An injured Chandy after he was hit on his forehead by a stone in Kannur on Sunday. (PTI)
Thiruvananthapuram, Oct. 27: Stones thrown by suspected Left supporters protesting against a financial scandal hit Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy this evening in a CPM bastion.
The Congress leader suffered chest and forehead injuries in the attack, unparalleled even in a state known for street violence and disruptive political tactics.
Although Chandy shrugged off the bruises as “minor” and took first aid only after his speech, by late tonight the ruling coalition appeared to have found an issue with which it could turn the tables on the CPM. Sources said the chief minister’s official programmes on Monday had been cancelled and he could undergo treatment at the medical college in capital Thiruvananthapuram.
The evening attack in Kannur in northern Kerala led to a backlash against the CPM, though veteran comrades denied Left cadres could be involved in the incident that many claimed was unprecedented in the state’s political history.
CPM offices came under attack at various places and state Congress chief Ramesh Chennithala called upon party workers to observe a state-wide protest day tomorrow.
“CPM leaders cannot absolve themselves of what has happened in Kannur,” Chennithala told reporters.
The attack has heightened tensions at a time the Opposition LDF has been staging protests wherever the chief minister tours as part of its continuing campaign to press for his resignation over the solar panel scandal that has scalped some of Chandy’s aides.
Anticipating trouble, police had taken up position on either side of the road leading to the meet venue. But as the chief minister’s official car neared the gates, a group of black flag-waving protesters, allegedly led by local CPM leaders, broke through.
Sticks and stones flew and some smashed through the glass window of Chandy’s car.
Sources said Chandy was hit in the chest but pictures showed a cut on the forehead too. A spokesperson for the chief minister, who is four days short of 70, said Chandy was later checked by doctors who said the injuries were not serious.
As the finger of suspicion pointed to the CPM, the party distanced itself from the attack. “Physically targeting Chandy is not on our agenda. Police should conduct an effective inquiry to identify the persons behind the attack. Anyway, we are not behind it,” party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan said.
Opposition leader V.S. Achuthanandan and CPI state secretary Pannian Raveendran condemned the attack. Some Marxist leaders even blamed infighting within the Congress.
Chandy chose to be magnanimous and said if Vijayan’s claim was true, he was willing to forget everything and extended an invite to the Opposition to work together to eliminate all forms of political violence.
In a brief chat with reporters while leaving Koyili Hospital, where he was treated for the injuries, Chandy said doctors had examined him. “I have slight pain,” he said.
For the Congress, injury to Chandy has been a bad omen. In 2006, Chandy had slipped on the ice in Davos, Switzerland, and landed in hospital with a fractured hip.
His critics back home punned on the slogan for development that he had coined — “very fast, very far” — and came up with their own: “Too fast, too far.” The Congress lost the elections that followed.
After today’s attack, though, the advantage might shift to Chandy, who has been on the defensive over the solar scandal, in which a woman and her partner are alleged to have duped investors with the promise of installing solar energy panels in their homes and offices. Some of the chief minister’s personal assistants were found to be linked to the woman, prompting the Opposition to point a finger at Chandy too.
The ruling UDF will also be hoping that the attack will help enforce a truce between the feuding factions in the state Congress.