Prime minister Narendra Modi will arrive in Kerala’s port city of Kochi on Monday afternoon amid a raging controversy over chief minister Oommen Chandy’s name being omitted from the ceremonies.
During his two-day visit, the first to the state as prime minister, Modi is expected to clear the air about the omission that the Congress has blamed the BJP central leadership and Prime Minister’s Office for.
Modi will travel to the temple town of Thrissur on Monday to address a workers meet that state BJP leaders say will have nearly two lakh workers in attendance. Prominent religious leaders like the Thrissur Arch Bishop and the Maulavi of Kodungaloor Cheraman Masjid, one of the oldest mosques in the country, have also been invited.
Chandy, who was invited as one of the main the guests initially, was apparently asked to skip the unveiling of the statue of former chief minister R Shankar that the prime minister will preside over, citing it was a private function. The unveiling will take place in south Kollam district on Tuesday.
Chandy’s name was initially inscribed on a marble plaque for the event. But the plaque was replaced with another carrying the name of the backward Ezhava leader, Vellapally Natesan, and the general secretary of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP).
With the change in guests and subsequent boycott of MPs, Modi, who was earlier slotted for 15 minutes, will address the function for up to 35 minutes.
Taking potshots at critics, Natesan said, “If the prime minister speaks more, it is better for the state and backward communities.”
However, the Congress is hoping to corner the BJP over the issue, and will observe a prayer meeting in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday, blaming the prime minister for “slighting the state”.
Kollam MP, N K Premachandran and MLA P K Gurudasan and mayor V Rajendra Babu are among those boycotting the function.
The Congress’ main concern at the moment is the BJP hijacking the legacy of R Shankar who was a prominent leader of the party, hailing from the backward Ezhava community.
With four months left for crucial assembly elections in Kerala, the state BJP is counting on PM Modi to set the tone for its campaign and hopes to give a tough three-cornered contest in at least 30 seats.
The prime minister will also visit the Sivagiri Mutt, birthplace of social reformer Sree Narayana Guru.
According to the police, about 2,000 officers headed by five superintendents have been deployed to ensure security.
Modi will also attend a commanders’ meet off the coast of Kochi on Tuesday before he leaves Kerala.