Strident criticism of "police failure" to protect the public during the violent Popular Front of India (PFI) hartal reverberated across the political spectrum for the second straight day on Friday.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan called the violence pre-meditated guerilla-type attacks executed by masked and helmeted persons travelling on motorbikes. Mr. Vijayan urged the public to isolate mutually symbiotic minority and majority fundamentalist outfits that seek to divide society into communal lines for a political dividend.
The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) termed the sweeping arrests that unfolded across the State in the aftermath of the extensive violence as a belated response impelled by mounting public ire against the police for "mishandling" the "thuggish protests".
(The State police arrested 1,013 persons in connection with the hartal violence. They put 819 persons in preventive custody and registered 281 cases).
Leader of the Opposition V.D. Satheesan said the police watched mutedly as miscreants unleashed wanton violence against bus passengers, pedestrians, shops and establishments.
He said Mr. Vijayan did not utter a word against the lawbreakers. Instead, he reserved his criticism for the Congress.
Mr. Satheesan said the police response was meek and limited to the State Police Chief (SPC)’s terse statement that “everything was under control.” Law enforcement’s failure to uphold the law forced local people to hold off the mob in some localities.
Union Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan and BJP leader Prakash Javedakar said vote bank politics had prompted Mr. Vijayan to rein in the police from enforcing the law. Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) leader P.M.A. Salam accused the CPI(M) of promoting radical outfits to undermine the league politically. He said the CPI(M) and the PFI were in an alliance in several local bodies.
Meanwhile, cell phone videos of alleged PFI activists smashing the windscreens of KSRTC buses, terrorising traders, forcing the closure of shops, attacking an ambulance and media van went viral on social media and prompted a wave of online criticism against the government.
The television commentariat accused the police of systemic failure despite intelligence warnings about heightened tensions.