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Kerala political violence: Is CPM insecure about Modi juggernaut unseating it from its last bastion?

Is there more to the bloodshed taking place in Kerala between Communist Party of India (Marxist) party workers and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) cadre? RSS has claimed that 14 of its workers have been killed since October 2016 in Kerala, and blamed the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government for the violence. It said that incidents of violence and killing of its members have risen exponentially since the LDF assumed power in Kerala in 2016.

The crisis has gained national importance, underscored by Arun Jaitley's visit to the state on Sunday to take stock of the situation on ground and to mediate in the escalating tension.

Political watchers say they cannot recall a time in the immediate past when rivalry between the two groups in the state has assumed such national significance.

Importance of Arun Jaitley's visit

Jaitley arrived in Thiruvananthapuram and paid a condolence visit to RSS worker Rajesh's family. A series of violent incidents between RSS activists and CPM members rocked the state capital last week, which culminated in the killing of Rajesh, a 34-year-old swayamsevak.

Seeking immediate high-level intervention and a time-bound probe, RSS had written to then president Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Rajnath Singh to look into the matter. While slamming CPM over the growing violence and attacks on RSS-BJP workers in the state, Jaitley said, "Political enmity is bigger than enmity between nations."

Arun Jaitley visits the family of slain RSS worker Rajesh. PTI

Arun Jaitley visits the family of slain RSS worker Rajesh. PTI

The visit by Jaitley, one of the senior-most members of the central government, and a leader who is asked to act as a "fire-fighter" for the party and the government in situations of crisis, is likely to catapult the political violence issue on a national scale. It will also pile pressure on the state government and force it to confront the deteriorating law and order situation.

Jaitley will also be visiting those BJP ward councillors in various parts of the state capital, who were allegedly attacked by CPM cadre. "Jaitley's visit will obviously build pressure on the Vijayan government, as this is the first time a senior leader from the Centre has visited Kerala and spoken openly about the violence," said an RSS worker from Thiruvananthapuram who attended Jaitley's meeting.

According to sources, Jaitley will be followed by party president Amit Shah and chief ministers of BJP-ruled states, who are planning to visit Kerala and give "moral support" to the RSS-BJP workers, and urge them to "keep the heat on the LDF government".

RSS-BJP's rising influence

The RSS, in a recently-held press conference in New Delhi, claimed that the first murder of a Sangh swayamsevak took place in Kerala in 1969 "at the hand of the Marxists". The saffron party has not enjoyed much political success in the state since then despite substantial grassroots presence.

For instance, the current Kerala Assembly, comprising 140 members, has only one from BJP. That's O Rajagopal, a veteran party member who became the first BJP leader to win from Kerala, when he claimed the Nemom seat in last year's Assembly elections.

But while the CPM and the BJP-RSS combine seem to be arguing about who fired the first shot, it is surprising that the Left party should feel threatened about a political non-entity in Kerala. CPM's chief political rival here is Congress; since the state's formation in 1956, other than a few exceptions in between, the CPM-led LDF and Congress-led UDF have taken turns at ruling Kerala.

It may not be way off the mark to conjecture that the CPM, ensconced safely in its home ground, is beginning to feel the rumbles of the Narendra Modi juggernaut. It may still be way ahead in the future, but the Left, whose political fortunes have been on the decline in the subcontinent, is feeling insecure about its last remaining comfort zone, Kerala. Bengal, the other bastion of Red power, already waved goodbye to the communists, while the party's presence in Parliament has been reduced to just 19 MPs spread over various Left outfits.

For long, it has remained impossible to imagine the seed of Hindutva standing any chance of blossoming in 'God's Own Country', where Communism is said to be second nature to most. However, the Sangh has claimed that the Left has been caught "off-guard" following a large "exodus" of CPM cadre to the RSS.

The murder of CPM rebel TP Chandrasekharan is a case in point. "Communist parties never forgive apostasy. This is the reason TP was killed, and so were the other RSS men. With each murder of an apostate, the party hopes to thwart the inflow of cadres to BJP from CPM. Now, BJP is the only option for the comrades and that's why the party is being targeted," said Ganesh R, a political activist from southern Kerala.

According to Ganesh, around 80 percent of the murdered swayamsevaks were former CPM cadres. "And 80-85 percent of murders take place in party villages. Manoj, a 22-year-old swayamsevak who was recently murdered in Kannur, was originally from CPM and moved to RSS," he claimed.

Though the political violence has escalated after LDF came to power last year, RSS claimed that since 1969, "around 300 swayamsevaks have been brutally murdered by CPM cadres". "After the Emergency, there had been a growing migration of CPM workers to RSS, and this led to escalation in violent attacks on RSS," said 'sah sarkaryavah' Dattatreya Hosabale.

