New on my other blogs

"Gandhi is dead, Who is now Mahatmaji?"
Solar scam reveals decadent polity and sociery
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen


30 October, 2012

It's a matter of style

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Whether Barack Obama remains President of the United States for four more years or Mitt Romney edges past him into the White House in next month’s elections may make little difference to the rest of the world. All indications are that if there is a change in foreign policy at all it may be one of style rather than of substance.

In the last of their televised encounters, Romney, who has had little exposure to foreign affairs, repeatedly tried to steer the debate into domestic affairs. When he was forced to discuss foreign policy, he continuously slid back from his earlier positions and ended up virtually endorsing everything Obama has done in the last four years.

Once upon a time the two parties did have different perspectives on foreign affairs. When a Republican administration took over the Philippines from Spain in the late 19th century the Democratic Party disapproved of the colonial adventure and vowed to grant that country freedom. On coming to power, it kept the promise even though after experiencing Japanese occupation during World War II the Filipinos were in no hurry to gain independence.

Once the US emerged as the world’s most powerful nation and Presidents felt obliged to carry forward their predecessor’s wars the differences between the parties started narrowing down. Today the two are as alike as Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Quite naturally the Middle East, where the US has made the heaviest military investment since the end of the Vietnam conflict, figured prominently in the campaign, and it came up in the presidential debate too. However, rhetorical flourishes notwithstanding, the two candidates appeared to broadly agree on issues concerning the region.

Israel is, of course, the centrepiece of the US policy in the region. When Obama entered the presidential race in 2008 he was not a favourite of the Zionists or of America’s powerful Jewish lobby. He dutifully reassured them by proclaiming that, like the earlier Presidents, he was ready to use the UN Security Council veto to safeguard Israel’s interests.

As Obama began this year’s campaign, the Pentagon committed $70 million for Israel’s missile defence system in addition to the $4 billion the US provides that country annually without any conditions. However, the Zionist attitude towards him remains unchanged. Last week Zionist Torah leader Rabbi Eliezer Melamed referred to him as “perhaps the most hostile President Israel ever faced.”

Although Obama did not fulfil Arab expectations of a change in the US approach to the problems of the Middle East, public opinion in the region is said to be still favourable to him, primarily because few view Romney as a desirable alternative.

China-bashing has been a part of the US campaign rhetoric since the Cold War days. As the challenger, Obama had taken the lead in this department in 2008. It was now Romney’s turn, and he called China currency manipulator—it has allowed its currency to appreciate 37.5 per cent against the US dollar in real terms—and threatened to crack down on it. However, when Obama reminded him of his business dealings with China, he quietly dropped the subject.
, 2012.
The topics that did not come up underscore the unreal nature of the foreign policy debate. The US had recently announced an eastward shift in its global defence perspective. Yet Japan and South Korea, which have been key elements in the US policy in the Asia Pacific region since the end of the World War, and India, which is now seen as a potential strategic partner, did not figure in the campaign. Africa and Latin America, the US neighbourhood which is witnessing significant changes, also received short shrift.

Foreign policy debates in the US tend to be superficial as it is not an issue of major concern to the American people. With the media generally endorsing successive administrations’ moves uncritically, there has been little opportunity for crystallisation of informed opinion on international affairs. There is only one occasion in living memory when things worked out differently. That was when highly critical reports by a band of young reporters in the field created a groundswell of public opinion against the war in Vietnam.

There is a simple explanation for the differing styles displayed by Obama and Romney in this year’s campaign. Obama has been acting like the Super Power Commander-in-Chief that he is and Romney like the Super Cop that he fancies himself to be.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 30

29 October, 2012

INDIA: The placebo cabinet

The following is a statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, on the Indian Cabinet reshuffle:

The cabinet reshuffle in India has concluded. New Delhi has witnessed the usual exit and entry of old and new faces. While speculating, reporting and allegedly analysing the event, the Indian media liberally used words like "new blood", "team Manmohan" and "fresh faces." These terms wrongly suggested that something new is introduced into an alleged team that the Prime Minister leads.

