Kerala has been a hotbed of political violence between the ruling CPI(M) and the RSS-BJP for nearly five decades. Neither the RSS-BJP nor the CPI(M) in Kerala can honestly claim themselves to be the “victim” of political violence and accuse the other to be the “perpetrator”. Police records over the last several decades reveal that both the RSS-BJP and CPI(M) has had victims and agents of political violence equally. Analyses by Kozhikode-based political scientist, T. Sasidharan’s in his recent book Idathupakshavum Kannur Rashtreeyavum (The Left and Politics of Kannur) and Ruchi Chaturvedi an anthropologist and lecturer at the University of Cape Town present several objective sociological details of these political killings in Kerala. The imagery of political violence that emerge from their studies divulge that political violence in Kerala appear to be deeply rooted in the class and caste architecture of the region. Eighty percent of both the victims and perpetrators of violence on either sides of the political divide happen to be Hindus with approximately 70% of them being unemployed and under-employed Ezhava-Thiyya youth (an OBC group in Kerala) whose families own little. Historically, this violence in Kerala especially in Kannur escalated when the RSS began to gain support among the Thiyyas, who had been till then the mainstay of the CPI(M) . In the 1990s, the RSS, which was previously active only in urban areas, made a conscientious move to the rural areas, especially among the Thiyyas, which threatened the CPI(M), and heightened their rivalry. In essence, today it has become a fight by either political parties for the heart and soul of the Thiyya-Ezhava vote bank that is 23% of Kerala´s population. Sadly, for many of these young men of Kerala from the Thiyya and other deprived backgrounds, working as agents of political violence (for either parties), it remains a source of – identity, mobility and machoism. However, there are two points worth noting in this regard.
First, no major political party can escape responsibility of political violence in the state. Although today the violence may be predominantly between RSS-BJP and the CPI(M), murderous exchanges has also occurred between CPI(M) and Congress (I) workers, BJP and Congress (I) workers, Indian Union Muslim League and CPI(M) workers, and CPI(M) and National Democratic Front workers. The Graduate Institute in Geneva in its detailed work on political violence in India has shown that it is the communist parties that have the worst record of “initiating” political violence over the past five decades – especially in West Bengal and Kerala. Hence, one cannot completely ignore that the communist parties do have a “pre-eminent status” in the history of political violence and killing both in India and Kerala in specific. The Congress and the BJP are not innocents either- but their active participation in initiating cycles of political violence has been far less than that of the communists.
Second, the political violence affects the day-to-day lives of the common man and almost always hurts the working poor the worst. Shutters are frequently downed, roads are deserted as fear-grips during violent eppisodes, locals remain indoors, an ominous sign for a state that ironically boasts of 100 per cent literacy. In essence, not only are communities of the working poor less protected but they are more likely to suffer economic losses because of the fact that they live on daily wages. From lush green, Kerala’s landscape is fast staining to red – the color of blood and the slain bodies of cadres that are hacked simply because they belong to different political parties.
If any political party is benefitting nationally from the recent political killings in Kerala, it is the BJP. There is a propaganda war in the North, and columnists and national media, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to find Kerala on a map, have suddenly turned foot-soldiers of a carefully orchestrated campaign to create the image – “Hindus under attack in Kerala”. Their covering of the political violence in Kerala appears to be a concerted effort to over-report and hype any incident where RSS-BJP workers are the victims and to play down or not report at all when the RSS-BJP workers are the alleged perpetrators of violence. As despicable the political violence in Kerala is, it is downright false to describe a CPI(M)-RSS tussle as “an attack on Hindus”. Political observers point out that the BJP´s newly evolved strategy seems to be to give the CPI(M) a free hand in perpetrating violence and then nationally mobilise public opinion against the communist party, instead of retaliating in kind. Is a tactically naive CPI(M) in Kerala falling into the RSS-BJP trap ?
After the latest hacking to death of a 34-year-old RSS worker, E Rajesh in the state capital Thiruvananthapuram, Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan (who is incidentally a Kannur native, a region worst hit by such political killings) initiated peace talks with the RSS-BJP to restore normalcy after pressure mounted on him. Historically, Kerala has consistently defied such efforts made by government, political parties , social and cultural leaders alike, including former Supreme Court judge late Justice VR Krishna Iyer. Therefore, whether this recent effort would actually yield any translatable change in the future remains to be seen and is highly unlikely. This is because violence is deeply ingrained in the minds of the party workers in Kerala and violence has evolved as an integral part of its conflict resolution strategy. The real solution hence can only come if individual parties will internally reform their conflict management culture. All political parties in Kerala have an equal responsibility to ensure that the law rather than violence is the primary instrument of resolving conflicts. Until then, all hangs in a balance.