With some help from his Karnataka counterpart and Congress leader K Siddaramaiah, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan defied threats from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and outfits allied with it in Mangaluru on Saturday.
The Sangh organisations had vowed to block Vijayan from entering Karnataka to protest the killings of Bharatiya Janata Party and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh workers in Kannur district in Kerala, which has been a hotbed of political violence between the saffron groups and Communist Party of India (Marxist) for decades. Vijayan, a CPI(M) politburo member, hails from Kannur and groups part of the Sangh Parivar have alleged that he is responsible for the killings of BJP and RSS workers in his home turf.
It would not have been possible for Vijayan to visit the city without the support of the Siddaramaiah government.
Ahead of Vijayan’s visit, Sangh Parivar activists had held protests and incidents of violence were reported in Mangaluru on Friday. Sangh Parivar workers also called for a bandh in Dakshin Kannada district (of which Mangaluru is the headquarters) and the situation remained tense even as the Kerala Chief Minister entered the city, where he was to address a rally.
However, the state government on Friday imposed prohibitory orders under section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which prohibits the assembly of a large group of people, for 48 hours, deployed around 4,000 police personnel in the city and increased surveillance. It is learnt that the Sangh Parivar leadership was forced to withdraw the protest in view of the government’s tough stand.
Vijayan expressed his gratitude to the Karnataka government while addressing the Coastal Communal Harmony Rally, organised by the CPI(M), at the city’s Nehru Maidan in the evening. “I appreciate the state government for its efforts to ensure my safety,” he said. “The government has shown the best way to take on the RSS.”
Earlier in the day, Vijayan laid the foundation stone for the office of Kannada newspaper Vartha Bharathi, and inaugurated the AKG Beedi Workers’ Co-operative Hospital. The prohibitory orders had been relaxed in these areas.
The Mangaluru visit became a prestige issue for Vijayan, who was forced to skip an event hosted by Malayali organisations in Bhopal in December, after Sangh Parivar activists held a protest outside the venue to oppose the violence in Kannur.
Drawing inspiration from their success in Bhopal, leaders of the saffron groups decided to hold similar protests against CPI(M) cadres all over the country. Vijayan knew that backing out from the Mangaluru event would further embolden Sangh Parivar.
“Those who threatened me should understand that Pinarayi Vijayan had a long political experience,” Vijayan said during his address at Nehru Maidan on Saturday. “I know RSS and its devious methods very well. I have been defying your threats since I entered student politics. You can ask your elders in RSS to know more about me. You couldn’t touch me at that time. What are you going to do now?”
He also tried to put up a brave face over the Bhopal incident. “I had skipped the Bhopal event following instructions from the Madhya Pradesh police,” he said. “As a chief minister I had to follow their directives. Had I been not a chief minister, I would have attended the function. I am not worried about your threats.”
Vijayan’s Mangaluru visit also saw the Congress and CPI(M), otherwise ideologically different, join hands to counter the threat from Sangh Parivar. This might pave the way for a similar coming together in Kerala, where the Sangh is gaining ground.
Vijayan’s visit could also embolden the Siddaramaiah government to act tough on the fringe rightwing groups in Karnataka.
Meanwhile, communist party leaders claimed that the success of the communal harmony rally showed people’s faith in CPI (M) and secular parties. “The rally aimed at finding peace in the South Karnataka districts of Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Uttara Kannada, which have been witnessing communal clashes for several years,” said Muneer Katipalla, state president of Democratic Youth Federation of India, the youth wing of the CPI (M). “The participation of thousands of people in the rally showed that they hated Sangh Parivar’s communal politics.”