Political murders

Why the BJP has finally decided to make an issue of Kerala's long history of political violence

The saffron party fears that the new government will released jailed Leftists accused of previous murders.

Kerala's new Communist Party of India (Marxist) government faces the prospect of beginning its term on a collision course with the Central government.

Last week, the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front powered to a 45-constituency win over the Congress-led United Democratic Front. Pinarayi Vijayan, who has been nominated as the new chief minister, is expected to be sworn in on Wednesday along with his team.

The Bharatiya Janata Party won only a single seat, dashing its hopes of a significantly better performance. But even after the results were declared on May 19, the BJP has continued to press on with its campaign strategy of highlighting political violence in the state.

On Sunday, a delegation led by Union Minister Nitin Gadkari sought President Pranab Mukherjee intervention to halt the post-poll violence. Since the results were announced on Thursday, one worker each from BJP and the CPI(M) have died in clashes, while nearly 50 injured in various parts of the state.

On Saturday, BJP president Amit Shah warned the CPI(M) that workers of his party would take to streets if it did not stop the cycle of violence. His colleague and Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad reminded the CPI (M) that BJP was ruling the country.

Campaign issue

As if to emphasise this, BJP workers held an unruly demonstration outside the CPI(M) headquarters in New Delhi on Sunday. The protestors broke police barriers and damaged a signboard.

Political violence was a major poll plank of the BJP for the Assembly polls on May 16. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had launched his campaign in the state by presenting a victim of the political violence: S Sadanandan, who lost both his legs in a CPI (M) attack in 1994.

The CPI (M) has viewed the statements of BJP leaders as a threat, and the demonstration at their party headquarters in Delhi on Sunday as the beginning of its execution. Party state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was trying to create terror with the help of the government they control at the Centre.

Chief Minister designate Pinarayi Vijayan alleged that BJP workers were unleashing violence as they were intolerant towards the people’s mandate in Kerala.

Some observers claim that these two recent deaths were relatively minor incidents, considering the brutality of some of the previous political murders over the last four decades.

Despite the long history of political violence in Kerala, the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have rarely sought to make it a national issue. But some believe that the saffron party is afraid that with the CPI(M) coming to power, its workers may feel emboldened to continue the cycle of revenge killings. BJP leaders link the current bout of political violence with the Kozhikode CPI(M) district secretary P Jayarajan’s reported statement in April that the CPI (M) would “repay all its debts”.

The BJP leaders fear that CPI (M) workers now in jail for murders and other crimes will be released once the new government takes charge. This anxiety is grounded on experiences of the mass remissions granted to prisoners by the previous Left governments.

Widespread remissions

The defeated Oommen Chandy government had set free over 2,000 prisoners in the first year of its office. The Chandy government tried to release another 2015 prisoners last year but Governor P Sathasivam put his foot down, saying that the rules governing remission were being misused.

Though Sathasivam is still continuing as Governor, the BJP fears that the Vijayan government may make all attempts to release jailed party workers.

The tough words used by the BJP leaders against the CPI (M) are a reflection of the added strength they have got in the state in the current elections. Though the party will have only one member in the Assembly, the party received more than 15% of the votes. The leadership believes that this is a sign that the BJP has emerged as an alternative in Kerala.

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