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RSS worker killed in Kannur: BJP’s blunder in attacking Kerala governor lets CPM off the hook

Political killing is not a new phenomenon in the northern district of Kannur in Kerala. One of the strongest and oldest bastions of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the district had always been the bloodiest one as well.

Last Friday, when 32-year-old P Biju, an RSS functionary was hacked to death in broad daylight at Ramanthali, a suburban area of Payyanur, it was déjà vu again – an alleged well-orchestrated revenge killing.

Biju had been the 12th accused in the killing of CPM’s Dhanaraj in July 2016. For those maintaining the score sheets at Kannur, it was yet another red tick against the BJP’s name, leaving one to ponder when the next head will roll on the opposite side.

BJP protest killing of RSS member in Kannur. Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Strangely though, the BJP, instead of pinning down the Left government on the violence, decided to go for the governor’s jugular. This has, in effect, taken the focus away from the gruesome killing.

The BJP had raised the Kannur issue with the governor, P Sathasivamand, but not all in the party were happy with the head of the state’s reaction. MT Ramesh, one of the general secretaries of the party in the state and a well-known media face was the first to set the ball rolling over social media.

"It is not because we do not know the address of the chief minister's office that we went to the governor. The governor should have acted on his own,’’ deplored Ramesh in a Facebook post.

It appeared that Ramesh was not aware that governors of states cannot act without seeking the advice of the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan or the cabinet. As if that was not embarrassing enough, the real shot in the foot arrived soon after.

The firebrand woman general secretary of the party and member of the National Executive from Palakkad, Shobha Surendran, said, "If the governor is scared of the chief minister, then he should quit his post immediately."

Adding fuel to the fire, BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan released a video claiming to be of CPM cadre rejoicing after the killing of Biju. More than two days have passed since the CPM state leadership challenged the authenticity of the video, but the BJP still has no answers to give.

On Monday, when the State Assembly met, the party’s single member in the legislature, O Rajagopal, was cornered by both the treasury benches and the Congress-led Opposition. It finally forced the MLA to say that the sentiments expressed against the governor was the doing of young leaders in the heat of the moment and should be seen only as an emotional outburst of a few, who are still coming to terms with having lost a young party worker.

The BJP spokesperson candidly admitted to the political blunder some of his colleagues had committed. "Such irresponsible statements by a few in the party have put the party in a very tight spot. We have lost a worker to CPM’s violence but nobody is speaking of that now. The whole focus has been shifted and we have given our political opponents a chance to get at us now," BJP state spokesperson MS Kumar said, while speaking to Firstpost.

So, whatever the BJP state leadership’s political strategy was when they set foot at the Raj Bhavan boomeranged as the issue of 'insulting the head of the state (read governor)' gathered prominence in the news space relegating the core issue of political violence in Kannur to a sub-plot.

The loud-mouth rhetoric of the two general secretaries of the saffron party also provided cannon fodder to the CPM leadership. Not only did chief minister deplore the comments of the BJP leaders on the floor of the House, he also managed to get away without much trouble on Kannur. In fact, the Congress, which had been at the CPM’s throat over Kannur, was seen as taking a softer stand after the BJP attacked the governor.

Meanwhile, the CPM, which was certainly on the backfoot over the weekend, not only attacked with renewed energy but gave an entirely new spin to the Kannur killings. “The BJP in the state is arm-twisting the Governor to bring in central government interference in the state. It somehow wants to portray that the law and order situation has collapsed in the state by one unfortunate incident at Kannur. They are only clearing the grounds for greater violence in the state in days to come,’’ said Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, CPM State Secretary at Thiruvananthapuram.

"The BJP in the state is arm-twisting the governor to bring in central government interference in the state. It somehow wants to portray that the law and order situation has collapsed in the state by one unfortunate incident at Kannur. They are only clearing the grounds for greater violence in the state in days to come,’" said Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, CPM state secretary at Thiruvananthapuram.

BJP’s Kannur agenda

This is how Kannur’s politics has always gone after every bout of killing: A few noises would be raised; an all-party peace talk would follow, bringing in a truce that would then await its turn to be broken by the next provocation.

But by dragging the governor’s office into the issue, the BJP state leadership has shown its clear intentions of fishing in troubled waters, nowadays a widely successful political strategy.

It is also perhaps not a surprise that the party’s bigwigs in the state pleaded before the governor to enforce the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) at Kannur.

Sources inside the party confirm that it was a well thought out strategy to make such a tall demand, knowing very well that it may not yield any immediate result, but would bolster the argument that there is a breakdown in law and order in the state.

That the feelers would have come from the central leadership to coin such a strategy is the sneaking suspicion, given the track record of the party in using governors to serve its political ends in the federal structure.

The BJP was certainly preparing the grounds for a central government intervention. But with the state leadership completely botching it up, sources inside the party confirm that the leadership in Delhi is terribly miffed at the way the state leadership handled the whole issue.

Union minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy minced no words when he put it out. "Constitutional heads need to be respected. The governor was right in handing over the BJP’s complaint to the chief minister for necessary action," said Rudy in Delhi.

Also, the BJP, by uttering the words AFSPA, had initially succeeded in setting the cat among the pigeons for the CPM in Kerala. For the comrades who are known to take up arms at even a murmur of AFSPA, the BJP’s demand would have surely set alarm bells ringing. But the party’s own blunder took the wind out of its sails.

Senior leaders now concede that it was a desperate attempt to mollify the emotions of its own cadre that the middle rung leadership of Ramesh and Surendran would have erroneously turned their guns at the governor, who had by then passed on the party’s written request to the chief minister’s office, directing necessary action.

But there is also a line of argument that says that the BJP in Kerala is so flustered, that it could have attacked the governor presuming an unholy alliance between the governor and the chief minister’s office.

"Since this government came to power, we have been losing our workers in Kannur and how many promises did the chief minister make? The party feels that there is no point in trusting him. We had no option but to go to the governor," added the BJP spokesperson.

But political analysts point out that by putting the governor himself in a spot of bother, the BJP seems to have forgotten that the governor, after all, is an appointee of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre.

"What was the BJP expecting out of the governor? He is constitutionally bound by his duties. So, he will do what he has to. By taking out your ire on him, you are only exposing your political incompetence," advocate A Jayashankar, one of the state’s prominent political analysts, told Firstpost.

That the BJP indeed had a grand plan in place for Kannur is substantiated by the protest echoed outside the Kerala House in New Delhi by the ‘Jan Adhikar Sammithi’, a usual suspect that is used by the party for keeping the Kannur heat alive in Delhi.

But the ‘Red Terror Reigns at Kannur’ posters that were flashed before the Kerala House were severely watered down by the self-inflicting rhetoric of the party’s leaders in the state, in the course of attacking the governor.

The CPM had always found the BJP-RSS combine as its biggest and strongest political adversary in Kannur and the well-calculated killing of cadre on either side, with the CPM mostly having the upper hand, is only a reflection of the bitter power struggle in the district.

Unless both the parties stick to their words and ensure that the promises they make at the peace table percolate down to the cadre on the ground, no solution is possible.

Updated Date: May 16, 2017 12:25 PM

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