The present government neither works as a team in discharging its constitutional mandate, nor was anything fresh brought into the administration. In fact the teamwork is visible between the ruling and opposition benches in the parliament, that today, together they resist everything that is elementary to bring a real new phase in administration.

The country's political leadership is united in preventing fundamental reforms that are required to end corruption; to restructure and revive the administration of justice; and above all, to end impunity for criminal acts committed by those having access to the political elite, and by the political leadership itself. In fact some of the new faces that were "elevated to the ministry" to "serve the people" have no qualification other than their relation to a political heavyweight.

These "dynasty preserving" exercises are incompatible with the very essence of a democratic republic and better fits a monarchy. Equally unfitting is entrenched corruption that negates the basic structure of the constitution.

Myriad forms of violence are committed daily with impunity against the people in India. The widespread practice of custodial torture and the unwillingness of the government to deal with it, at least to the extent of drafting an effective law, negate the premises of fair trial. Despicable delays in adjudication, judicial corruption and ineptitude renders the concept of judicial process a farce.

Extra-judicial executions and arbitrary punishments vitiate the basic notion of presumption of innocence. Denial of livelihood options; malnutrition; deaths from starvation; and gender, caste and religion based discrimination challenges the notion of human dignity and individual freedom, fundamental premises required to guarantee the basic structure of the constitutional architecture.

The singular impediment in effectively dealing with these evils is the absence of resolve by the political elite in India. No political party in the country is an exception to this. Dealing with these vices is not the unique liability of the civil society. It is on the contrary the government's responsibility.

Unfortunately it is the tools to discharge this responsibility that the government lacks. Reshuffling the cabinet will be only useful in identifying these tools required for change, if those who are introduced into the ministry are there to do exactly this. Unfortunately the fact is, it is not.

For information and comments: Bijo Francis, South Asia Desk, AHRC. Telephone: + 852 - 26986 339, Email:

23 October, 2012

Obama-Romney play-out

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

As President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney move into the last leg of the election campaign, putting behind them the scheduled slanging matches before television cameras, supporters of both candidates appear to be convinced that their man is poised to win even though opinion polls place them too close for comfort.

Time was when an incumbent could confidently look forward to re-election as US presidents do not usually suffer from anti-incumbency the way prime ministers do in parliamentary democracies. Refusal of a second term to Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George Bush Sr in the recent past shows voters can no longer be taken for granted. So Obama has been running just as fast as on the last occasion when he coasted home, overcoming hurdles a less doughty fighter would have found insurmountable.

Money has always been a critical input in the US elections. The way cash-strapped Obama raised funds for his 2008 campaign using the Internet is a part of the evolving New World mythology. This time he is pitted against a candidate who is not only far more resourceful than his earlier rival but also an unabashed champion of the filthy rich one per cent that reputedly calls the shots.

Reports this time say Obama got a little more than $2.5 million from a single donor, a film producer. Romney had five backers who donated more than that. Topping the list was a casino owner who put in more than $34 million. However, Federal Election Commission returns indicate that overall Obama’s fund-raisers hauled in more than Romney’s.

America’s immense power gives the whole world a stake in these elections but the thoughts uppermost in the minds of the voters as they walk into the booths on November 6 will be their own future, and possibly the country’s too, but not the world’s. The US economy has been under severe strain since Obama’s second year in office and the unemployment rate has been hovering at fairly high levels, giving Mitt Romney ample opportunity to damn his presidency and pose as the man who has all the right answers.

After the economy, the main bone of contention is healthcare. US per capita spending on healthcare is higher than that of any other country. Yet six out of 10 Americans filing for bankruptcy cite exorbitant medical expenses as a reason. Obama had highlighted an affordable healthcare plan in his first campaign and managed to put it into effect in some form overcoming strong objections from political opponents. Romney wants a rollback.

The two-party system is so entrenched and pervasive that about 80 per cent of the voters are believed to be firmly aligned with one or the other of the two. The candidates’ performances in the television debates are unlikely to produce any changes in the attitude of the committed voters, who are evenly balanced. Consequently the outcome of the election is determined essentially by the independent voters, and all the well rehearsed small screen performances were actually aimed at winning them over.

