Thiruvananthapuram, Aug. 19: The nuclear crisis has a K-factor other than Comrade Karat: Kerala, from where several players in the standoff hail.
If Karat is from the southern state, so are foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and national security adviser M.K. Narayanan, who negotiated the breakthrough round in the US, and defence minister A.K. Antony, one of the three Congress mediators with the allies. T.K. Ayyappankutty Nair, the principal secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, is also from the state.
Bengal’s tiny communist cousin has rarely before seen such a large concentration of Malayalis take the centre stage in Delhi.
The glare has coincided with the state’s blockbuster festival, Onam, the origin of which has some parallels with the great game now playing itself out in Delhi. The festival celebrates the return of a mythological king, Mahabali, whose utopia-like kingdom was becoming a threat to the then cosmic superpower, the devas.
The devas depute Lord Vishnu, the master negotiator whose skills Manmohan Singh sorely needs now, who exploits a benevolent streak in the king and stamps him down to hell. The banished but beloved king is allowed to return once a year to meet his subjects, an occasion that is celebrated as Onam.
The countdown to Onam began yesterday — the day Karat served the virtual ultimatum to the UPA.
In Kerala, communists also join in the secular celebration, some interpreting a ditty dedicated to the golden era — “all men are equal” — as a testimony to the king’s socialist credentials.
The high point of Onam, due on August 27, is the lavish multi-course sadya (feast), spread out on plantain leaves — something the Kerala club in Delhi will miss unless the crisis ends soon.
At 73 years, Narayanan, a former IB chief, should be missing his folks at north Kerala’s Ottappalam, his birthplace, where he was accorded a public reception soon after taking over as the NSA. At the reception organised by the Ottappalam Development Forum, Narayanan was presented a memento by Janaki Nair, daughter of the late K.P.S. Menon, Sr, who had headed external affairs in the years after Independence.
By sheer coincidence, Shiv Shankar Menon, a grandson of K.P.S. Menon, Sr, is part of the hectic meetings in Delhi as the foreign secretary now. His uncle K.P.S. Menon, Jr, another former foreign secretary, told The Telegraph today: “It’s true that our boys are going through a gruelling time in Delhi. But that’s part of the life of bureaucrats. Let them give the best of advice to their political bosses, who, in fact, take the decisions.”
Asked what advice would he give his nephew, Menon Jr said: “I don’t give him any and am sure he would resent them if I were to. Of course, we keep in touch, mostly through SMS, because that does not disturb his busy schedule.”
Ninan Koshy, a Left sympathiser and a leading academic, said he could not miss the political paradox of the set of Malayali bureaucrats having to handle a situation precipitated by Karat.
Karat, hailing from Elappully in the northern Palakkad district, would surely enjoy the avial (a dish of assorted vegetables and coconut gravy) and sambar but the Marxist perhaps has little penchant for such festivities given the fact that he had spent most of his life outside Kerala.
But not Antony. He would have preferred a few moments on Onam day with wife Elizabeth and their two sons at Anjanam, the Union minister’s home in Thiruvananthapuram.
Of all the members of the Kerala crack force in Delhi, PMO’s Nair is the quintessential lover of his home state’s countryside. “Slipping into a mundu (dhoti) and travelling by public transport to my village, almost incognito, is what I like,” Nair had said recently.
The nuclear deal has another, albeit tenuous, link with Kerala. A Supreme Court bench that refused judicial intervention on the deal early this month was headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, who belongs to the state.