Despite facing black flag protests by Students’ Federation of India (SFI) and Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), as well as a hartal called by the ruling CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Idukki district, Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan adhered to his scheduled visit to Thodupuzha, Idukki district. He accepted the invitation from the Idukki district committee Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samiti (KVVES), an organisation representing merchants and industrialists. Despite adversities, a sizable crowd gathered there, demonstrating a warm and enthusiastic welcome to the Constitutional head of the State.
According to reports, law enforcement agencies did not intervene to disperse the protesters, enabling them to display black flags near the Governor’s route. This occurrence persisted despite allegations of leaked information regarding the Governor’s route since the initiation of SFI’s anti-Government agitation. The hartal was initiated to prevent the Governor from entering the district and reduce the turnout for the KVVES event. Nevertheless, KVVES officials noted that due to the closure of shops caused by the hartal, more merchants were able to participate in the programme. Despite the situation, the Governor maintained composure and gestured to the protesters with a wave.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM)’s youth wings displayed black flags against the Governor in different areas of the district. Despite attempts by SFI and DYFI to march towards the event venue, Governor Arif Mohammed Khan adhered to the schedule and arrived promptly. He inaugurated the “Karunya Family Protection Scheme,” a welfare initiative designed to aid families of traders.
In his inaugural address, the Governor revealed that he departed from the Union Cabinet at the age of 35, recounting five assassination attempts made on his life between 1985 and 1990. He shared a harrowing incident from 1990 when an iron rod struck his head. Emphasising his age of 72 as living on borrowed time, he expressed resilience against blockades and protests, stating they do not intimidate him. Stressing the importance of democracy, he condemned the use of force and threats, underscoring his commitment to fulfilling constitutional duties devoid of personal ego or status. Addressing the enthusiastic audience, he affirmed his unwavering dedication to prioritising the welfare of Kerala’s common citizens.
The Governor clarified the rationale behind withholding approval for the Kerala Government Land Assignment (Amendment) Bill 2023. He revealed that he had requested an explanation from the government regarding the Bill on three separate occasions but has yet to receive a response. Coinciding with this issue, the LDF observed a hartal opposing the Governor’s decision not to sign the bill. M M Mani, a senior CPM leader, former minister, and erstwhile Idukki district secretary, made disparaging remarks against the Governor. In his speech, he employed derogatory language, using the highly objectionable term “nasty” in reference to the Constitutional head of the State.
The BJP leaders in Idukki district have lodged a formal complaint with the District Police Chief concerning the black flag protests staged by SFI and DYFI against the Governor. In their complaint, they have urged the police to take necessary action against these protests.
Observers are questioning the Kerala Government’s stance on allowing black flag protests targeting the Governor, particularly in contrast to past incidents where police arrested and reportedly subjected Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha and Youth Congress workers to harsh treatment for waving black flags against CM Pinarayi Vijayan during his Cabinet Yatra associated with the LDF Government’s Nava Kerala Sadas. Instances were reported where DYFI members and unidentified individuals allegedly assaulted Yuva Morcha and Youth Congress members as they protested. Among the victims was a physically challenged Youth Congress leader subjected to a severe attack. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan justified these actions by labeling it a ‘life-saving mission,’ attributing it to preventing potential ‘suicidal’ acts by the protesters. BJP president K Surendran condemned the LDF hartal in Idukki, considering it a challenge to the Constitution and an affront to the dignity of Kerala. The events in Thodupuzha are regarded as a significant failure, underscoring concerns about the situation.