Tide turns in Kerala against LDF, as police inaction comes back to haunt Pinarayi Vijayan government

Failure of the Kerala state police in nabbing the culprits involved in the murder of a Dalit law student in Perumbavoor was a major electoral issue ahead of Assembly polls in May last year. The case was used by the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) to mount a massive campaign against the then ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) government over women's safety in Kerala. It's also considered one of the key factors responsible for the LDF's handsome victory.

When, within 20 days of new chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan assuming office, the police held a 23-year-old migrant worker from Assam in connection with the highly politicised murder, it was described as the first feather in Vijayan's cap. The arrest raised hopes among women that the Vijayan government would restore Kerala's reputation as a safe place for them.

However, a sudden rise in crimes, especially against women and children, and the failure of the police in bringing the culprits to book, have dashed these hopes.

Representational image of Kerala police. Getty Images

Representational image of Kerala police. Getty Images

The LDF sought to explain the failures terming them part of the transition. CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said that lapses in policing were due to failure by a sizeable section of the force to come to come out of the UDF government mould. Describing them as teething troubles, the party secretary expressed hope that the LDF government would overcome them by making the required changes.

Accordingly, the government revamped the entire force and moved out police personnel who were considered pro-UDF from key positions. But no improvement in policing was noticed, even after these sweeping changes. On the contrary, the situation has turned worse, with the crime graph rising and glaring incidents of police inaction hitting the headlines in local media regularly. People started coming out openly against the police when inaction started resulting in crimes.

A grave case is the suicide of two sisters aged 13 and nine at Walayar in Palakkad district within a span of two months. The post-mortem report of the older girl showed that she was sexually assaulted.

Bhagyavathi, mother of the siblings, said that she had told the police about the sexual abuse of her elder daughter by a relative, but local cops had brushed aside her complaint. She believed that her second daughter would not have gone her elder sister's way if the police had acted on her complaint in a timely manner.

Another similar case is the suicide of a 10-year-old girl at Kundara in Kollam district following sexual abuse, allegedly by her grandfather. Though the post-mortem confirmed sexual harassment, the police sat over the report for more than three months. Only after the local public raised a hue and cry did the police act upon it and arrest the 62-year-old man responsible for the rape.

Vijayan admitted lapses in investigation in both cases and suspended officials responsible for the same. But even after this, there is no perceptible change in the approach of the police.

In Ernakulam, the police ignored a missing person complaint lodged by the parents of a chartered accountant student, leading to her death. The parents felt that the police could have prevented her death if they had made an attempt to trace her location based on her cell phone activity immediately after they lodged the complaint. But the official who received the complaint asked them to wait till the sub-inspector returned to the station the next day. Her body was recovered from a lake in Kochi the next evening.

Vijayan was also forced to admit a lapse in a moral policing incident in Kochi, where Shiv Sena activists attacked young couples in front of half a dozen police personnel. All six have been suspended.

These instances of police inaction have led to strong resentment not only against the police but also against Vijayan himself, who handles the home portfolio. The state-wide hartal called by the UDF and the BJP on Thursday to protest police action against the mother of an engineering student demanding arrest of the college officials responsible for the death of her son three months ago is the culmination of growing disenchantment against the handling of law and order by the chief minister.

Opposition parties have intensified their demand that Vijayan relinquish the home portfolio in the wake the incident. Leader of opposition Ramesh Chennithala said that the incident was a clear indication that Vijayan had lost control over the police and asked him to give up the home department. "Mahija had staged protests seeking justice for her deceased son. The police have shown their cruelest face to the helpless woman. The chief minister should take responsibility for the inhuman action," he added.

BJP state president Kummanam Rajashekharan described police action against the mother of the engineering student Jishnu Pranoy as an "act of state sponsored terror". The unarmed woman was slapped, trampled upon and dragged by the police.

Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president MM Hassan said that the incident had reflected poorly on the chief minister who has failed miserably in handling the home portfolio.

Vijayan has justified the police saying that they were forced to resort to action after some outsiders intruded into protests led by Mahija. His party secretary said that the "outsiders" had intervened in the issue in order to foment trouble. The police have acted to prevent it, he said.

However, there is a growing feeling within the LDF that everything is not right in the home department. Though none of them have aired their opinion openly, many senior leaders have expressed fear in private that the police would malign the image of the government.

Former chief minister and Administrative Reforms Commission chairperson VS Achuthanandan telephoned director general of police Loknath Behera, and warned him against bringing disrepute to the government, which came to power with a promise to provide safety and security to all.

Left-leaning political analyst NM Pearson feels that a police raj is prevailing in the state. He told Firstpost that democratically elected governments have not been able to control the police, as they have been using the force for their political gains. "A senior CPM leader was recently appointed as private secretary to the chief minister, and promoted IPS officers appointed as police heads in most districts for running the party's writ in police. These police officers will have their loyalty to their godfathers, not the people," he said.

The politicalisation of the force had begun soon after the LDF assumed power. The chief minister sent a message by showing the door to TP Senkumar, who was considered and proved to be a clean and efficient officer.

Senkumar has challenged his unceremonious ouster in the Supreme Court, stating that he was removed from the top police post, as he had taken stern action in many cases related to political murders, including that of TP Chandrasekharan, Shukoor and Kadirur Manoj, in which CPM leaders and workers are involved.

Senkumar was removed from the post citing inaction in the Perumbavoor Jisha rape and murder case and the Puttingal temple fire mishap. While investigation in the temple fire case has not made much headway, serious lapses have been pointed out in the Jisha case by the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau.

Jacob Thomas, who was removed from the post of VACB director recently, had filed a report to chief secretary Nalini Netto indicating the possibility of involvement of more people in the case. He had expressed doubts that the court may find loopholes in the current chargesheet pinning the crime on arrested Ameer-Ul-Islam alone, rendering the case weak.

The state has also witnessed an increase in political murders following the exit of Senkumar. This has prompted the state BJP to approach the central government for central intervention in Kannur, where eight lives have been lost in political violence since LDF came to power in the state.

A section of the LDF feels that the removal of Senkumar was not a wise decision and have started gunning for the current chief. Vijayan is trying to silence them by mooting a plan to appoint an advisor in the home department. His aides have already started looking for retired police chiefs who can fit the bill. But how they can set right the mess remains to be seen.

Updated Date: Apr 06, 2017 16:17 PM

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