A few years ago, Jyoti Basu bemoaned the ‘Himalayan blunder’ that prevented him from becoming Prime Minister when that eventuality was more than a pipedream. At the time, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was feeling its oats. They were supreme in West Bengal and Tripura, had a strong position in Kerala, and ended up essentially controlling UPA-1’s directions in their favour.
How the mighty have fallen! Sic transit gloria mundi, or words to that effect. Today, their once-impregnable fortress in West Bengal has fallen to bête-noire Mamata Banerjee. In Kerala, incessant sniping between VS Achuthanandan and Pinarayi Vijayan has prevented them from pulverising a weakened Congress. And to top it all, a series of mis-steps has estranged many of the faithful. Kerala’s Communists have become distinctly Stalinist, not hesitating to rub out or disgrace comrades. And increasingly irrelevant.
On 1 August, the police arrested P Jayarajan, district secretary in Kannur, on charges related to the February murder of Muslim League worker Abdul Shukoor in February. In response, the Communists shut down Kerala on 2 August in a violent hartal (not a bandh, mind you, because the high court has declared bandhs illegal): they blocked roads, damaged vehicles, brawled in the streets, and set fire to a number of offices of the ruling Congress and the Muslim League. Units of the Central Reserve Police Force were called out to prevent further escalation.
Kannur district has long been a bastion of the Communists, and is known for violent politics, usually involving the Communists and Hindu groups killing each other. In general, the Communists have been quite close to the Muslim League, so the killing of Abdul Shukoor is probably a first and may indicate a certain desperation on the part of the Communists.
Most of the killings in Kannur have followed a pattern: a Communist leaves the organisation. Apostasy is intolerable, and often that person is hacked to death in some skirmish or the other.
There are also pitched battles between the Communists and Hindus, revenge killings, and so on: rather like mafia wars in Sicily, but startling in generally peaceable Kerala.
There was the particularly gruesome case of KT Jayakrishnan Master, a school teacher and BJP Yuva Morcha member, who was hacked to death in front of a terrified class of 11-year-old children in broad daylight in 1999. The alleged killers were all Communist cadres, and several were sentenced to death. The Kerala High Court upheld the lower court’s order, but the Supreme Court reduced it to a life sentence for just one person, Pradeepan, and released the others. In 2010, the then-ruling Communists commuted Pradeepan’s life sentence, and released him on the occasion of Independence Day.
Thus, they literally got away with murder.
Jayakrishnan’s case came up again recently in the wake of an apostate's murder: that of TP Chandrasekhar, leader of a rebel, breakaway group, who was hacked to death on 4 May 2012. It is believed that his group, the Revolutionary Marxist Party, was beginning to siphon off significant support from the party rank-and-file, which, it appears, meant he had to be liquidated.
One of the suspects in the Chandrasekhar murder case, TK Rejeesh, revealed that he and 16 others were involved in the Jayakrishnan murder, and he alleged that those who were convicted of the murder were innocent stand-ins for the real culprits. So justice perverted, in addition to justice denied.
Be that as it may, there was another startling outcome from the Chandrasekhar case. Idukki district secretary MM Mani made a dramatic statement on 27 May: “Yes, we have killed the enemies of CPM. We have shot, stabbed and beaten them to death. A hit-list of party enemies was prepared and each of them was executed in that order."
Mani went on to say about his Congress targets: “(We) killed them by beating, stabbing and shooting according to a hit-list. First person was shot dead. One was beaten to death. Another was stabbed to death. After this, Congress men (went) leaving behind their khadi clothes. But we could not take revenge on all of them”.
For a senior party man to confess to extra-judicial killings – and to then continue to be unrepentant about it later – is remarkable. It shows that the Communists meant it when they said “Power flows from the barrel of a gun” – in effect, they were only pretending to be bound by the rules of a democracy. If one were to look at this purely objectively, this should be enough to disqualify them from elections altogether.
Their actions strengthen my conjecture that Communism, for all its atheistic pretensions, is basically another one-book religion with an Us vs. Them dichotomy. For one, they are structured (almost consciously) on church lines: they have their Catholics (Soviets) and Protestants (Chinese); their Reformation (schism between the Soviets and Chinese); their Popes (Mao, Stalin); their martyrs (Che Guevara); their Bible (Mao’s Red Book); their missionaries (Maoists); and so on. The parallels are startling.
On the other hand, they also follow some intolerant practices. One is the abhorrence of apostates – and the rule that those who leave the fold, forfeit their lives. Another is taqiya – disinformation. The alleged Communist love of democracy would be an example.
And those who join Communism decry and demean their heritage: a normal practice for a convert.
This may well be the reason Communism is dying in Kerala: why would anybody want to join an ersatz religion when the real religions are available? The MM Mani incident seems to have shocked a number of the faithful who now show a notable lack of enthusiasm for their beloved leaders. And several prominent Communists have left the party, or have been purged – KR Gowri, MV Raghavan, AP Abdullakutty, VS Sivaraman, KS Manoj, Sindhu Joy.
There is also another reason: the public is just fed up with their endless agitations at the drop of a hat that seriously inconvenience the silent majority. So much so that even an unpopular Congress, which had just a single-seat majority after the 2011 elections, has been able to consolidate its position by attracting defections. By rights, the Congress should have trounced the Communists in 2011 – every five years, the Kerala voter says “throw the rascals out” and brings in the other bunch with a thumping majority – but they failed to do so, which means people are fed up with them as well.
But people are angrier with the Communists. It may well be that they have reached their sell-by date. Maybe even in leftist Kerala, their nostrums about revolution and the millennium are not going over too well any more. It may well be that they are going to be run over by the inexorable steamroller of their demi-god, Dialectical Materialism.