed in the assembly and all aspects gone into in depth before going ahead with the required amendment to the Police Act so that the menace of fake news and attack on women and other vulnerable people using social media could be countered.
The chief minister sought to defend the move, saying that complaints had been received from all sections of people, particularly women and transgenders against abuse of the social media, sometimes leading even to suicides.
State BJP chief K Surendran and Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) leaders NK Premachandran, Shibu Baby John, and AA Azeez on Monday submitted petitions in Kerala High Court challenging Section 118A of Kerala Police Act, which gave the police blanket freedom to book anyone.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala described Pinarayi Vijayan as worse than Adolf Hitler and that the proposed amendments were meant to attack fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution as he had no respect for democratic values and freedom of expression.
He demanded that the chief minister withdraw the ordinance and apologise to the people for his attempt to subvert their democratic rights.