The only survey conducted on the government response to the COVID-19 in Kerala has thrown up encouraging insights for the Left Front, while giving the BJP and the central government reasons for introspection.
According to the survey of 10,409 persons conducted by C fore for Asianet News between June 18 and 29, a whopping 84% of the respondents were satisfied or happy with the state government’s performance during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
The number is especially impressive, given how politically polarized the electorate is in the state where a large chunk of the population has always been opposed to the Left Front. Moreover, Keralites tend to be among the most demanding as far as their expectations from their governments are concerned, and have never returned a ruling party to power.
According to the survey results, only 16% of the respondents rated the Left Front’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis as ‘poor’, while 58% termed it ‘good’ or ‘very good’. 26% called it ‘satisfactory’.
The handling of the COVID-19 crisis also had a positive impact on the image of both Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and KK Shailaja.
86% of the respondents said Vijayan’s handling of the crisis had added to his stature, while 69% of the respondents felt that the Congress Party’s interventions in the matter lowered the stature of Mullappally Ramachandran, the state Congress chief.
Similarly, 57% felt that COVID-related interventions dampened the image of Ramesh Chennithala, the leader of the opposition in the state assembly.
In contrast, 56% had a positive impression about the interventions made by BJP State President K Surendran. K Surendran was one of the rare opposition leaders who, at least initially, was openly supportive of the government’s efforts to control the pandemic, while most leaders from the opposition took potshots at it.
In what can cause further pain to the opposition, the survey also found that a whopping 81% of the respondents were satisfied or happy with the performance of Pinarayi Vijayan as a chief minister.
97% of the respondents were also happy or satisfied with the performance of Kerala’s health minister KK Shailaja.
The survey also tried to gauge, albeit indirectly, the electorate’s mood as far as the actions of the central government are concerned.
This was done by asking if the central government’s performance would benefit BJP’s chances in the upcoming elections.
67% of the respondents replied with a ‘No’.
Kerala is scheduled to see local body elections after three months and state-wide elections in 10 months.
Worryingly for the BJP, 67% responded with a ‘Yes’ when asked if the central government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis would benefit the Left Front in the upcoming elections.
The survey results are not very surprising, considering the success that the state has seen in preventing COVID-19 from reaching the community transmission stage, unlike in states like Delhi, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.
Kerala has received about 5 lakh returning migrant workers from overseas and various states of India since the lockdown was eased in early May.
Out of these, around 1.3 lakh are from overseas and the remaining are from states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Delhi and Gujarat.
So far, out of this 6 lakh, around 4,500 people have tested positive for COVID-19 virus.
However, thanks to the high level of alertness shown by the people and an extremely effective awareness campaign by all the ministers, these 4,500 people infected only around 500 people in the state directly and indirectly, including health workers.
In other words, the reproduction rate or R0 in Kerala has so far been just 0.11, meaning that it takes 9 infected people coming from outside to infect one person locally.
Nevertheless, both the other political fronts, the BJP-led NDA and the Congress Party-led UDF, said the survey findings are the results of an effective public relations campaign run by the Kerala government.
The parties have in the past criticized Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s method of holding daily press conferences to update on the fight against COVID-19, with the opposition leader claiming that some of the ministers are showing symptoms of ‘media mania’.
Responding to the survey results, senior Congress leader and former health minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan repeated the allegations, and said the government was misleading the people by claiming that it has found the answer to Coronavirus.
“I asked very senior doctors, personally known to me, as to what was given to COVID-19 patients in government hospitals. They all said ‘paracetamol’ and nothing beyond that,” he said, participating in Asianet News’ discussion of the survey results.
“Is paracetamol the medicine for COVID? If you don’t have a drug, just say so. Why claim that it is paracetamol and that you have cured even a 93-year-old patient,” he asked.
Radhakrishnan pointed out that the vast majority of those who returned from outside the state were allowed to go to their homes and stay under home quarantine, and questioned the government’s contribution to the overall effort.
“What facilities did the government give to those under quarantine? All they did was to make a phone call now and then to ask if they were stepping out or not,” he said.
He also added that international media, such as The Guardian of the UK, have no idea about the reality of the Kerala government and are falling victim to the PR campaign unleashed by it.
On CM Pinarayi Vijayan’s extremely high approval ratings, Radhakrishnan said they are temporary, and will ‘return to normal levels’ once the crisis is over.
He maintained that “everyone knows” that Pinarayi Vijayan is a short-tempered politician, but he’s trying very hard to put forth a ‘softer face’ in recent times.
Vijayan, from an OBC background and the son of a toddy tapper, does indeed have a reputation for bluntness and is often portrayed as someone who lacks the sophistication of leaders from more privileged backgrounds, especially from the Congress.
“The underlying fact remains the same, that he’s a short-tempered man,” Radhakrishnan insisted.
Senior BJP leader MT Ramesh too the Congress leader’s sentiments on the government’s handling of the crisis, but added that the government’s ‘PR work’ has since been completely exposed.
“It is true that there was such an impression among the people as a result of the government’s PR activities. This is probably a reflection of that,” he said.
“As each day passes, it is becoming clearer and clearer that many of the claims made by the government about the COVID-19 fight are bogus. If you do a survey today, you won’t find even a single person who would say the effort was ‘very good’,” he said.
He also claimed that the number of people who have recovered from the Coronavirus infection in Kerala is very low compared to most states in India. “There are also states that have zero COVID-19 cases in India,” he pointed out.