A dozen states with a reputation for swinging have decided the fate of candidates in recent elections, and quite naturally they have received special attention in the long-drawn-out campaign. This year the two parties have reportedly spent a whopping $600 million in television advertising in these states. Some of these states are among those worst hit by the current downturn, and voters there are sure to have followed the economic arguments of the campaign with keen interest.

Close as the race is the Obama camp has some cause for cheer. All Democratic presidents were swept up to the winning stand by a surge of support from women voters, and indications are that Barack Obama retains a respectable lead among them. Also, as in 2008, Obama remains the hot favourite of first-time voters – both native born and newly naturalised Americans.

Another factor in Obama’s favour is a small increase in the level of consumer confidence and a slight improvement in employment rates in 41 states, including at least eight of the swing states, reported last week. The Romney camp believes the new statistical data may not help Obama as most of the floating voters must have made up their minds already.

Romney left no stone unturned in his all-out effort but his ability to exploit Obama’s failings fully seems to have been circumscribed by the frighteningly archaic brand of conservatism he espouses. But, then, polling is still two weeks away, and that is not too short a period in a keenly contested election. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 23, 2012.

13 October, 2012

National Investment Board: a bad idea that needs to be stopped

The Environment Support Group writes:

Dear Friends,

Indian Finance Minister Mr. P. Chidambaram with characteristic confidence declared couple of weeks ago that the National Investment Board (NIB) that he proposed to the Cabinet would be a reality in a matter of weeks.  Little did he realise then that the first major opposition to this idea would come from his Cabinet colleague, Indian Environment and Forests Minister Mrs. Jayanti Natarajan.

In a five page letter that Mrs. Natarajan wrote to the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, she argued that such a Board substantially leverages corporate interests over human rights and the environment and that giving projects worth
 “Rs. 1,000 crore (approx. USD 200 million) or more a route for fast-track appeal,...does not contemplate giving a hearing to citizens, stakeholders, or NGOs, who may be aggrieved by the impact of the project.”  She strongly opposed the proposal asserting that the NIB will “be used for the benefit ONLY of large investors, but not ordinary people, local citizens and stakeholders dedicated to preserving environmental integrity.”  Her emphatic opposition to this proposal is evident in this statement: "This concept is unacceptable. The NIB has no constitutional authority to decide on the failure of any minister... when the Minister of a Ministry takes a decision, there is absolutely no justification for an NIB to assume his/her authority. Nor will the NIB have the competence to do so." (The full text of the Environment Minister's letter may be read at:

Soon after another Cabinet colleague of Mr. Chidambaram, Indian Panchayat Raj and Tribal Affairs Minister Mr. Kishore Chandra Deo, opposed the proposal stating: "
“No environment clearance should be given to any project until there is total compliance with the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and also unless the provisions of Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) are fully met,” 

NIB is the most preposterous pro-investment proposal that has emerged in India in recent times.  It essentially argues that it’s okay to accord mega projects super fast clearances even when their mega environmental and social impacts and mega economic risks aren't fully comprehended and assessed.  Besides, the idea is to bypass statutory procedures of reviewing such projects, thus subordinating constitutionally mandated Rights to politically expedient investment priorities.

Because of staunch opposition from within the Union Cabinet, Mr. Chidambaram has not been able to push ahead with his NIB proposal in the Cabinet meeting that took place on 11 October 2012.  But there is every likelihood that with support from many other Cabinet Ministers he will pursue the NIB idea in next week’s Cabinet meeting.

If there ever was a time to stop a very bad idea, it is now. This is why we request you to immediately endorse our Petition to the Prime Minister of India to nip the NIB proposal in its bud. Kindly do this before 16thOctober, Tuesday, in time for the next Cabinet meeting. The Petition may be accessed at: (Full text of the Petition is attached, but please  endorse only online.)

Every time you sign the petition, a copy will be delivered to the email IDs of the Prime Minister and most Cabinet Ministers. The more people that endorse this petition, the more likely the chances for our collective action ending this environmentally destructive, socially unjust and undemocratic NIB idea. Therefore, kindly share this petition widely with your contacts.

Thank you for your cooperation and support.

