Kerala, which has a long history of internecine killings by cadres of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the RSS, is witnessing an intensification of the feud, driven by a newly-garnered sense of power.
The fight began in the northern district of Kannur in the 1960s. A plausible explanation for the endemic violence in the region is its tradition of revenge killings, which have been glorified in local lore. The sense of ‘honour’ is so deeply ingrained in the minds of activists on both sides that they try to settle the score immediately after an incident.
From time to time, sporadic acts of violence involving the two sides were reported from other places too, but unlike in Kannur, they were exceptions rather than the rule. That situation may now be changing.
The acts of violence involving Sangh parivar associates reported from different parts of the country in the last two years reveals a common modus operandi. Parivar associates, such as the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) or the Shiv Sena – who may or may not be formal associates – foment trouble over particular issues, like beef-eating for instance. The police merely look on, or they move in and protect the miscreants instead of the victims. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his sidekick, BJP president Amit Shah, keep mum, but lower-level functionaries offer comments that endorse the work of the mischief makers. The RSS and its functionaries do not come into the picture at all.
In a departure from standard practice, the RSS released a statement last week on the violence in Kerala. It listed eight RSS/BJP members who were allegedly killed by CPI(M) activists recently. Three were from Kannur, two each from Palakkad and Thiruvananthapuram, and one from Thrissur. There was no mention of the casualties on the other side. Evidently, the parivar wanted to convey the impression that the violence is one-sided and its members are the eternal victims.
RSS leaders and a few BJP MPs attended a public meeting in New Delhi on January 24, under the auspices of a body called the ‘Janadhikar Samiti’, to protest against the violence in Kerala. RSS joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale said atrocities against parivar members by “state-sponsored CPI(M) cadres” had increased manifold after the Left Democratic Front came to power in the state in May 2016.
Also read: Both BJP and the Left Aren’t Trying to Prevent Political Killings in Kerala
“The CPI(M) is based on the principle of hatred,” Hosabale added. “If the Kerala government fails to control the situation and political killings, the Centre should impose president’s rule in the state.” A memorandum incorporating this demand was later handed over to Union minister of state for home Hansraj Ahir, as home minister Rajnath Singh was not available.
The unusual RSS exercise appears to be part of a game plan to prepare the ground for dismissal of the CPI(M)-led government for the alleged breakdown of law and order. It was on this ground that Jawaharlal Nehru’s government sacked the state’s first communist government, headed by E.M.S. Namboodiripad, in 1959 after an assortment of political, caste-based and religious forces queered the pitch through a so-called liberation struggle.
Parivar leaders are spreading misinformation, knowingly or unknowingly, as they campaign for central intervention. For instance, speaking at the New Delhi meeting, Viswa Hindu Parishad general secretary Surendra Jain said that in the last 50 years the CPI(M) had killed 300 RSS, BJP and ABVP workers in the state, half of them Dalits.
The estimated toll of about 300 killed in Kannur covers casualties on both sides. Half of them are CPI(M) supporters who died in RSS attacks. The bulk of those killed on both sides are not Dalits, but members of the backward Thiyya community. In fact, the spate of violence in Kannur began with the RSS winning over some Thiyyas who were supporters of the CPI(M) and the party going after them to send the message that defectors will have to pay with their lives.
The CPI(M) and the RSS did not let violence spread from Kannur to other parts of the state until recently. The current wave of killings began after last year’s assembly elections. There were clashes at a few places as the CPI(M) supporters celebrated their return to power after five years and BJP workers celebrated the entry of a party nominee into the Kerala assembly for the first time, with former Union minister O. Rajagopal’s election from Nemom in the Thiruvananthapuram district.
Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan convened an all-party meeting last November to promote peace. After a short interval, violence erupted again. He has since said he is ready to call another peace meet.
One reason why the violence is proving difficult to control this time around is that hit-men in both camps feel emboldened by the fact that their leaders are now ruling parties, one at the Centre and the other in the state.
In several past cases of violence, the state police were able to secure convictions of CPI(M) and RSS/BJP activists. Yet, few observers rate the police’s ability to check the feuding groups highly. As an important element in the state’s power politics for decades, the CPI(M) had ample opportunity to create pockets of influence in the police force. As the party in power at the Centre, the BJP is now in a position to do the same.
In 2008, after a round of violence in Kannur ended with the RSS/BJP losing five men against the CPI(M)’s two, the parivar took the battle outside the state. It unleashed simultaneous attacks on the CPI(M)’s headquarters in New Delhi and its offices in other places, including Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh and Madurai in Tamil Nadu, and the house of its Karnataka state secretary in Bangalore.
Nalin Kumar Kateel, BJP MP from Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka, recently threatened to do it all over again. If the CPI(M) continued to target RSS/BJP workers in Kerala, they would retaliate elsewhere in the country, he said. He also talked ominously of central intervention.
The BJP is grossly mistaken if it imagines that 1959 can be repeated. The Kerala scenario has undergone a sea-change since then. Nehru, prodded by Indira Gandhi who was the Congress president, had acted against the Namboodiripad government at a time when it stood isolated within the state and there was no party to speak up for it at the national level. The Modi government is unlikely to get much support from outside its Hindutva constituency if it invokes Article 356 against Vijayan’s government.
More importantly, successive Supreme Court judgments have rendered it extremely difficult to misuse Article 356 the way central governments did in the past. There is every chance of the court intervening if the Modi administration acts unconstitutionally.
B.R.P. Bhaskar is a senior journalist.