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17 March, 2008

The changing idiom of politics of murder

THE FEUD between the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which was confined to the Kannur district of Kerala for nearly half a century, created waves at distant places this time. The new development makes one thing clear. It may not be possible to limit political killings as a regional mega serial any longer.

Kannur has been a CPI (M) stronghold since long. Now it is also the centre of power in the party. The experience of Vinitha Kottayi, whom even the District Collector, could not help, testifies that life will be difficult for any one who incurs the hostility of a local party leader. There are party villages in the district where there is no space for one who is not a member of sympathizer of the party and no newspaper other than the party organ Deshabhimani is available. Recently I had occasion to learn of Kannur’s political influence. While talking to a high government official, he said he does not vote in the general elections. He explained that experience in Kannur had destroyed his faith in the electoral system.

Sacrifices by leaders and ranks from Kannur have written a glorious chapter in the history of the Communist movement. After the party split, despite stiff challenges from the right and the left, the CPI (M) could hold the district in its grip. That it has tremendous following in the district is not in doubt. Yet it resorts to violence in elections because it is not satisfied with mere victory. It wants total victory as in the erstwhile communist countries. If possible, it wants to be in power uninterruptedly, as in West Bengal. These are justifiable desires. But the methods it follows for the purpose are not justifiable.

The violent series of Kannur began in the 1960s. It was the time when, following the Communist split, the CPI (M) was resorting to violent agitations to prove that it had greater revolutionary sense than the other faction. That was when the Bengal party invented the bandh and the gherao and the Kerala party adopted them as its own. The politics of murder started with attacks on defectors from the party. The earliest conflicts were with the Congress as it was to that party that the defectors went. When the impression spread that the RSS was able to offer them better protection, the defectors started moving to it and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Recently a CPI (M) supporter gave a class-based interpretation to the violent series. According to him, the problem started when the organized strength the beedi workers of Kannur scared the beedi manufacturers of Mangalore. The RSS got involved as its cadres provided security cover for the stocks of the Mangalore manufacturers.

There have been variations in the intensity of violence but it cannot be said with certainty that it is more when the CPI (M)-led Left Democratic Front is in power and less when the Congress-led United Democratic Front is in power. Kannur was peaceful under the last UDF regime, according to its spokesmen. However, according to official figures, 3,500 incidents, small and big, were reported during those five years. Thirty-six people were killed in these incidents. That makes an average of two incidents in a day and seven murders in a year.
The fiercest CPI (M)-RSS clashes occurred in 1981. That year 12 CPI (M) men and an equal number of RSS men were killed. A year-by-year scrutiny indicates that the two sides have been endeavouring to maintain parity—or, to put it differently, to settle scores immediately. This time five RSS men and two CPI (M) men were killed. That means one side has been able to establish a clear lead.

The police, the media or the concerned parties have not given any firm information about how violence broke out this time. According to one newspaper report, the first incident occurred on March 5 at 2.45 p.m. In that, an RSS worker was attacked. By 3 p.m. there was retaliation. A CPI (M) worker was attacked. Not long afterwards, another RSS man was killed. If this account is correct, who unsheathed the dagger first is of little relevance. Both sides were clearly ready to clash.

Since violence has been continuing for 40 years, we can surmise that the present combatants belong to the second generation. Is it party loyalty that leads them? Or is it vengeance? It is not easy to say. Each party protects the families of its martyrs and helps the families of those who get caught for murder both during trial and, if convicted, while in prison. Because of this approach it is not difficult for the parties to get people who are willing to take as well as to give. The CPI (M) has more favourable circumstances than the RSS. Since it comes to power in alternate elections, members of its suicide squads can expect special consideration in matters like parole and bail.

The faith of the RSS and the CPI (M) in democracy is doubtful. When M. N. Vijayan was the cultural spokesman of the CPI (M), he wrote a series of articles setting forth the fascist character of the RSS. It was perhaps the most authentic writing on the subject in Malayalam. Anyone who read it with care can notice the close similarity between the RSS style and the CPI (M)’s style in Kerala.

The RSS is supposed to be non-political. It was banned following Gandhi’s assassination. The ban was lifted after its leadership assured the government that it was a cultural organization and would not engage in political activities. Today it is active in the public life directly and through front organizations and in electoral politics through the BJP. It was the RSS’s long-time efforts to build a Hindu vote bank that helped the BJP to become the largest party in some of the States.