Environment Support Group - Trust

1572, 36th Cross, Ring Road
Banashankari II Stage
Bangalore 560070. INDIA
Tel: 91-80-26713559~61
Voice/Fax: 91-80-26713316

ESG Team

09 October, 2012

Kashmir: cart before horse

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

A  few of India’s top industrialists went to Srinagar last week at the instance of Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who is widely viewed as prime minister in waiting, and offered Kashmiri students scholarships and training facilities. They, however, made no commitment to invest in the state.

Gandhi, who is assiduously trying to connect with the new generation, arranged the industrialists’ visit in response to a complaint heard when he was at the Kashmir University campus a year ago that Indian businessmen ignored the state. In doing so, he avoided raising high hopes. “This interaction will not solve Kashmir’s problems or India’s,” he told the students, “but we need to keep the conversation on.”

The Gandhi initiative can be seen as an extension of the official efforts to tackle unemployment in the state which helps extremist groups to find recruits for their cause. Jammu and Kashmir has an unemployment rate of 5.3 per cent, higher than that of any neighbouring state.

About 2,000 young men and women from Kashmir, many of them school dropouts, have found employment in the state and outside under the Himayat scheme, launched two years ago primarily to help rural youth acquire job-oriented skills. Efforts are on to provide employment to 5,000 more under the scheme this year. Last March the government set up a website, Udaan, to connect unemployed Kashmiri youth with the corporate world.

The state government has drawn up a plan to expand educational facilities. It envisages establishment of 11 degree colleges in Jammu and six in Kashmir at a cost of Rs2 billion.

The Central and state governments have also formulated a scheme, costing Rs16 billion, for the rehabilitation of an estimated 400,000 Kashmiri Pandits who fled the valley after militants targeted members of the community.

Expansion of educational facilities, creation of job opportunities and rehabilitation of refugees are all important and welcome steps. They will succeed only if the government first creates the right political climate. In giving precedence to other issues over long overdue political measures the government is putting the cart before the horse.

The Kashmir problem has both national and international dimensions. There is manifest discontent among sections of the state’s population, which makes it possible for external elements to foment trouble. More importantly, the state has been at the centre of a dispute between India and Pakistan ever since they emerged as independent nations 65 years ago, and they have fought three wars over it.

All the stakeholders have made so much emotional investment in the Kashmir issue over the past several decades that neither the national nor the international dimension admits of easy resolution. However, in the recent past ground conditions have improved sufficiently to permit forward movement on both fronts.

Some ideas for improving India-Pakistan relations and ensuring peace in Jammu and Kashmir without either country giving up its basic position with regard to the state’s future were agreed upon in talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former president Pervez Musharraf a few years ago. Unfortunately the peace process they set in motion was interrupted by the Mumbai terror attack which occurred after the transition to civilian rule in Islamabad.

The decline in infiltration from across the border and the peaceful conduct of last year’s local self-government elections created an ideal setting for New Delhi to reach out to all sections in the state, especially to those beyond the pale of electoral politics. Some useful suggestions in this regard were made by the team of interlocutors appointed by the government to talk to various groups in the state. The government is yet to act on them.

Last month the prime minister said infiltration from across the line of control is again on the rise. About 300 out of 35,000 persons elected to village councils resigned recently after militants killed a few of their colleagues. These are ominous signs that underline the need for urgent political action.

There are indications that young Kashmiris will respond positively to a political initiative. Junaid Azim Mattu, a leader of the moderate separatist People’s Conference, who recently went to Mumbai to participate in a television debate, has stated that “an absolutely inspiring empathy” reverberated in the studio with young members of the audience calling for justice, inclusiveness and redress in Kashmir. Enthused by the experience he has said the state must heed this spirit and move forward. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 9, 2012.

08 October, 2012

Congress plan to harass Udayakumar’s family in Nagercoil

The Congress party in Tirunelveli has announced that its workers will gherao S.P. Udayakumar's house in Nagercoil, where his aged parents (both in their 70s), his wife and two children, aged 12 and 14, live.

I spoke to Meera Udayakumar a few minutes ago. She said "It is very difficult to constantly live under fear. The police are outside for our protection. But it is extremely stressful for us, particularly for my in-laws, to have to live under constant surveillance. They have been complaining of fatigue. They don't say much, but I can see that all this stress is hurting them. My children are young, and are trying to take things in their stride. But it is difficult to constantly be told to stay indoors, to not go outside, and to see strangers walking in and out of our yard."

