Kerala: Amit Shah declines invitation, all eyes on Nehru Trophy snake boat race tomorrow

Considered a Nehruvian legacy, the boat race in the Punnamada backwaters in Alappuzha, is being held after 2 years.

ByK A Shaji

Published Sep 03, 2022 | 1:15 PMUpdatedSep 03, 2022 | 1:15 PM

Amit Shah declines invite to Kerala snake boat race

The political controversy over Kerala’s most colourful water sports event, the Nehru Trophy Snake Boat race, eased on Saturday, 3 September, with Union Home Minister Amit Shah deciding not to accept the invitation extended by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to be the chief guest at the event scheduled for Sunday, 4 September.

Shah, who arrived in the capital Thiruvananthapuram on Friday to address a Southern Zonal Council meeting of chief ministers, will leave the state by Saturday evening after attending a rally of the BJP’s Scheduled Caste members.

Shah cites security reasons

The invitation extended by Vijayan to Shah had led to a controversy in the state since the snake boat race is considered a Nehruvian legacy.

Shah has cited security reasons for avoiding the water sports event, which would be held in the Punnamada backwaters of Alappuzha district. Several 150-ft-long chundan vallams (snake boats) powered by hundreds of oarsmen will dart over the backwaters on Sunday.

₹35 lakh in ticket sales till now

The event, which annually attracts a large and rambunctious crowd, is being held after a two-year hiatus caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is the 68th edition of the race, which is famous as the “Olympics on Water”. A total of 77 boats, including 20 snake boats, will participate in the competition.

Snake Boat race

A view of the Nehru trophy boat race held in 2019 (Supplied)

Tourists from across the world are expected to witness the event, and the race will provide a much-needed impetus to the Covid-stricken backwater tourism sector of Kerala.

According to industry sources, there is a significant increase in bookings for houseboats, hotels, and resorts on and around race day.

The ticket sales have fetched ₹35 lakh and are expected to reach ₹50 lakh by race day.

Chief Minister Vijayan will inaugurate the competition at 2 pm. While the competition for small boats will begin at 11 am, the snake boat race is scheduled to start in the afternoon.

Nehruvian legacy

The event is regarded as a Nehruvian legacy. Once, a snake boat was arranged for Nehru’s trip from Kottayam to Alappuzha. In honour of the first Indian prime minister, a snake boat competition was conducted.

Amit Shah has declined Kerala CM invite to snake boat race

While only men were traditionally allowed to take part in the Kerala snake boat races, women have started to handle the oars in recent times (Nehru Trophy Boat Race official website)

After returning to Delhi, Nehru gifted a silver trophy to the winners of the boat race and it became an annual event. Once Nehru died, the event was named after him.

Local historians say the snake boats started occupying the backwaters of Alappuzha early in the 14th century at the behest of King Devanarayana of Chembakassery.

The Champakulam Moolam Boat Race, Payippad Jalotsavam, and Aranmula Uthrattadi Vallamkali are some of the other snake boat races that have evolved over the years, taking inspiration from the Nehru Trophy.