Today the BJP has the most popular support in the country after the Congress. It was able to remain in power throughout the life of one Lok Sabha with the help of numerous small national and regional parties. Even now it is the party that wields power in the largest number of States. The inability to win even one Assembly seat in Kerala is an eternal woe it lives with.

For many years the CPI (M) and the BJP have been in competition for the support of both the forward and the backward sections of Hindus. The forward-level competition is visible in the attempts to dominate temple committees. The portrait of Sree Narayana, which adorned the venue when the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the BJP’s predecessor, held a national meet at Kozhikode in the 1970s, made it clear that it had set its eyes on a backward community in which the CPI (M) commanded immense influence.

According to the latest statistics, 173 lives have been sacrificed in Kannur between 1968 and the present. The party-wise break-up is as follows: CPI (M) 66, RSS-BJP 53, Congress 40, Other parties 14. The sociology of murder is as important as its politics. The parties may be different but a large majority of those killed (84 per cent) belongs to one backward caste. Most belongs to the working class too. The hunter and the hunted are not class enemies, but members of the same class. It is just that they are under different flags.

Having altered the scores, which were almost level, to 5:2, the CPI (M) was in a buoyant mood when the RSS-BJP national leadership freed Kannur’s politics of revenge from its geographical limits. Accusing the CPI (M) of trying to suppress them with the help of the administration in the State where it commands much influence, BJP vice-president M. Venkiah Naidu asked it to ponder over what will happen if they retaliated where they had more influence. But the RSS did not give it time to ponder. Sangh Parivar staged a demonstration outside AKG Bhavan, the CPI (M) headquarters in New Delhi. It was a rehearsal. The next day, while the CPI (M) central committee was in session, the demonstrators came back, better prepared. They stoned the party office, trespassed into its premises and damaged property.

That the BJP attack was pre-planned is not in doubt. All other parties condemned it strongly. When the matter came up for discussion in Parliament, the BJP was totally isolated. CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechuri, who raised the issue in the Rajya Sabha, pointed out this was the first time that the headquarters of a national party was thus attacked. Other parties also picked up that argument. The BJP’s lament that its workers’ lives were in danger in Kannur did not evoke a comparable response. Thus, knowingly or otherwise, Parliament conveyed to the country the message that the sanctity of the party headquarters is more valuable than the lives of party members.

Sangh Parivar struck at Bangalore, Hyderabad and Nagerkovil, besides New Delhi. The house of the CPI (M) Karnataka State secretary in Bangalore was attacked. That was probably because he happens to be a Malayalee. Since there was retaliation in all southern States, it may be presumed that there was central direction behind it. This also conveys a message. If members of a party are attacked in one State it can settle scores in another State.

The March 9 attack on the CPI (M) headquarters in New Delhi, like the Ayodhya episode of December 6, 1992, was the result of a conscious decision aimed at changing the course of politics. When Babri Masjid was demolished, the then Prime Minister declared it would be rebuilt. As years are pass by, that declaration remains unimplemented. Every passing year renders that declaration more irrelevant and its implementation more and more difficult.

Although universally condemned, the Sangh Parivar’s retaliation is part of acceptable war tactics. When Pakistan sent infiltrators into Kashmir to stage an insurrection in 1965, it had imagined that as in 1947-48 the fighting will be confined to the State. The Indian army’s movement across the international border towards Lahore upset its calculations. India’s intention was not to capture Lahore, but to create conditions that will force the Pakistan army to give up any gains it may make in the valley.

The CPI (M) responded to the Sangh Parivar attacks with protests in New Delhi and in Kerala. Generally the CPI (M) employs its front organizations for such demonstrators. This time the party came on the scene directly. This shows the leadership is taking a serious view of the new development.

Those roaming in Kannur with drawn daggers are members of two parties which have high reputation for sense of discipline. When one side commits murder, those on the side come out to wreak vengeance because the leadership does not restrain them. Not only do they not restrain them but they actually encourage them by either maintaining criminal silence or offering justification in the name of resistance. In the experience thus far there is a lesson which the two parties concerned must learn urgently. That lesson is that they do not have the ability to liquidate the other side completely and that prudence demands coexistence.
Based on article in Malayalam appearing in Madhyamam weekly which has just hit the stands

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