Cochin Carnival in Kerala won’t see ‘Governor and his hat’ as BJP gets magistrate order against play

The organisers claimed the play did not target Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, but reflected recent developments in the state.

ByK A Shaji

Published Dec 29, 2023 | 9:50 PMUpdatedDec 29, 2023 | 10:33 PM

A view of the ongoing Cochin Carnival. Photo: Supplied.

There seems to be no end to the controversies surrounding the annual editions of Cochin Carnival, a celebration involving thousands to usher in the New Year at Fort Kochi in Kerala.

In 2022, the focus of the controversy was an effigy titled Pappanji, which is burned at midnight on 31 December every year, marking the arrival of the new year and the conclusion of the mega event.


The Pappanji face that courted controversy. (Supplied)

The Pappanji effigy prepared for the previous New Year’s Eve invited objections from the BJP after the party’s workers claimed that it closely resembled Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Due to pressure from the BJP and the police, the organisers of the Cochin Carnival had to change the look of the Pappanji on 29 December last year.

They made minor changes to the puppet’s face and added a long white beard, leaving Kerala and the internet community in splits.

Now, almost a year after the controversy, the BJP has found objections against a drama scheduled to be staged at the carnival venue on Friday, 29 December.

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The order

Hours before the staging of the drama Gavarnarum Thoppiyum, which loosely translated to “the Governor and his Hat”, the Mattancherry ward BJP president Sivakumar Kammath approached K Meera, the sub-divisional magistrate of Fort Kochi, saying the scheduled play was something that attempted to wilfully humiliate people in constitutional positions.

By evening, Meera had issued a notice to PA Bose, president of the Natak Drama Collective’s Kochi regional committee, saying the name of the play must be changed and there would not be any mention of the word “Governor” in any of its dialogues.

The order also prevented him and his team from making any comments criticising the Central or state governments throughout the drama. It must not cause any communal or political disturbance, the order said.

The order said the dress and language style in the drama must not imitate anyone holding constitutional posts.

The Natak Drama Collective was in charge of staging the play at the carnival on Friday.

After getting the order, the carnival organisers decided not to stage the play as scheduled.

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The organisers react

In the meantime, Bose told South First that it would be very difficult to stage the drama as per the conditions laid out by the sub-divisional magistrate.

“No other name suits the drama, and the changes directed by the magistrate are unacceptable. We will consult the state government, and after getting government approval, the drama will be staged later in Fort Kochi,” he said.

He said he was unsure whether it would be staged as part of the festival, which ends on 31 December midnight.

He said the content was not campaign material targeting Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, but it had resonances with the recent socio-political developments in the state.

In a democracy, constitutional positions are subjected to fair criticism, he said.

As per the order of the magistrate, Bose would be solely responsible for any untoward incident if the play was staged without editing or deleting the controversial words.

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Last year’s controversy


The changed face of Pappanji, which according to social media users, resembles Kuttoosan. (Supplied)

Last year, when Pappanji changed its appearance to remain distinct from Modi, many people found it to resemble Kuttoosan, a character in Mayavi, a comic series published in the children’s magazine Balarama.

Several social media users, especially Kuttoosan fans, decided to toe the BJP line and demanded — albeit in a lighter vein — that the carnival organisers change the look so that their dear dark wizard would not be humiliated and go up in flames on 31 December.

The tale took a sudden twist when some others found the effigy looking like Kummanam Rajasekharan, a former BJP chief in Kerala who was also the Governor of Mizoram in 2018-19.

They asked why the BJP-RSS activists were not protesting against the apparent humiliation of Kummanam, an influential south Indian voice of the saffron party.