When the Left returned to power in Kerala five months ago, there was a scare that the murderous politics of the RSS-BJP and the CPI(M) would enter a new, macabre phase. That fear has come true in good measure.
And the killing of a BJP worker in Kerala on Wednesday, in retaliation to the murder of a CPI(M) man two days ago, offers a fresh confirmation of that.
There have been six murders — three of RSS-BJP workers and three of CPI(M)’s in Kannur since the May 2016 Kerala Assembly Election. Worse, Kannur is the home district of CPI(M)’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who also holds the home portfolio.
Predictably, each killing is followed by a bundh called by the party whose worker is the latest victim. On Wednesday, it was the BJP’s turn to call a bundh that shut down the state.
At some point in the past, somebody called northern Kerala district of Kannur, where most of these killings take place, the “Sicily of India”. The name stuck. The irony is that Sicily became almost peaceful after two brave judicial officers — Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino — cracked down on the gangs and 342 mafiosi were convicted in 1987. Sicily’s mafia went by the name of Cosa Nostra, which means our thing.
But Kerala’s Sicily is still struggling. The workers of RSS-BJP and the CPI(M) continue their thing: killing each other with chilling regularity.
The root of this violence is the scarcely concealed craze of both the RSS-BJP and the CPI(M) to curb each other’s growth in Kerala. While in Sicily, gangs had relative peace for some periods of time because they sorted out territories in which each should commit their perfidie, in Kerala, each side wants to usurp the other’s turf (also voters) even if it takes lives.
The misery that the warring groups inflict on the families of the dead is immense. BJP worker KV Ramith, 26, who was killed on Wednesday, was a truck driver. His father C Uthaman, a bus driver who also worked for the party, was hacked to death in 2002. Now, Ramith’s sister and mother are left to fend for themselves. Families of most victims on both sides have tragic stories to tell even though respective parties help them with some money.
And most murders are gruesome: Ramith was stabbed repeatedly in the neck. His death was avenged with the killing of toddy shop worker and CPI(M) member K Mohanan, who was hacked to death by a gang of six masked men. Both were killed in broad daylight.
After each murder, you don’t hear too much talk about anybody investigating the crime and catching the killers. What you hear instead is the leaders of the Left and the BJP blaming each other in words nearly as brutal as the deaths.
On Wednesday, Vijayan said that the BJP and the RSS were not only unleashing violence with the encouragement of their central leaders but also telling lies. The CPI(M)’s state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has discovered a conspiracy hatched by no other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah to target Kerala’s Marxists. BJP’s Kerala President Kummanam Rajasekharan and party spokesman GVL Narasimha Rao claim that their partymen are being killed with Vijayan’s knowledge and connivance.
It is likely that the CPI(M) was the first culprit in 1968, when it decimated an RSS functionary to curb the growing influence of the organisation. Since then it has been tit for tat or jaw for tooth for both. But it has gone on for so long that it no longer matters who started it all.
What should concern one, though, is that the gory, competitive murders are continuing. Particularly appalling is the fact that the latest murder on Wednesday was committed hardly half a kilometre from Vijayan’s home in Pinarayi village.
Despite several hiccups in administration and a nepotism charge against him, Vijayan is regarded as a leader of substance who is intent on improving Kerala’s messy economy. His government no doubt shines after the lackadaisical, corruption-ridden administration of the Congress that ruled the state for five years before him. But Vijayan is not particularly covering himself with glory by not stopping the bloodshed.
It’s nobody’s case that the CPI(M) and Vijayan alone are guilty. It’s clear that the RSS-BJP combination can no longer blame the Left alone for the murderous saga. In the eyes of Kerala’s people, who are peace-loving to the extent of being lethargic, both sides must share the shame for this old Sicilian-type vendetta.
In private conversations, the Left gives the murders a bogus veneer of ideology, calling it a fight against the enemies of the working class and communalism. It's the same excuse that communist leaders across the globe, including those in West Bengal during Jyoti Basu’s rule, used to validate mindless massacres. In fact, for the Left in Kerala, it’s just a question of stopping the BJP from getting more support than it already has.
The BJP has been steadily increasing its vote share from 4.75 percent in the 2006 assembly elections to 10.6 percent votes in this year’s poll. This year, it also opened its account in the assembly with a single seat. Now determined on improving its performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP is ready to take down what it calls “communist terrorism”. It has no qualms whatsoever to resort to eye-for-eye politics to achieve that goal.
For now, the ball is firmly in the court of Vijayan because he is the chief minister. He cuts a sorry figure when he blames others for the killings and calls for action. He is the one who should act.
As far as the violence is concerned, he may think of turning into Italy’s dictator Mussolini, who was the first to clamp down on the Sicilian mafia, though it was the famous Falcone-Borsellino duo who brought the gangsters to their knees.
Author tweets @sprasadindia