“As a mark of respect to Shri @APJAbdulKalam, Sunday will be a working day for all #Kerala‬ govt offices and educational institutions” was a tweet that caught Kerala by surprise. It came from Chief Secretary Jiji Thomson at 5.56 am on July 28. Quite a few reacted to it positively. One of them was quite telling, “what a decision..really inspiring...pl use the day to clear huge backlog...” Not all retweets were laudatory though. At 10.26 came a more subdued—read chastened—tweet from Thomson that was more in sync with the realpolitik of the state. It read, “Pls wait for an updated decision on my earlier tweet.”
For the rest of the day, there was only deafening silence from Thomson, the lone aberration a retweet of a statement by the Chief Minister of Kerala about the Vizhinjam port. In the ensuing two days, the only tweet from the Chief Secretary has been an innocuous plan for Thiruvananthapuram—a compilation and formulation of implementable green and heritage concepts. The buzz from the grapevine in the state capital is that the chief minister’s office, nudged by the Opposition, made it amply clear that it did not fall in the ambit of the chief secretary’s powers to convert Sundays into working days. Going beyond the technicalities, what was evident was the reluctance of the political dispensation to move in a direction different from the one normally taken.
In a state that has developed a negative halo around it regarding its fixation with hartals that keep popping up with incredible frequency, it would indeed have been a path-breaking decision, if implemented. Because the quintessential mirror into the psyche of the average Malayali is captured in a comic line from a movie, where the dialogue between two unemployed youth is about how good it would be to get a job. And then comes the punchline: once he gets a job, he would take leave and do what he is already doing—nothing.
Now, the question that the mature people of Kerala should, but may not like to, answer is whether they have the same level of accountability that is currently being enforced in most schools and some colleges. I’m referring to the simple rule that gets enforced to make good for unscheduled loss of working days, by asking the students and teachers to work on other days. The rationale is simple. Educational institutions feel it is their responsibility to get the teachers to cover assigned portions during given semesters. Most parents seem quite happy with this arrangement.
Unfortunately, no elected government in Kerala has ever felt compelled to make good for days lost to unscheduled holidays. A wonderful opportunity for the state to save face—one that it has been steadily losing due to its culture of celebrating hartals called by one political dispensation or the other as holidays, with an overdose of food, liquor and other forms of entertainment—has been lost. All jokes on the topic apart, who cannot but squirm on reminiscing how Kerala was the only corner in the world a hartal was called, when former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was hanged.
Putting things in perspective is another social media communiqué, again by a bureaucrat. In his FB post on Friday, Ernakulam district collector M G Rajamanickam said, “The best way of paying homage to APJ is not just to work extra hour or a day but not to stop the work in the name of Hartal and strike…”
Both Thomson and Rajamanickam in their posts have represented what a majority of Keralites really want. It’s anybody’s guess whether the political class will start acting on what’s inevitable and shrug off the legacy of hartals.
Tailpiece: No birds were spotted flying upside down and Sunday is a holiday in Kerala.