Wielding sticks and chanting slogans, 20-odd members of the Shiv Sena drove young couples out of Kochi’s Marine Drive on Wednesday.

Even as the police reportedly looked on, the group assaulted youngsters who were sitting along the sea-facing promenade. Sena members claimed that Marine Drive was being used to run a sex trade racket. Eight Shiv Sena workers were arrested.

The moral policing incident was countered with a wave of protests led by youth groups on Thursday, which culminated with the “Kiss of Love” event in the evening, where protesters assembled at the Marine Drive holding hands, kissing and hugging.

The Kiss of Love protest was first held in November 2014 at the same spot, after functionaries of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha – the Bharatiya Janata Party’s youth wing – attacked youngsters at a restaurant in Kozhikode.

Kerala Chief Minister and CPI (M) politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan condemned Wednesday’s incident in the state assembly.

However, the incident has prompted concerns about the rising influence of far-right activism in the state.

Clamouring for attention?

The Shiv Sena has negligible presence in Kerala.

In the early 1990s, the far-right organisation’s patriarch, the late Bal Thackeray, had popularised slogans such as hatao lungi, bajao pungi (drive out those who wear the lungi) in Maharashtra, the party’s bastion, as part of the Sena’s pro-Marathi and anti-migrant stance.

The party is now struggling to shake off the perception of being biased against the South of India as it tries to make a dent in Kerala state politics. In the 2016 state elections, it garnered just 0.02% of the votes polled.

In recent years, the Sena’s Kerala unit has been trying to make its presence felt by raking up controversies. For instance, last year, they threatened to disrupt Pakistan artist Ghulam Ali’s concert in the state.

‘Creating trouble’

MS Bhuvana Chandran, who claimed to be the Rajya Pramukh (state chief) of the Sena, said he had formed the Kerala unit in 1990 after falling out with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

“RSS functions without an economic policy and it was difficult to continue in it,” he told Scroll.in, when asked about the reason for quitting the RSS. When asked what he meant by economic policy, he said, “I just want to say that all organisations need money to grow.”

However, Harshal Pradhan, the Shiv Sena’s media coordinator and a confidante of its Party Chief Udhav Thackerey, told this reporter that Chandran is a senior leader but not the state chief. “We have many leaders in Kerala and no one is Rajya Pramukh,” he said.

J Devika, a social critic and researcher, said the Shiv Sena cannot be considered a political party as it had been “creating trouble all over Kerala.”

She said Wednesday’s moral policing incident indicated the rising influence of right-wing organisations in Kerala. “We should not hesitate to target them socially and shame them,” she said. “Criminal gangs like this are making Malayalees powerless.”

Earlier, a report submitted to a Supreme Court bench said the Shiv Sena was “posing a threat” to the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, near which are the party’s headquarters.

The report, submitted by Gopal Subramaniam, the amicus curiae for the temple, said: “The Shiv Sena is equipped with arms, including petrol bombs, low frequency bombs and swords. The public had complained about prostitution inside the Sena office at odd hours.”