Trapped in cyclical violence

The killing of a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh functionary in Kannur has brought into sharp focus the culture of violence embedded in the political culture of this volatile region

Published - September 23, 2014 01:09 am IST

SAFFRON VERSUS RED: Picture shows a Sena activist protesting outside the CPI(M) headquarters in New Delhi against the murder of E. Manoj in Kannur, Kerala. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

SAFFRON VERSUS RED: Picture shows a Sena activist protesting outside the CPI(M) headquarters in New Delhi against the murder of E. Manoj in Kannur, Kerala. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Since 2010, Kannur has been experiencing a lull in killings by Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cadres but >the murder of RSS district Sharirik Shikshan Pramukh E. Manoj on September 1 has revived fears of a fresh outbreak of retaliatory killings by the two parties. The equations between them had taken a hit following their attempts to woo each other’s cadres. The CPI(M) had set the ball rolling by winning over to their side dozens of BJP workers, including a former district president and secretary who had been at loggerheads with the party leadership. The rhetoric of the leaders of the rival parties has already set the scene for violent hostilities. While the fact that the BJP-led government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is at the helm of affairs at the Centre gives fresh impetus to the Sangh Parivar workers in the district, the CPI(M) prides itself in offering stiff resistance to the BJP-RSS and thus checking the growth of the Sangh Parivar in the region.

Editorial:>Taking pride in murder

The incidents of political violence in the district, especially in its southern parts including Thalassery, Panur and Koothuparamba, are also scripted in the narrative of revenge. The slain RSS worker Manoj was one of the accused in the case of an attack by stabbing on the current CPI(M) district secretary P. Jayarajan by alleged BJP-RSS workers in 1999. In retaliation, Bharatiya Jana Yuva Morcha leader and schoolteacher K.T. Jayakrishnan was hacked to death in front of his students a couple of months later. The Manoj murder also shocked people in the region as there is general public outrage against political violence in the aftermath of >the murder of T.P. Chandrasekharan , former CPI (M) rebel leader who later formed the Revolutionary Marxist Party, in nearby Onchiyam, Kozhikode district, in 2012. As many as 12 people, including three CPI(M) leaders, were convicted in the murder case.

Revenge killing The motive of revenge behind incidents of political clashes is an offshoot of a combative political milieu that emerged in the politically volatile parts of the district after the Emergency. The Sangh Parivar started organising its shakhas in neighbourhoods that have been treated as pocket boroughs of the CPI(M). The legacy of previous political hostilities between the communists and the socialists in some of these areas assumed a new violent form as CPI(M) and BJP-RSS workers started treating their areas of influence as their ‘party villages.’ Nearly 180 people have lost their lives in political clashes in the district since 1980, a majority of them being CPI(M) and BJP-RSS workers. There has been a frequent outbreak of clashes, retaliatory murders and countrymade bomb explosions since then, with both sides making bombs and amassing weapons, mostly sharp-edged ones.

The chain of gruesome retaliatory political killings in and around Thalassery in the 1980s had all the trappings of primitive revenge killing. Half-baked theories are often floated to relate the violent political hostilities in the area to the legacy of warfare between warrior groups that existed in those areas. In the narrative of the CPI(M) leadership, the history of political violence has had its roots in the communal riots that broke out in Thalassery in 1971 when CPI(M) workers were reported to have come to the rescue of the Muslim community. Primarily, however, the culture of political violence has been nurtured over the decades by the leadership of the rival parties. It is this culture that prepares those loyal to one ideology to eliminate others loyal to the rival ideology. In the early 1980s, when CPI(M) leader E.K. Nayanar, hailing from Kannur, was the Chief Minister, Thalassery and nearby areas saw rival workers being murdered daily. There were even instances of murders of mistaken identity.

New hostilities There was a hiatus in the CPI(M)-Sangh Parivar hostilities in the latter part of the 1980s when the district saw the eruption of new hostilities involving workers of the CPI(M) and the Congress. The confrontation between the two major parties in the district took a violent turn when Congress leader K. Sudhakaran took the reins of the district Congress committee. Even Kannur town, which had not been hitherto affected by the CPI(M)-Sangh Parivar clashes, witnessed bomb attacks in those years when Congress and CPI(M) workers fought the battle for control over the district. After the hostilities between the Congress and the CPI(M) abated, the politically sensitive areas known for the recurrening clashes between the CPI(M) and the BJP-RSS workers saw the renewal of retaliatory violence from 2007. Over the last decade, 41 people have been killed in political clashes in the district with 14 of them being murdered in 2008 alone.

The relative peace in the district over the past five years — that many assumed would last — is now under threat.

The BJP is trying to utilise the murder of Manoj to make inroads into the CPI(M) strongholds in the district and has already announced political campaign “yatras” to cover those areas. These pockets will witness further tension if the CPI(M) chooses to counter them. The latter has already taken the initiative to convene meetings of families of party workers to explain its side. Each side has its own story of martyrs and martyrdom. But families who have lost their members in the political violence have their own stories to tell.

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