Sprinklr row: Controversy which blotted the COVID-19 clean slate of Kerala government

Till the time the Sprinklr row blew up, the fight against Covid-19 had united the state, with even political divisions getting blurred.

Published: 26th April 2020 06:46 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th April 2020 11:37 AM   |  A+A-

Health team screening employees of Secretariat at the entrance with an infrared thermometer in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday. (Photo | Vincent Pulickal/EPS)

Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Till the time the Sprinklr row blew up, the fight against Covid-19 had united the state, with even political divisions getting blurred. On whether the issue was blown out of proportion, the opinions are a mixed bag. While some believe the Opposition lost the plot, others said the issue could have been defused through tactful handling. Express puts the raging issue under the lens 

For a while, politics appeared to have taken a backseat in politically vibrant Kerala, in the wake of the raging COVID pandemic. However, with the Sprinklr deal, there seems to be a  temporary pause to the ‘we feeling’ among the people. This was brought about by an absolutely needless political posturing by the state government during a crucial time of crisis. 

It was on April 10 that Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala first raised concerns over data security. While the Opposition feels that the government should have taken steps to address the concerns then and there, the Left points out that considering the gravity of the scenario, the Opposition could have avoided creating a hue and cry over it.

At a time when Kerala has emerged as a world model, showcasing itself for own benefit, such controversies should have been best avoided, said P Rajeev, CPM secretariat member. This just serves to reinforce a ghost-truth that Kerala tends to needlessly indulge in parochial political bickerings. 

ALSO READ | Startups in Kerala upset with fallout of Sprinklr controversy

“If you look at the issues raised during that time, it can be seen that most of them are completely irrelevant. However, if there are any such concerns or difference of opinion, the same should have been kept aside for some other time. Instead, some politicians used it as an opportunity. Lack of data processing can impede preventive measures now in place. That’s why such a decision was taken,” he said.

“There’s yet another fallout to this issue. With Kerala being showcased before the entire world, it would have opened a slew of opportunities for the state, be it in terms of industry, IT or tourism. Now with this controversy, people who were planning to come to Kerala will become more skeptical,” according to Rajeev. 

Chief Minister unnecessarily gave a political spin? 

However, the Opposition feels that it is Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan who unnecessarily gave a political spin to the entire episode. In the initial days, the Opposition had only voiced some genuine concerns. But not only did the Chief Minister fail to respond, but instead he sought to ridicule them, said senior Congress leader V D Satheesan, MLA. 

“Instead of responding to or addressing the concerns, the chief minister sent the IT secretary to explain. This could be the first time in the state’s political history that a chief minister had asked reports to fact-check an issue with a secretary. The chief minister’s attack on KM Shaji could be termed the turning point on the issue. The sheer vindictive manner made it clear that all the government wants is to do a cover-up. Pinarayi, who touched upon even the minute details during his prime time presser, was evidently reluctant to speak about the deal,” he said.

Unlike the various crises that the state went through in recent times, the government had almost seemed to have succeeded in creating a sort of ‘We’ feeling among the masses through its adept handling of the ongoing COVID pandemic.

This could be attributed to the absence of strong political posturing by any party, be it the Opposition or any of its own allies who were in disagreement with its unilateral approach of governance. The controversial Sprinklr deal, however, appears to have again turned the tables on the government. 

ALSO READ | Sprinklr contract lacks enough confidentiality clauses, says Centre

The Sprinklr controversy has proved a political setback for the Left government, observed Left commentator N M Pearson. The Kerala Model and the political ideology backing it has been winning applause worldwide. The Sprinklr row has somehow blotted its gains. In fact,  it’s not even the Opposition which is responsible for such a fiasco but the government is to be blamed, he said. 

“The undemocratic manner in which the entire process was done should have been avoided. At a time when there’s an excellent coordinated effort by all departments and political organisations in the fight against COVID, such a decision was taken in an undemocratic manner. It was done with an assumption that there could arise around 80 lakh patients in the state. In a way, it was an apolitical move.

There’s no corruption in the deal whatsoever. But lack of political conscience is evident here,” said Pearson.  

Even after the deal kicked up a row, it could have still been resolved without much ado. A simple explanation, that the decision was taken in view of the grave health scenario that the state was staring at, could have avoided all the ensuing political muck that came up with Sprinklr.

April 10: Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala raises allegation over data sharing with the US firm.

April 15: The government releases purchase order form, service agreement, Sprinklr’s privacy policy, the non-disclosure agreement and two letters of affirmation. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan defends the deal, says deal taken in an emergency situation.

April 16: BJP state president K Surendran seeks Governor Arif Mohammed Khan’s intervention to terminate the deal.

April 18: PIL in High Court against the deal. Information Technology Secretary M Sivasankar takes the responsibility of signing the deal. 

April 21: The government constitutes a two-member committee to examine the issues in connection with the deal.  CPM extends support to the government on the deal. 

April 22: Opposition leader moves HC; CPI expresses displeasure over the deal.

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