A national party stooping to such levels and harassing elderly people and children exposes the total corruption that has set into our system. Compare the Congress' actions to the dignified manner in which the protestors at Idinthakarai are conducting themselves.

This harassment has to stop. Let Congress express itself, but within the limits of decency and democracy if they know what these words mean.

The Chennai Solidarity Group for Koodankulam Struggle (Address:  C/o H16/9 Seevakan Street, Kalakshetra Colony, Chennai 600 090) has suggested that telegrans or fax messages be sent to Congress President Sonia Gandhi asking her to keep her party men under control, and teach them some decency.

It can be a short message like this: "Congress workers plan to gherao anti-nuke protestor Udayakumar's family comprising 70-year-old parents, and children aged 12 and 14. Does this shameful action have your consent? If not, please stop your workers from harassing the elderly, women and children."

Sonia Gandhi’s address: 10, Janpath, New Delhi.
Tel. (O) : +91 11 23792263, 23019080  (R) : 23014161, 23014481
Fax : +91 11 23018651

02 October, 2012

Challenges in education

BRP Bhaskar
University and college enrolment in India jumped to more than 26.6 million in the 2010-11 academic year from 20.7 million in the previous year, raising the gross enrolment rate (GER) to 18.8 per cent, Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal informed the nation last week.

He was talking on the basis of partial returns received from institutions of higher education. The GER will go up further as reports from more institutions pour in. Even on the basis of the incomplete data the 20 per cent target set for 2020 is already within easy reach.

The government’s ultimate target is a GER of 30 per cent which will mean three out of 10 persons in the 18-23 years age group are in colleges or universities. That will put India on par with the advanced countries of the world.

The data Sibal reeled out offers no room for euphoria. The overall figure masks the wide disparities among different sections within the country. Also, GER is only a quantitative measure. It is the quality of education that will determine the country’s place in the global context. Available qualitative indices are not satisfactory.

Dalits and Adivasis, who suffered severe social exclusion for centuries, continue to lag behind. Although they constitute a quarter of the population, they account for only 14.6 per cent of the enrolment in colleges and universities. The other backward classes fare better with an enrolment of 27.1 per cent.

Villagers are not benefiting from higher education to the same extent as city residents. Labour ministry statistics indicate that while the unemployment rate among graduates and post-graduates from urban areas is only 7.6 per cent it is 13.9 per cent among those from rural areas.

An easy explanation for the high unemployment rate among villagers is the disparity in the quality of the education to which the urban and rural populations have access. Apparently the rural educated are not able to acquire the skills that the job market demands.

None of the country’s institutions of higher education figures among the top 200 in the QS 2012 world university rankings, released last month. The list includes 31 institutions from other Asian countries — eight from China, seven from Japan, six from South Korea, five from Hong Kong, two each from Singapore and Taiwan and one from Malaysia.

The QS ranking is based on several parameters such as quality of teaching and research, infrastructure, internationalisation, employability of graduates and innovation and knowledge transfer.

Five Indian Institutes of Technology figure in the QS rankings between 200 and 350: IIT Delhi at 212, IIT Bombay at 227, IIT Kanpur at 278, IIT Madras at 312 and IIT Kharagpur at 349. In the list of science and technology institutions they rank between 49 and 96.

All the IITs came up after 1960. The real underachievers are the much older regular universities which figure nowhere in the rank list. The most common explanation for their poor performance is lack of funding, especially for research.

That the universities are cash-strapped is not in doubt. However, the example of C.V. Raman, the 1930 Nobel laureate in Physics, suggests that lack of funding may not be the complete answer.

Raman was a product of one of the three universities the British established in India in 1858 and he did his acclaimed research at another. All later Indian Nobel laureates in science did their research work abroad.

A large number of new colleges and universities have come up in the past few years following reforms initiated in tune with the economic liberalisation programme. Many of them are owned by politicians or their cronies. While a few of them have established good reputation under competent professionals, most are of indifferent standard.

