Is Political Violence in Kerala on the Rise?

Kerala is turning into a land of political clashes. Data shows that after elections to the Kerala Legislative Assembly, as many as 485 political clashes have taken place in the State. These clashes have taken place within the months of May, June and July.

In a total of 485 clashes, around 1,081 arrests have been recorded so far. The most number of political clashes were recorded in the districts where party villages are found. The highest number of clashes (107) has taken place in Kannur district. So far, 211 arrests have been made by the police after these skirmishes. Interestingly, the Congress and the BJP have been involved in 75 clashes in Kannur district.

The second highest number of political clashes has been recorded in Malappuram district (78). In Malappuram, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) have been involved in 62 clashes. Kozhikode Rural has registered 74 political clashes, Thiruvananthapuram City has seen 8 and Thiruvananthapuram Rural has witnessed 13.

Pathanamthitta, Idukki, Kochi City and Wayanad have not registered a single political clash so far. Thrissur City has recorded the least number of clashes (3). Ernakulam Rural and Palakkad has registered 14 political clashes each. In Thrissur Rural, out of the total 26 clashes, 21 were between the CPI (M) and the BJP.

In Kasaragod district, out of the 56 political clashes, 32 were between the UDF and the LDF. In Thiruvananthapuram Rural, a majority of the clashes happened between the CPI (M) and the BJP.

The Kochi Post sought the opinion of various experts across the political spectrum on the issue. Here’s what they had to say.

Kozhikode District Congress Committee President K.C. Abu said, “Whenever the Left government comes to power, the number of political clashes and murders have always increased in Kerala. Either the petitioner or the accused during Left government’s period are there in all the clashes. The main reason is that the government has an encouraging attitude towards the clashes. CPI (M) secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s recent words, while addressing the public in Kannur, shows this. Here, what the government should do is that they should allow the police to perform their duties without the difference of ruling or Opposition. Such a freedom should be given to the police at any cost.”

Advocate and media critic A. Jayashankar said it was during the last five years of Oommen Chandy’s rule that Kerala witnessed the least number of political clashes.

“Political clashes are part of history. The hike in such clashes happened during the tenure of Chief Minister E.M.S. Namboodiripad during 1967-69. That is when CPI(M), RSS, Congress, Kerala Congress and Muslim League were involved in clashes. It was during this period that MLA Kunhali was assassinated. The period also marks the beginning of Naxalite attacks. The frequent political clashes that started in the 1960’s ended in 1975 during the Emergency. Again, the clashes started in 1978-79 and Thalassery witnessed many RSS-Marxist fights. Even when the Nayanar government was in power, the numbers increased. After that, in 1982, K. Karunakaran took over the Chief Minister’s post and took action. To an extent, the reduction in political clashes made the public vote for him. Interestingly, CPI(M) and RSS even have a history of keeping a scoreboard on the number of clashes and deaths, in front of Mukund Theatre in Thalassery.”

Aam Aadmi Part State Convenor C.R. Neelakandan had a different take.

 “The first thing is we cannot call these political clashes. These are apolitical clashes after all. In a democracy, politics is ideology-based, it is debatable, and fact-based. That is the space democracy provides. Settlement through clashes is not a form of democracy. In such cases, ideology doesn’t have a role and weapons are at the  forefront. When two people debate and convey their ideas, people get the opportunity to learn and understand. But here what happens is either of the two is killed. Because of this, a large section of people prefer to stay away from politics. Most often, these clashes are only helpful in making society apolitical. What the present scenario demands is to strengthen people politically. Who kills or defeats who cannot be considered as victory. Society is being criminalised as most political parties have the backing of ‘gundas’. And in case the accused have the support of a political party, then the police also hesitates to take action against them.”

BJP spokesperson Adv J.R. Padmakumar hit hard at the CPI (M) for continuous attacks on other political parties.

“By pointing to the RSS or BJP in all political clashes, the government is trying to hide their attacks. We have been used as a veil. Political protests would be there, but we are not supporting annihilation. CPI (M) has to change its modus operandi, otherwise a change in the State is difficult. They have to think why people of almost all other political parties are being attacked by CPI (M). Why are they spreading rumors that we are attacking them? If we consider the scenario, they are not our only political opponents. The Congress, RSP, Muslim League and all other parties are our political opponents. If you take the Congress also; are they attacking any other political parties? But, they are also being attacked by CPI (M). They are attacking the Muslim League. So in all clashes, one of the sides is CPI (M). This shows CPI (M) is intolerant. The government should stop hunting the policemen and their families who do their duty truthfully. We respect the law. We do not encourage violence.”

According to journalist B.R.P. Bhaskar, political violence is not something new to Kerala.

“By and large, big clashes are confined to small geographical areas. When you look at it from a historical perspective, you will have to say that those who are now attacking each other are probably third generation party men. The reason why violence continues is that the leadership of the parties is doing nothing to keep the violence in check. On the contrary, the leaders are known to sanction violence, even killings, and protect the culprits, sometimes by substituting other people as the accused in cases and also by supporting their families when they are in prison. We cannot expect an improvement in this situation. Recently, CPI(M) General Secretary  Sitaram Yechury said ‘violence has no place in democracy’. I think he should convey this message to the party in this State. The other party which needs to act in this matter is the BJP, which has engaged in a running battle with the CPI(M) in some parts of the State,” he said. 

Main photograph by Jim, via Flickr.

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