Political murders

In a first, Kerala RSS leader praises communist CM's bid to end political violence in Kannur

Sangh leader says Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan spoke with him nine times to convince him to join peace meetings on Monday and Tuesday.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for the first time on Tuesday hailed Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan for making an effort to end the political violence in Kannur district, which has witnessed a string of murders of cadres from both sides.

The Sangh’s prantha karyavahak (state chief), P Gopalan Kutty Master, told Scroll.in that he was impressed with the way Vijayan had spoken with him over telephone “nine times to ensure our participation in peace meetings that were held in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday and Kannur on Tuesday”. He said that it showed the chief minister’s “commitment to resolve the crisis”.

This rare gesture holds out hope that the killing and maiming of political rivals with swords and bombs that has been going on in Kannur for decades now will come to an end soon. The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front government has come in for a lot of flak for its failure to control the political violence after it came to power in May. Since then, the clashes in Kannur have claimed the lives of seven people – three from the Left party and four Sangh Parivar workers.

Bharatiya Janata Party worker E Santhosh, who was hacked to death on January 18, allegedly by a gang of workers from the ruling party, is the latest victim of the continuing political violence in the district. Santhosh was a native of Andaloor, which falls in the chief minister’s constituency of Dharmadam in Kannur.

According to the District Crime Records Bureau, Kannur recorded 66 political deaths from 2000 till 2016, with most of the victims belonging either to the ruling party or the BJP.

Peace efforts

Peace meetings have been held in Kannur in the past too, but these eventually ended up serving as platforms for political parties to sling mud at each other. Tuesday’s all-party meeting at the Kannur Collectorate, which was presided over by the chief minister himself, was different.

It is learnt that all the parties agreed prior to the meeting not to do a post-mortem of past events. This decision ensured the the atmosphere was not vitiated with claims and counter-claims.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader’s praise for Vijayan, though, might put the BJP state unit – which has blamed the chief minister for failing to ensure the safety of its cadre – on the defensive. Just a week before the peace meetings, on February 7, a delegation led by BJP state chief Kummanam Rajashekharan had met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi and sought his intervention to stop what it called the murder politics practiced by the ruling party in Kerala.

Preparing the ground

Before the peace meetings, the chief minister held talks with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh thrice, said Master. “It was Sri M, philosopher and educationist, who first requested us to be involved in the peace process,” he said, explaining how the Sangh came around to the idea of working towards a truce. “It was in October 2016. We were sceptical, but we couldn’t turn down Sri M’s plea.”

The first official meeting between the two sides was held on December 5 in Thiruvananthapuram, followed by a second round of talks on January 12.

“We lost faith in the peace initiative when Santhosh was killed on January 18 in the chief minister’s own constituency,” Master said. “But the government acted immediately by arresting all the culprits the next day, which was unheard of in Kannur.”

For the third round of talks, teams from both sides met in Thiruvananthapuram on February 13, a day before the all-party peace meeting in Kannur.

Master said Vijayan had impressed the Sangh with his open approach. “He promised that CPM would not offer legal assistance if its workers were involved in violence,” he added. “We also promised to do the same.”

Can peace be far behind?

Interacting with the media after the peace meeting, Vijayan said all political parties had expressed the feeling that Kannur should be free from unrest. He also admitted that political leaderships cannot always control some of their cadre.

“But the parties have decided to denounce them,” he said. “The meeting also decided to instruct the cadres not to manufacture and store weapons. The parties would also spread the peace message among its cadres.”

Vjayan asked the police not to “buckle under political pressure” and to “be on high alert during the festival season, which would be used to settle political scores”.

Though the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Sangh Parivar have agreed to work for peace, independent observers said the situation will not improve until the time the cadre are properly educated on democratic principles. Rajmohan, who has been a part of many fact-finding teams in violence-hit areas in Kannur, said he believed inculcating democratic principles among cadre was the only way to rein in rogue elements in both political parties. “Nothing is going to change if the leaders sit across the table and churn out a peace accord,” he said. “We can hope for a change if political parties imbibe democratic values and principles.”

Dr T Sasidharan, from the faculty of political science at Sree Narayana College in Kannur and author of Radical Politics in Kannur, a book that deals with the violence in the district, said the ruling party should have begun peace efforts a long time ago. “Besides, the CPI(M) and Sangh Parivar should learn that political activity can be done in a cordial atmosphere and not in an atmosphere of terror,” he said. “So they should be tolerant towards their political opponents.”

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