A leading chamber of commerce has pointed out that India pays out Rs950 billion in foreign exchange each year for the education of about 600,000 students studying abroad. It claims the money can be saved if quality educational institutions are built on the basis of public-private partnership. The Planning Commission argues that substantial investment will flow into the education sector if institutions are allowed to make profits.

Already more than half of the educational institutions are in the private domain, and many of them have switched from service mode to profit mode. The government can meet the challenges in education effectively only if it puts a reliable regulatory mechanism in place before thinking of more privatisation.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 2, 2012.

From romance of revolution to politics of murder


The Communist Party of India (Marxist) routinely claims it is a party of the people built by cadres who willingly gave their blood. In Kerala, it has also a history of extracting the blood of opponents. For decades, the state’s killing fields have been littered with the bodies of those who came forward to give the party blood and those from whom the party extracted blood.

Unofficial estimates put the number of persons killed in political warfare since the 1960s at around 300: on an average six persons were killed in a year for political reasons. Most of them were done to death in planned operations.

The CPI (M) claims it has lost more people than any other party. The claim is true but that does not mean the party is more a victim than a perpetrator of violence. It has suffered more casualties than others because it has been involved in incidents of violence more than any other party.

The CPI (M) stronghold of Kannur in northern Kerala has recorded more political killings than any other district in the state. The party established supremacy in the district fighting off challenges from different parties -- the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Indian Union Muslim League etc

The chain of violence, which still continues, began in the 1960s with the CPI (M) bumping off members who crossed over to the Congress. Gradually the Congress went out of the scene and the BJP emerged as the main adversary. This happened primarily because those who left the CPI (M) moved to the BJP in the belief that the Rashtreeya Swayamsevak Sangh was in a better position to protect them than the Congress. The defectors belonged to one Hindu backward caste, and most of those killed on both sides belonged to that caste. Violence involving Marxist and Hindutva cadres declined after the RSS organized simultaneous attacks on the CPI (M)’s headquarters in New Delhi and its offices or leaders’ residences at several places in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in retaliation for a series of clashes in Kannur in which it lost three men and the CPI (M) two.

There has been a change in the religious complexion of political violence in Kannur in the recent past. In two murder cases now under investigation the victims were Muslims who defected from the CPI (M). One of them had joined the IUML and the other the National Democratic Front, another Muslim outfit.

The Kannur region has a tradition of honour killings going back to the feudal era. Often rivals conducted proxy fights employing trained warriors. Ballads narrating the heroic deeds of the warriors are a part of the region’s folklore. The spree of political murders was, therefore, interpreted as continuation of a gory tradition.

On May 4, while all eyes were on the southern constituency of Neyyattinkara, where a crucial Assembly by-election was due, T. P. Chandrasekharan, Area Secretary of the Revolutionary Marxist Party, was killed at a place not far from his home at Onchiyam in the Kozhikode district. It was an extremely brutal action. There were 51 cuts on his face. Evidently the killers wanted to make an example of him. His family and colleagues immediately alleged the CPI (M) was behind the killing.

A camp follower of V.S. Achuthanandan, who has been at loggerheads with the party’s state leadership, Chandrasekharan had been a thorn in the party’s flesh since he walked out of it with a large number of supporters. Refusing to seek sanctuary in the Congress-led United Democratic Front, as several prominent defectors had done earlier, he floated the RMP and began exploring the possibility of a Left alternative to the CPI (M). That made him a dangerous adversary in the eyes of the party leadership, which has attracted the charge of rightist deviation.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections Chandrasekharan rejected Congress plea for support and entered the contest himself at Vadakara to offer the voters a Left alternative to the CPI (M). He polled more than 50,000 votes, not enough to win but enough to ensure the CPI (M)’s defeat in a constituency which had stood by the Left Democratic Front for decades. There were several attempts on his life subsequently. When the LDF was in power there was a steady flow of intelligence reports into the office of Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, who is a Politburo member, about plots to kill Chandrasekharan. There was no action on them. After the United Democratic Front came to power last year, Chandrasekharan personally informed Chief Minister Oommen Chandy of the threat to his life but turned down offer of protection, saying if the party was determined to liquidate him no one could save him.

