In a counter-attack on the last day of campaigning before Kerala goes to the polls Monday, BJP president Amit Shah on Saturday said that instead of seeking the Prime Minister’s apology for the comparison with Somalia, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy should apologise for continuing death of tribal children due to poverty and starvation in the state.
Referring to reported death of two newborn children at a tribal colony in Wayanad district in north Kerala on Friday, Shah said at a media conference here: “Two children died yesterday. How can it be explained with statistics? Does the government have a responsibility to address people’s hunger or not? Where does foodgrain sent by the Centre go? Why doesn’t it reach the kids?”
About 150 km north, Chandy stuck to his guns. Winding up his campaign in Kottayam, the CM reiterated that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should apologise for comparing Kerala with Somalia in Infant Mortality Rate at an election rally on May 8. “His remarks are an insult to Malayalees across the globe. The people will give a fitting reply,” he said, adding that the BJP will not “open its account in the state”.
Shah, however, said, “Forget the comparison (with Somalia)…. The Chief Minister should apologise. Children are dying. Isn’t this an issue in Kerala?”
Stating that the newborns’ deaths were not due to starvation, Wayanad District Collector Keshavendra Kumar said, “There had been some health complications and hypertension. The mother had been taken care of…I have no report that it was a case of starvation death.”
To reinforce his contention about continuing starvation deaths among people from tribal communities in the state, Shah showed a 2013 copy of Outlook magazine, which had a report on malnutrition death in Attappady, a tribal area in Kerala. “In response to this (report), Chandy (had) said starvation deaths were taking place because people were not eating properly,” Shah said. “I challenge him to repeat that (remark). Minister K C Joseph said tribals were dying because they used liquor…(they are) making fun of people’s hunger, trying to divert the issue.”
Asking journalists to visit Attappady, Shah said, “If there are no deaths, publish it. But if children have died of starvation, then the CM should explain.”