When US President Donald Trump claimed during his poll campaign that his predecessor Barack Obama was the “founder of ISIS” and his opponent Hillary Clinton was its co-founder, even some of his supporters were flummoxed. The host of the radio programme in which Trump made the claim was also taken aback. “He might have meant that the vacuum created by the sudden pull-out of troops by the Obama administration had helped the Islamic State”, the host tried to clarify; but an unabashed Trump reiterated his statement. For many political observers, this moment was seen as another example of politics entering a ‘post-truth’ era, where words need not have any link with the reality as long as they rake up the sentiments of the rank and file.
‘Post-truth’ politics in Kerala
The recent debates over political violence in Kerala have contributed a string of ‘post-truth’ moments on Indian television too. BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi was the first to rake up the issue into a national debate. In her Lok Sabha speech, she alleged that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is killing their political opponents “Taliban style” in “God’s forsaken country”.
She went on to accuse the state’s ruling party of attacking children with swords, an entirely fabricated claim. She also read out the names of 14 BJP and RSS workers who were allegedly killed in Kerala over the last few months and wondered whether anyone in the House knew their names.
But the police records show that more than half of those who lost their lives in the political violence in the state were from the CPI(M). In a television debate on the issue, when CPI(M) MP M.B. Rajesh tried to refer to the brutal killing of Students’ Federation of India (SFI) leader K.V. Sudheesh in 1995, it was immediately shut down as a lie by his counterpart in the discussion. BJP spokesman G.V.L. Narasimha Rao blatantly said the murder didn’t happen. BJP and RSS leaders in Delhi deliberately stuck onto their narrative of ‘red terror’, prompting the English and Hindi media to run stories of the ‘killing fields of Kerala’. Most channels sent their senior political correspondents to the state and the screen was awash by the reports of ‘red chasing down saffron’ in the southernmost part of the country.
“The violence as well as the media campaign are a part of a well calculated move from the Sangh parivar,” said Rajesh. “They had had a meeting with top media persons including Prasar Bharati chairman at Union minister Mahesh Sharma’s residence in Delhi, after which the campaign against Kerala was started. Rajeev Chandrasekhar, a Rajya Sabha member and Kerala NDA leader who owns the Malayalam television channel Asianet News and a major stakeholder of Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV was the kingpin of this conspiracy.”.
“In parliament, they misuse the power of the chair to curtail the voices of the Left parties. For instance, Meenakshi Lekhi and Prahlad Joshi of the BJP consumed almost 15 minutes to level bogus charges against the Left and the CPI(M) in particular. We were denied the opportunity to give a reply as the microphone was switched while CPI(M)’s P. Karunakaran was speaking,” he added.
BJP sends the big gun
The cacophony of live reportage from Kerala soared up with Union defence minister Arun Jaitely visiting the house of murdered RSS activist Rajesh in Thiruvananthapuram.
The families of the victims who belonged to the CPI(M) staged a dharna demanding that the Union minister visit their homes too and listen to their woes. Interestingly, Jaitely’s visit coincided with the all-party meeting convened by chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan to ensure peace and harmony in the state. Though he squarely blamed the ruling party for the violent state of affairs in the wake of the recent incidents, Jaitely acknowledged that there were casualities on the other side also.
“I have come here to express solidarity with my party workers. I was told through the media that there are victims among Left parties also. I have no difficulty in meeting them. If anybody wants to meet me, I am available. But the attempts to establish a fake equivalence between victims and perpetrators cannot be accepted,” Jaitley told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram. He is the first BJP national leader to take this stand.
“It is important that the Union defence minister has agreed there are victims on the other side too,” K.J. Jacob, executive editor of Deccan Chronicle in Kerala, observed. “He rejected that there is ‘an utter failure in the law and order situation’ and did not back the call made by RSS for president’s rule in Kerala. Jaitely refused to parrot what the Sangh parivar has been saying and trying to make the nation believe: Its affiliates have no freedom for political activity in Kerala and that their innocent workers have been hounded by the communists,” Jacob said. According to Jacob, Jaitley’s visit has debunked the myth of ‘red terror’ the Sangh parivar has created.
“The CPI(M) also feels the same way after Jaitley’s visit even the thoroughly biased national media has started looking at the other side of the distorted facts,” Rajesh said.
A history of friction
According to Alexander Jacob, former director general of Kerala police, in the last 46 years, about 527 CPI(M) workers lost their lives in politics-related violence in the state, while 442 workers from other parties also died, including 185 from the Sangh parivar.
In the last 20 years, police records obtained through the RTI Act show that 85 CPI(M) workers, 65 BJP/RSS workers and 22 of other party workers were murdered.
Leaders of both camps now say that they are not proud of the coffin counts but the vicious cycle of murder has not stopped yet. Vijayan said that the government is committed to ending the violence and the process of attaining peace is on the right track. He accused the BJP and the RSS of propagating lies to defame the state. In an interview to NDTV, Vijayan said that the BJP/RSS is an isolated system in Kerala. “They tried hard to be a major force, but the people of Kerala have rejected them.”
The Sangh parivar leadership, including the RSS top brass, have trained their guns on Vijayan. RSS joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale alleged that the Kerala chief minister has many serious cases registered against him while Rao went one step ahead, calling Vijayan the “chief murderer of Kerala”.
Sangh leaders have pointed out that the epicenter of the violence in Kerala is the native area of the chief minister. The history of political violence in Talassery in Kannur district dates back to the 1960s. The first victim of the killing spree, Ramakrishnan, was a Jana Sangh worker who was killed in a clash with local biddi factory workers, predominantly communists. According to the CPI(M) leaders, Ramakrishnan and a group of armed goons attacked the beedi company and the workers retaliated, resulting in his death – a story that the BJP leadership refutes. From 1969 to 2017, over 200 murders occurred in the area. Many of those killed were the rank and file of both parties, but even leaders were not spared.
In 1986, Pannyannoor Chandran, a BJP district level leader, was killed. In 1994, Sadanandan, another BJP worker, was attacked and both his legs were chopped off. In retaliation, K.V. Sudheesh, a state-level office bearer of the SFI and Democratic Youth Federation of India was hacked to death in front of his parents. Sudheesh was the state joint secretary and the central committee member of SFI when he was killed. In 1999, P. Jayarajan, who is now the district secretary of the CPI(M), was attacked by a group of RSS goons at his house and was badly injured, losing the ability to use his right hand. An accused in that attack, V. Manoj, was hacked to death in 2014.
The recent developments have catapulted Vijayan into the national spotlight, thanks to the scathing attack directed towards him by Sangh leaders. He is getting support from all anti-BJP corners, except for the Congress in Kerala which holds both the CPI(M) and the RSS equally responsible for the deteriorating law and order situation in the state.
“I have always condemned these political murders and will continue to do so and I will also keep critiquing the government of Kerala for what I think have been and are their wrong decisions. But Kerala has to stand as one man/woman to defend its secular and democratic traditions, its diverse culture, its religious amity and its broadly socialist political mindset,” says poet K. Satchidanandan. “I would have taken the same stand if the Congress-led front had been in power,” he adds. “When we raised questions about the murders of innocent people including writers in other states, we were told it was a state subject but now, they have reversed their view and suddenly the Centre has begun to show its ‘concern’ about what is happening in Kerala as if Kerala were the epicentre of all the violence and all Malayalis were born criminals,” he said.
The poet is confident that Kerala’s people will fight this high-handedness tooth and nail .
Rajeev Ramachandran is an independent journalist based in Kochi.