Even as the police began investigations the CPI (M) State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan said the crime was committed by hired killers and suggested that the possible involvement of religious extremists be examined. His lieutenants insinuated that Chandrasekharan had an affair with a Muslim woman and that he was killed while on his way to meet her. When the vehicle hired by the killers was found, there was an Arabic sticker on it. The CPI (M) leaders pointed out that the vehicle belonged to a Congressman, who was related to a Union minister, and wanted that angle also to be looked into. Police concluded that they were drawing red herrings across the trail to divert the investigators’ attention away from party men.

Over a two-month period, the special investigation team arrested more than 70 men, most of them CPI (M) members or fellow-travellers. They include one state committee member, one district executive committee member and secretaries or members of areas committees and branch committees of the Kannur and Kozhikode districts. As the police grabbed one party man after another, the state leadership kept repeating that the party had nothing to do with the murder and that the UDF government, using the police, was falsely implicating its leaders. However, V.S. Achuthanandan struck a different mote. “No one who eats rice will believe party men have nothing to do with the crime,” he told newsmen, 

The party’s formal position is that it has nothing to do with Chandrasekharan’s murder and that if it is convinced that any of its members had anything to do with the murder it will take action against them. It will not go by the police account but will make inquiries on its own. However, those familiar with the working of the party apparatus point out that office-bearers of area committees of two districts cannot come together and mount a joint operation without the knowledge and approval of persons at a higher level. 

At the time of writing, the investigation is far from over, and the public are waiting to know if the long arm of the law will reach up to those at higher levels in the party. If media reports are right, interrogation of the arrested persons has revealed a wealth of information not only about the plot to kill Chandrasekharan but also about some earlier political murders. In some cases, it appears, the party and the police collaborated to save the actual killers. The persons whom the police arraigned before the courts were volunteers supplied by the party. Some of them were acquitted for want of evidence. Those convicted were paroled or released by remitting their jail term when the party came to power.

In the light of the facts that have surfaced now the police has reopened some old cases and instituted a few fresh cases. Among those figuring in the new cases is M. M. Mani, who was the party’s Idukki district secretary for two decades.

As the police cast the net wide and drew in a number of party functionaries whom the leadership had hidden in safe havens, the CPI (M) launched a calibrated campaign, marked by massive protest demonstrations and defiant speeches. Pinarayi Vijayan publicly warned that the party would turn into a burning torch. One leader asked party men to keep kitchen knives and chilli powder ready to tackle the police.  Clearly the purpose of the campaign was to intimidate the investigating officials and boost the sagging morale of party cadres. Mani landed in trouble as he tried to match the bravado of the Kannur leaders. In a speech, he declared that the party had drawn up a hit list and bumped off those on the top of the list. He said the accused in the cases registered by the police in connection with the murders were men whom the party had supplied. A video recording of the speech, delivered at a remote place, reached the television channels which aired it. In a bid to protect him, the state leadership explained he was a leader who had risen from the ranks and was given to coarse language. However, the national leadership, rattled by the wide publicity Mani's speech received outside the state, directed that he be removed from the post of district secretary.

Given the newly unveiled history of systematic scuttling of cases through political compromises worked out behind closed doors, it will be foolhardy to assume that the cases now under investigation will result in the conviction of those who committed the murders as well as those who ordered them. A disturbing part of the recent revelations is the CPI (M)'s attempt to pin responsibility for Chandrasekharan’s murder on extremist Muslims. The Central Bureau of Investigation, which is investigating the murder of a CPI (M) defector, has stated that the party attempted to implicate the RSS in the case. The LDF was in power at the time and Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan publicly stated that the RSS was involved. The cynical attribution of criminal acts of party cadres to Hindu or Muslim communal elements suggests the existence of a dirty tricks department where devilish minds are at work.

