Column | Karnataka's roadblock was in the making for years

Column | Karnataka’s roadblock was years in the making
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Kayyar Kinhanna Rai, a prominent Kannada writer who lived in Kerala's Kasaragod district, was an ardent lover of Malayalam language and literature. He has translated a range of Malayalam works from P K Parameswaran Nair's 'Malayala Sahithya Charithram' to Kumaran Asan's 'Veena Poovu'. A freedom fighter, teacher and journalist, Ray surprised many when he backed the demand for annexing Kasaragod to Karnataka in his last days.

Such political and social undercurrents lie beneath Karnataka's sudden decision to seal its border with Kerala after the COVID-19 outbreak. Karnataka chief minister B S Yediyurappa justified the move by saying that Kasaragod was a coronavirus hotspot, yet no one has died of the virus in the district and nobody is in need of critical care.

On the other hand, 10 people from Kasaragod have died because they were denied expert treatment for other illnesses, thanks to the Karnataka government's refusal to let them travel to nearby Mangaluru, a hub of health care for many decades. It was a shame for modern India.

Dakshina Kannada's Member of Parliament, Nalin Kumar Kateel of the BJP, is a known face for his partymen in Kerala. He was in Kochi when he was appointed the party's Karnataka president. He was in Kerala as part of a BJP delegation to select heads for the party's district units.

olumn | Karnataka’s roadblock was years in the making
Karnataka police blocks an ambulance at the Kerala-Karnataka border during the pan-India lockdown. File photo

Even Congress leaders were happy about Kateel's ascent to a position of power. Kasaragod MP Rajmohan Unnithan thought his friendship with his fellow MP may help his constituency as well. After all, Kateel was familiar with the issues of Kasaragod. Kateel remains incommunicado even for Unnithan since the border closure.

The BJP leader, however, spoke his mind through a tweet, asking why Kerala relied on another state when it was boasting about the 'Kerala model' in health care. BJP MLA Vedvyas Kamat had a similar take. He asked why Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan needed Mangaluru's help when he was pointing to Kerala's achievements in health care to ridicule Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath.

Though the recent row is a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, the two states have rifted apart since Yeddyurappa became chief minister. A group of journalists from Kerala was detained in Karnataka in the aftermath of the protests sparked by the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Three Malayalis were shot dead in Mangaluru. Yeddyurappa faced stiff protests by youth associations in Kerala when he went to pray at the Sri Padmanabha Swami Temple in Thiruvananthapuram and the Madayikkavu Temple in Kannur along with his family.

Silver lining

Kasaragod was a favourite ground for almost all chief ministers of Kerala, right from the first chief minister, E M S Namboodiripad, who was elected from Nileswar in 1957. K Karunakaran, E K Nayanar and the current incumbent have close links with the northern district.

Yet the people of Kasaragod have to rely on Mangaluru, hardly an hour drive away, for everything including health care. The COVID-19 outbreak might have led to an introspection in this regard. A voice clip from Unnithan, exhorting his voters to live as the people of Kasaragod, has gone viral.

During the term of Oommen Chandy as chief minister, the power centres were abuzz with a proposal to take over the cooperative medical college in Pariyaram in Kannur and convert it as a health care centre for both Kannur and Kasaragod district. The CPM, which was then in the opposition, did not warm up to the idea to have a medical college for each district.

The Pinarayi Vijayan government could find it difficult to explain the party's stand against the UDF proposal that might have led to the formation of a medical college for Kasaragod. The Congress-led opposition has tried to assert the position in the backdrop of the crisis caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

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