The murders of three Bharatiya Janata Party workers overs the past three weeks signals the return of political violence to Kerala, dealing a major blow to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s ambitious plan to end the violence that has long plagued the state. Political observers say the incidents also expose the loosening grip of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) leadership on its cadres.

In the latest incident, fifty-two-year-old Santhosh was hacked to death at his home on Wednesday in Andalur, which falls under Chief Minister Vijayan’s Dharmadam Assembly constituency in Kannur district. Police are interrogating six Communist Party of India (Marxist) workers in connection with the incident. Till Friday evening, no arrests had been made.

At the end of last month, in the relatively peaceful district of Palakkad, a group of people allegedly from the Communist Party of India (Marxist) set fire to a few motorcycles outside the home of BJP worker Radhakrishnan. The house caught fire after a nearby gas cylinder exploded. Radhakrishnan died in hospital a week later while being treated for burn injuries. Vimala, a BJP Mahila Morcha worker and member of his family, who was also injured in the attack, succumbed to her injuries on Monday.

These incidents have dealt a blow to the chief minister’s efforts to bring peace to a state whose lush countryside has concealed the dark underbelly of political violence for decades.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan convened an all-party meeting in Thiruvananthapuram last November in which leaders of major political parties resolved to work for peace. At that meeting, Vijayan assured those present that stern action would be taken against perpetrators of violence irrespective of their party affiliation.

Victim card?

The BJP has been complaining about an increase in the number of attacks on its cadres ever since the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led government came into power in May last year.

At its state council meeting held in Kottayam on Wednesday, it formulated a strategy to put pressure on the state government by making the attacks a huge national issue by projecting itself as the victim.

BJP workers outside the building in Kannur, Kerala, where the body of a slain party worker was kept. (Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen).
BJP workers outside the building in Kannur, Kerala, where the body of a slain party worker was kept. (Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen).

Speaking at the meeting, Union minister Venkaiah Naidu blamed communist cadres for attacks on Sangh Parivar workers.

“The entire nation has been watching what the CPM is doing in Kerala,” said Naidu. “I warn the CPM that you will get it back politically. Red and blood won’t succeed anymore.”

Controversial BJP parliamentarian from Karnataka, Nalin Kumar Kateel went a step ahead and warned that Communist Party of India (Marxist) cadres in other parts of the country would suffer if the attacks on BJP workers continued in Kerala.

“The CPM would know about the strength of the BJP in other parts of the country if they did not stop violence against the BJP workers in Kerala,” Kateel said at Kottayam.

Pressure tactics

While addressing the BJP National Council meeting in Kozhikode last September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also raised the issue of violence in the state. He said that BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh workers in Kerala were being targeted for their different ideology, which could not be allowed in a democracy. “There should be a nationwide debate on the issue,” he said.

Last December, Pinarayi Vijayan was forced to abandon a programme organised by several Malayali organisations in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, after Sangh Parivar cadres waved placards saying “Kerala CM P Vijayan go back” and “India will never forgive the murder of swayamsevaks”.

The state government later apologised to Vijayan for the incident.

Earlier this month, the Union government put pressure on the Vijayan government by deciding to provide Y category security to the state’s top four BJP leaders – president Kummanam Rajasekharan, former president PK Krishnadas, and general secretaries MT Ramesh and K Surendran.

Victim vs perpetrator?

Wednesday’s murder has raised questions whether the ruling party has fallen prey to the Sangh Parivar’s plan to project itself as the victim of violence at the hands of the communists.

Political observer NM Pearson did not think so. Pearson said that the strategy to play victim may be effective elsewhere in the country, but not in Kerala.

“It won’t work in Kerala as people know that BJP too perpetrates crime,” he said. “The attacks will weaken the CPI (M) as it will lose the support of many liberal voices.”

He said that the resumption of violence is evidence of the communist leadership’s waning control over its cadres, adding that the leaders seemed to lack the political acumen to control their workers.

“It shows the inability of the leaders to rein in local activists,” he said. “Many of these incidents have its roots in local issues. It is their duty to solve issues at the local level itself.”

Writer and social activist, K Venu, agreed with Pearson’s observations.

“If there was strong control over its cadres, Kerala wouldn’t have experienced the return of violence at a time when Pinarayi was trying to find peace,” said Venu.

Venu added that the incidents gave the BJP a chance to project the violence as a huge national issue. “It is a big setback for CPI (M),” he said.

Immediately after Santhosh’s death, the BJP demanded the central government’s intervention in the issue. It also called for a hartal in Kannur on Thursday, which threw life out of gear.

Pearson said that the communist leadership needed to bring about a change in its response to attacks.

“I feel that the CPI (M) is moving in the wrong direction,” said Pearson. “Since the party is in power, it should ask its cadres not to retaliate for attacks [on them] and help the police bring the culprits to book. But CPM leaders are behaving recklessly. It is paying the price for its own mistakes.”