The CPI (M) has made a transition from politics of revolution to politics of murder. It is a story with all the elements of a Shakespearean tragedy. The Communists emerged from inside the Congress, where they had functioned as part of the Socialist group, during World War II. When the country gained freedom, accepting the Soviet assessment that transfer of power by the British was a sham and that conditions were ripe for revolution, they adopted the Calcutta Thesis which called for overthrow of the new regime through a violent uprising. There were stray acts of violence in Kerala in pursuance of this decision. The government banned the party but the heavy repression that followed the ban generated a wide measure of sympathy and support for it, especially among the poor and downtrodden masses radicalized by the movements of Sree Narayana Guru and Ayyankali. The Guru had set before the society the vision of a model state where everyone lived as brothers without caste differences or religious hatred. Communist leaders have acknowledged that they reaped a rich harvest by sowing seeds on the ground prepared by the Guru and other reformers. The party also drew support from sections of the declining feudal aristocracy whose members believed it offered them an opportunity to safeguard their position in the emerging society. Poets painted highly romantic visions of the revolution and playwrights and novelists spread the message of a fair and just society.         

In 1948, the princely states of Travancore and Cochin held the first elections in the country on the basis of universal adult suffrage. The Communist Party of India fought the elections in alliance with other Left groups. Its leaders, who entered the fray as independent candidates as the party was under ban, were all trounced. After the two states were merged and their legislatures integrated to form the Travancore-Cochin Assembly, a Communist was elected to the house from Kodungallur in a by-election. In the first general election, held in 1951-52, the CPI, still under ban, established a substantial presence on the opposition benches. In 1957, it came to power in the newly formed Kerala state.

The CPI tasted power in less than 10 years of electoral activity. Its government was, however, short-lived. A land reform measure, which sought to set a limit on holdings and distribute the surplus among the landless, endeared it to the dispossessed but earned it powerful enemies.. Another measure aimed at checking malpractices in the educational sector, dominated by the Church, angered the Christian community. Together these sections launched a ‘liberation movement’. The agitation provided the Centre with a pretext to dismiss the government while it still commanded a majority in the State Assembly.

In the elections that followed, the CPI received more votes than in 1957 but could not prevail over the combined forces of the Congress, the Praja Socialist Party and the Indian Union Muslim League, which received the whole-hearted support of caste and religious forces across the spectrum. The split in the Congress and the CPI and subsequent fragmentation of the polity created a situation in which no party could win a general election on its own. An Assembly elected in 1965 could not throw up a government and was dissolved without meeting even once. Determined to get back to power, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) forged a seven-party alliance, which included not only the CPI but also the IUML and other sectarian outfits. The alliance had a facile win and the CPI (M) gave the sectarian parties representation in the government. With that communalism gained respectability. Although small parties have switched sides from time to time, since the 1980s two fronts, one headed by the Congress and the other by the CPI, have alternated in power. Sectarian parties are present in both the fronts. Since their support is considered essential to ensure electoral victory the professedly secular Congress and the CPI (M) cannot muster enough courage to oppose the communal forces resolutely. Initially the CPI (M) took care to make contacts with such forces secretly. Lately, however, its top leaders have been dealing with them quite openly.

Half a century after the split, the principal element that sets the CPI (M) apart from the residuary CPI is its propensity for violence. Indoctrinated Kerala cadres enthusiastically took up coercive forms of agitation like gherao and bandh, which the Bengal party had developed. There is reason to believe that the party was able to outgrow the mother organization in the two states primarily because radicalized Bengali and Malayali masses saw its readiness to resort to violent campaigns as a sign of genuine revolutionary fervor. It is not without significance that Stalin, whom the Communist Party of the Soviet Union disowned posthumously, and B.T. Ranadive, author of the Calcutta Thesis which was repudiated and rejected by the undivided party, have pride of place in the CPI (M) pantheon.     

So far there is no sign of remorse on the part of the CPI (M) for the violent acts that have come to light. Its leadership in the state apparently believes it can brazenly ride through the storm, relying upon the loyalty of its cadres and the vulnerability of the government to political blackmail. Its organizational pattern of democratic centralism does not leave room for the rank and file to assert themselves. The central leadership, which, in theory, has the authority to call a recalcitrant state unit to order, is powerless to act against the Kerala party, which is the richest unit and provides a substantial part of the resources that sustain it.

From the book Crisis of ‘Corporate’ Communism, edited by V. K. Cherian and published by Har Anand Publications Pvt Ltd, which was released in New Delhi on Saturday, September 29, 2012.