When former CPI(M) legislator CP Kunhu died at 93 in the second week of February after a lifetime in politics, people cutting across political lines offered him rich tributes.
Black flags were erected in most parts of Kozhikode city in north Kerala to condole the death of Kunhu, who emerged from Muslim orthodoxy to champion the cause of social reforms.
It took another week for Kerala Chief Minister and CPI(M) Politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan to reach the house of CP Muzaffar Ahmed — Kunhu’s son and current deputy mayor of the Kozhikode City Corporation — to grieve with the bereaved family.
But the city witnessed unusual and hectic activity by the police in the hours ahead of the chief minister’s visit. They removed all the black flags hoisted to mourn the death of Kunhu.
The police force also insisted that people wearing black shirts, shawls, or masks must not be near Ahmed’s house.
Prior to reaching Ahmed’s house, Vijayan inaugurated a biodiversity congress at the Government Arts and Science College at Meenchanda.
A day before the event, the college authorities had issued an order banning staff and students from wearing anything black during the function.
Before Vijayan’s arrival, bags of students and staff were examined and all black material in them were removed.
A blanket ban on black?
Though the police headquarters and CPI(M) leadership say that there is no ban on any colour in the state, law enforcers on the ground confirm that a blanket ban on anything black is prevalent in Kerala.
They attribute it to the ongoing protests against the state government, condemning the fuel price hike and the new taxes imposed in the recent state budget.
As the chief minister is the prime target of the protestors, they wave black flags at him wherever possible.
Police officials told South First that they enforced the ban to minimise the chances of protestors approaching the chief minister and waving anything black against him in protest.
Despite the strict ban on the colour black and heightened police security, Congress and BJP activists continue to wave black flags at the chief minister on the routes that he is travelling.
With the police failing to crack down on them effectively, Vijayan is now hiring private helicopters to travel across the state, avoiding the black flags.
In the last three weeks, even black bags haven’t been allowed into functions attended by the chief minister.
Preventive arrests of Opposition youth activists are rampant across the state, and they are being kept in custody for many days to protect the chief minister from having black flags waved at him.
Is Pinarayi Vijayan melanophobic?
With the Kerala Police continuing their vigil against anything black in the chief minister’s meetings, Opposition leaders and trolls on social media have claimed Vijayan has a condition called “melanophobia” — the irrational fear of the colour black.
Large-scale attempts are underway to describe Vijayan as a leader living in constant fear, despite — or probably because of — his self-projection as a political strongman of Kannur.
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) February 20, 2023
To recall, Vijayan famously said that he would not fear Indra or Chandra in the war against political adversaries.
“The chief minister looks like a man of inherent fears. Otherwise, why does he possess such a strong dislike for the colour black? The police are just doing whatever he wishes. Fear of black means fearing the genuine protests of the people. Nobody else in Kerala’s history had feared the colour black,” said Opposition leader VD Satheesan.
A recent phobia?
The chief minister’s aversion to the colour black is nothing new. It began two years ago when the state witnessed large-scale Opposition protests over the political fallout of the sensational gold smuggling case, in which Vijayan’s close associates were allegedly involved.
Even journalists were prevented from wearing black masks at functions attended by the chief minister after Opposition youth workers started waving black flags at him.
The police directed reporters covering his events to wear light-coloured surgical masks.
Two transgender activists wearing black clothes were arrested close to the venue of an event inaugurated by Vijayan in Kochi last year, which evoked widespread resentment.
There were reports of the police even preventing women who were clad in black churidars from attending functions of the chief minister.
No such phobia, say CPI(M)
However, political observers feel that Vijayan had no melanophobia a decade ago when heading the state unit of the CPI(M).
In 2013, Vijayan justified black-flag protests by the party’s youth wing against then chief minister Oommen Chandy, and said that waving black flags involved no criminal offence and was just a form of protest.
Interestingly, the chief minister now travels in black-coloured Innova Crystas for security reasons.
His son-in-law and PWD minister PA Muhammed Riyas often wears black shirts to attend public functions.
In fact, CPI(M)’s cyber team has termed the “melanophobia” accusation as the creation of bourgeoisie media and right wing Opposition.
While Vijayan, the topmost leader of the CPI(M), now strongly dislikes black, his party cadres feel differently.
The party likes black
A senior CPI(M) leader, who preferred anonymity, told South First that black was an inseparable part of modern political protests. He recalled many global events in the recent past when Leftists used black flags as a powerful means of protest.
But CPI(M) Central Committee member and LDF convenor EP Jayarajan had something else to say.
“Why are you adamant about wearing black masks and black shirts? Insisting on carrying black umbrellas to the chief minister’s function is not an act of good intention,” he told reporters recently.
Meanwhile, Congress leaders drew a parallel between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Vijayan.
In a rally in Pune during the pandemic, Modi insisted that participants avoid black masks, black handkerchiefs, and even black sunglasses.
Economist and social thinker Prof M Kunhaman termed the fear of the colour black as being against the concept of social justice.
“Dravida leader Periyar Ramasamy used to say that the colour of democracy is black. The colour is an expression of shame and suffering. Why is a Left leader fearing it this badly?” asked Kunhaman.