Monday, June 4, 2012

Kerala's Politics of Violence


[This Op-Ed artilce published in 'The Pioneer' on June 2, 2012]

Being born and having lived in Kerala for 37 years, I often feel like laughing when home is described as “God’s own country”. This is how advertisement catch words infiltrate, invade and come to possess our minds. This decorative catch word was first used by Kerala Tourism’s advertisement campaign 15 years ago by, ironically, a Uttar Pradesh based Kerala cadre IAS officer — his name was Amitabh Kant.


We Malayalis lap up every honour, earned or otherwise, but are notoriously reluctant to recall perceptive albeit unflattering remarks made by distinguished observers. About 120 years back, Swami Vivekananda, while travelling through Travancore princely state, was horrified by the caste hierarchy in the province. He was so moved by the abuse of the backward communities by the self-styled “upper castes” that he left a label for Kerala which has somehow stuck — “lunatic asylum”.

Whether or not thanks to Swamy Vivekananda’s criticism, a process of change took momentum. This might have started the series of transformations in the social scene. Casteism, though still formidable, is today, in the second decade of the 21st century, a little less visible perhaps. “Progress”, as defined by Leftists and Marxist-Leninists, took shape through trade unionism and self-cleansing reform movements from the middle of the 20th century.

But the political arena failed to democraticise in the true sense of the term. Fractious caste politics, marked by a degree of violence matched only by the West Bengal experience, mocked the Malayalis’ claim to high status as a progressive people. Wherever the Communists went in India, they firmly planted the banner of “revolution” in the most convoluted sense of the term. To them, “change” meant destruction of body and soul of society, without a viable alternative in tow.

Thanks to the information revolution of the 1990s, the “little secrets” of Kerala politics have become national touchstones for political degradation. The brutal murder of Kannur schoolteacher and BJP leader Jayakrishnan Master right before his young students in December 1999 will always be counted as one of the lows of Indian democracy. Strangely, the CPI(M) defended the murderers all through.

The revelations of a district secretary, MM Mani, take the cake. This creature of Communist politics, did not think twice before boasting in full glare of TV cameras that his party

regularly used murder against political opponents. This only proves that somewhere in the corner of the collective Malayali mind, a devilish corner exists.

The Communist movement had a great impact in Kerala. The movement which started in the 1920s, worked through workers’ unions and caste relations reforms. But in northern Kerala, the citadel of Communism, nobody quite noticed the gradual barricading of the political consciousness. Though caste politics and religion based fundamentalism did not affect the core of the political scene, a much worse ogre consumed Kerala’s nascent democracy — Stalinism.

From the early 1970s on, it was quite usual to see people in Kerala die for their political beliefs. Stalinism and its alternative, Maoism, were fashionable among the generation of the mid-1970s, especially in northern Kerala. In their ignorance of the true nature of how these horrific ideologies actually played out, the Malayali perhaps mirrored the Bengalis. Both imitated systems they barely understood, rejecting, in the process, their own culture.

The “Calcutta thesis” of the Communist party in 1949, which sought for elimination of class (now read as political) enemies is still a fashionable theory in party classes of the CPI(M) in northern Kerala. As person belong to Thalassery in Kannur District, one of the birth places of Communism in Kerala I can vouch for this. The leaders of the party who dominated the discourse were fired by bloodlust. They justified every crime in the name of the party.

The character of the CPI(M) underwent change in the mid-1970s. The party decided to be strict towards the so-called “ultra-revolutionary movements.” CPI(M) elders from that era recall how dour party meetings suddenly became. Gone was the role of humour and sarcasm from in-door conferences. None would have a smiling face. The dangerous seriousness started shadowing in the internal meetings and smiling leaders became a rare species.

The murder of rebel CPI(M) leader TP Chandrasekharan early May exposed how deep the rot had set in. The exposition by Mani, which followed, therefore came as no surprise. He revealed the earlier planned eliminations of political opponents in the early 1980s in order to justify the murder of “renegade” Chandrasekharan.

The State Government, run by the Congress-led UDF, showed courage to initiate criminal action by reopening the old murder cases. But a big question hangs over the Congress’ will to take the matter to its logical end. Many feel that interest would die out after the current Assembly session is concluded.

Unlike West Bengal, where hard figures from the Home Ministry state that more than 20,000 people, the vast majority of them anti-Congress activists, were killed during the three decades of Communist domination. In Kerala, it is estimated that about 200 people lost their lives in politically motivated killings. The vast majority of these were victims of tit-for-tat murders committed in the never-ending turf war between the CPI(M) and the RSS in Kannur. Often times, the victims or perpetrators were Muslim League or Congress. But the CPI(M) has always been the constant. As a newspaper reporter in Kerala for more than 13 years, I have heard several Mani-kind of speeches by very senior CPI(M) leaders. Fortunately somehow Mani’s speech gone international and the law set in motion. I have often wondered, how is it possible for educated, talented and otherwise sensitive people to transform into murderers for narrow political profit? Distance from Kerala and experience in the north Indian scene, which is so vacuous of ideology, has opened my eyes to what I believe is the core deficiency of the Malayali mind.

His slavery - in body and soul — to the party line. Humanism pales before the party dictum. And also, the deep politicisation of society and every edifice of the state.

But today, thankfully, there is a silver lining. The crusader for political reform and former Chief Minister, VS Achuthanandan, has come out publicly against Mani. He has written a letter to the party leadership in Delhi questioning the morality of defending these actions. In the second week of June, we expect to see a thorough debate on this at AKG Bhawan in Gole Market. Unless of course, the self-deluding Malayali prefers to live in the lunatic asylum.

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