A study of Kerala's political history shows that it wasn't always a CPM versus RSS battle, Hosabale said. "Workers of other political parties like CPI, Congress, Muslim League, etc. have also been targeted. It's CPM versus everybody else," he said.

"The violent politics in Kerala has touched its nadir, after the CPM-led LDF came to power with Pinarayi Vijayan as the CM. He is himself from Kannur and was an accused in one such political murder. The CPM state secretary K Balakrishnan is also from Kannur and has been sheltering many criminals,” alleged Hosabale.

The RSS has also alleged that the state police enjoys patronage of the ruling government, and acts in a partisan manner. "Kerala is probably the only place in the country where the police has a trade union and functions like one. It acts in a biased and arbitrary manner against non-CPM parties and their workers. Law and order situation in the state is in shambles," said J Nandkumar, a senior RSS leader and national convener of Prajna Pravah.

In 2016, Organiser, the Sangh's mouthpiece publication, came up with an extensive cover story, 'Killing fields of Kannur', based on ground reports, and it got the media's attention at the national level. It highlighted the growing violence and killings of RSS activists in Kerala, allegedly perpetrated by CPM cadre, and on the rise since the LDF government came to power.

Communist Party village

It all started in the villages of Kannur district. It's said that there are 40 villages or pockets in Kannur which are considered the CPM's bastion. Patyam, Mokeri, Kizhakke, Kathiroor, Kayyur, Chokli, Panthakkal, Madapeedika, Pookkom, Parad, Manantheri, are some of them. In some of these areas, one can even see signboards saying 'Welcome to Communist Party Village'. Others display posters announcing 'Che Guevara Gramam'. There are also posters openly declaring 'RSS banned area', 'No entry for communal RSS men'.

Posters put up in villages of Kannur "banning" RSS. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

Posters put up in villages of Kannur "banning" RSS. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

"You can see real Fascism here, but no human right activists are bothered about this. No flag posts or posters of non-communist parties are allowed to be exhibited here. It's nothing but a naked violation of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Moreover, living standards and conditions of these villages reveal the hollowness of the claim of so-called "development activities" spearheaded by CPM. These villages are under the absolute control of CPM leaders, and no other voice is tolerated. Everything from a marriage to voting rights is controlled by the party. If you don't follow the diktat, you die," said a resident of Kannur, on condition of anonymity.

RSS and BJP workers have alleged that CPM has unleashed a 'Stalinist regime' in the state. They say the aim is to gag all anti-CPM voices through annihilation, using crude bombs and hatchets and swords as weapons of choice. They now fear that the model has expanded beyond Kannur.

"Due to cultural and political differences between the Left and the others, the CPM doesn't allow other voices to exist. They have been into systematic annihilation of RSS and BJP cadre. It was also taking place in the past, but the model has expanded beyond Kannur under the patronage of the current LDF government," Ganesh R added.

CPM's counter-allegation

The CPM, meanwhile, has accused BJP and the RSS of carrying out attacks on its party workers right from the day results of Assembly polls were declared in May 2016. The CPM politburo alleged that 13 of its workers have been killed by the RSS and the BJP since then, while 200 other workers and party sympathisers have been wounded.

"BJP's central leadership and a Union minister have raised baseless and partisan allegations against CPM. They resort to provocative actions and physical assaults against the CPM workers and claim the CPM is resorting to violence. They blame the Kerala government for not stopping such attacks," the Politburo alleged.

RSS counters CPM's allegations

"Let them come up with evidences like we have presented. It's a pre-scripted story by the CPM. It's not about RSS. In 1966, the first murder that took place was of a CPI leader. Since then, more than 40 Congress and eight Muslim League party workers have been murdered. Now, RSS is the sole target, because we're putting up a strong resistance," Nandkumar said.

"The violence in Kerala is unending. Our worker Rajesh was brutally killed. The gory details of bloodthirsty violence and gruesome murders make our blood curdle," Hosabale added.

Peace meetings

A "peace meeting" was called in Kannur on Saturday between CPM and RSS-BJP leaders. CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan urged party cadre to not indulge in violent politics. Another round of an all-party meeting is scheduled on Sunday evening.

However, as Jaitley reached Thiruvananthpuram on Sunday, a group of CPM workers staged a demonstration. "These peace meetings are a farce. Earlier too, after a murder took place, such a meeting was convened. Finally, nothing works. This time probably under mounting pressure from the Centre, the CPM state secretary gave a public statement," a local source said.

Updated Date: Aug 07, 2017 08:35 AM

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