Political violence in the state has increasingly become a show-down between the party ruling the country and the party ruling the state.
Kannur: The state-wide strike called by the BJP in Kerala on October 13 against the killings of its party workers, with the immediate trigger being the murder of its 19-year-old activist Remith on October 11, brings back memories of the late nineties when politically-motivated revenge killings had become a routine in the state.
The volatile Kannur district in north Kerala, known for its polarised politics, has been the biggest witness to political clashes in recent times, with the death toll shooting up to seven since the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government came to power.
The current cycle of murders started on the counting day of the assembly election. C. Raveendran, a Communist Party of India (Marxist) supporter, was killed immediately after the counting of votes on May 19, when crude bombs were hurled at a victory procession of the LDF in the Dharmadam, the chief minister’s constituency, allegedly by BJP and RSS workers.
On July 11, C.V. Dhanaraj, a popular local leader of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) and CPI(M) was killed by a group of BJP/RSS activists inside his house at Karanthat in the Ramanthali panchayat, in front of his wife and children. Within hours, in retaliation, C.K. Ramachandran, an auto rickshaw driver and worker of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the RSS-backed workers’ union, was murdered. The assailants hurled country-made bombs and stabbed him to death.
On August 20, BJP worker Deekshith was killed in a bomb explosion in a house at Kottayampoyil, near Koothuparamba. According to the police, the explosion took place while making powerful crude bombs. (RSS-BJP leader Valsan Thillankeri had openly defended the making of bombs in a television panel discussion, stating that when the state fails, people make weapons for self-defence.)
On September 20, Vinesh, a 26-year-old BJP worker, was murdered at Thillankeri reportedly in a retaliatory attack hardly an hour after Jijesh, a DYFI activist, was injured in a bomb attack. Jijesh is an accused in the case of hacking and injuring local RSS leader Sajesh of Muzhakkunnu.
On October 10, K. Mohanan, a member of CPI(M)’s Paduvilayi local committee and party branch secretary in the area, was hacked to death inside a local toddy shop, where he used to work, by a group of masked men. Another CPI(M) worker, Ashokan, was injured in the attack. Within 24 hours, Remith, a 19-year-old BJP worker, was butchered in broad daylight to make the tally even.
The saffron party’s call to protest his murder on October 13 was not bereft of violence either. Reports of sporadic violence across the state, with several CPI(M) offices and flag posts attacked, kept coming in as the day progressed. A total of 11 people, including media persons, were injured in various incidents.
Mudslinging after murders
In what may portend increased intervention from the union government in state politics, the Kerala BJP has blamed the chief minister for the lawlessness in his constituency and the district and has demanded a CBI inquiry into the murder of its worker Remith, terming it as political terrorism. “Attacks on BJP karyakartas in CM Pinarayi Vijayan’s home constituency is a matter of grave concern and smacks of political vendetta,” tweeted party president Amit shah.
The state unit of BJP has appealed to the union government to impose the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in Kannur. In a letter to home minister Rajnath Singh, T.G. Mohandas of the BJP alleged that the government has failed to maintain law and order, and the lone solution is to entrust the peacekeeping operations to military or para-military forces by imposing ASFPA. It should be noted that the Union Ministry of Home Affairs had sought reports on the murders of BJP workers from the state government, which is not a common practice.
At the national level, the saffron party has upped its campaign against the Marxists by organising an exhibition on ‘Marxist violence’ in Delhi. While BJP activists have protested twice in front of the CPI(M) headquarters in Delhi, Shah has specially constituted a team headed by party general secretary Bhupendra Yadav to submit a report on political violence in the state.
The state governor P. Sadasivam, in an unusual move, summoned the state police chief and the home secretary, and expressed his concerns over the political murders in Kannur.
Political observers believe that the BJP is using its central powers to influence the political discourse in the state. For instance, its party leaders have been citing the 2008 the Kerala high court judgment in which it had observed that the only solution to stop the ‘bloodshed’ is timely intervention by the Union government by deploying sufficient central forces, describing Kannur as a place where manslaughter is a “compelling sport”. The CBI is already investigating the murder of BJP leader V. Manoj in which CPI(M) district secretary P. Jayarajan is one of the accused.
CPI(M)’s half-baked response
The CPI(M), on the other hand, see this as a bid to create violence across the state and bypass the federal system. Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has charged the BJP and RSS with spreading hate among the people with the blessings of their national leaders. “The RSS men have a pre-planned agenda to create violence in Kerala. However, they could not execute their plan as the LDF is very strong. The BJP-RSS activists are also destroying the state’s unity and peace,” he said, while accusing the BJP of fomenting violence in Kannur.
Its mouth piece Deshabhimani had published a string of stories, citing examples on how the RSS has been charging the environment on communal lines.
Bypassing the federal system?
Most observers believe that in the political mudslinging that is going on, the BJP clearly seeks to override state government’s powers while the LDF has failed to use its government machinery to control violence.
K.J. Jacob, a senior journalist with Deccan Chronicle, observes that “the CPI(M) is walking into the trap, if at all there is one”.
“If the BJP has a pre-planned agenda by luring the CPI(M) rank and file into violence, the state government should use its machinery to enforce law and order,” said the seasoned journalist.
This is not an easy task for the regional CPI(M) leadership, given the hack-happy nature of the cadres in both parties.
The leaders of both parties, too, seem to have provoked this behaviour further. CPI(M) state secretary and Politburo member Kodiyeri Balakrishnan recently said in a meeting that “if someone attacks us they should not go as they came and should be dealt then and there”.
Similarly, BJP’s former president V. Muralidharan talked about retaliatory violence in the same vein.
“As the camaraderie between local party workers stands a notch higher than their loyalty to the leaders, no leader can preach restraint after an attack on their men,” observes journalist E. Saneesh, also a popular television anchor.
History of political violence
The history of political violence in the Kannur district dates back to the 1960s. The first victim of the killing spree, Ramakrishnan, was Bharatiya Jana Sangh worker who was killed in a clash with the local beedi factory workers, predominantly communists.
Then came the infamous Thalasseri riots in which the CPI(M) lost its cadre U.K. Kunhiraman, who, according to the party, was killed by the RSS goons while protecting a mosque.
RSS leaders often ridicule this version of history, but the fact remains that the RSS and the erstwhile Jana Sangh were held responsible for the mayhem by the Justice Joseph Vithayathil commission which inquired into the riots. The commission in its report observed that the “underlying cause of the riots was the propaganda carried out by Jan Sangh against the Muslims league after the league became a partner in the government that the league was taking undue advantage of its political power in the state created a general feeling among the Hindus that they would not get justice in the hands of police in cases in which Muslims were on the opposite side.”
From 1969 to 2016, Kannur has already witnessed 210 politically-motivated murders.
The cause of the violence is often attributed to the authoritarian stance of the communists, who would not allow the opponents to function. This is partially accepted by a large section of independent thinkers, but the tide is now changing with the Sangh parivar schematically inching forward with calculated moves. Now it has become a show-down between the party ruling the country and the party ruling the state. With the BJP gradually gaining great ground in Kerala after an extraordinary electoral performance earlier this year, the advantage rests with Shah and company at the moment, unless the comrades play it smarter.
Rajeev Ramachandran is an independent journalist based in Kochi.