Less than a week ago, the Kerala Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, wrote an op-ed in The Hindu lashing out at the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) terming it as a clear violation of India’s Constitution. He had also gone to the extent of accusing the BJP-RSS of trying to impose the politics and philosophy of Hindutva, with its vision of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, on the people of the country. “Our constitutional values are in peril, and no person who has faith in our democracy can afford to be silent and uninvolved in what is happening around us,” he wrote.
In a Facebook post, he had referred to the police excesses on people who directly challenged CAA on the streets outside Kerala. He also warned the BJP leadership that it would be foolish to think public ire can be snuffed out using brute force. Ever since the CAA was enacted in Parliament, Pinarayi Vijayan has been projecting himself as a champion of human rights who steadfastly defends the right to dissent. Even when Kerala journalists had faced the wrath of Karnataka police while attempting to cover the police brutality on anti-CAA activists in Mangalore, Pinarayi came out all guns blazing defending the freedom of the individual to react to happenings around.
But it was in the same period, that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) under the direct control of Union Home Minister, Amit Shah, took over the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) case filed by Kerala police against two student activists of Communist Party of India (Marxist), accusing them of active Maoist links. Contrary to his strong stand in support of the rights of agitators against CAA, Pinarayi Vijayan now remains tight-lipped about the NIA move against Alan Shuhaib and Thwaha Fasal. The Communist party, which had expected the government to intervene when the case came up for review for prosecution sanction before the Gopinathan committee, has also gone silent in the face of the NIA involvement.
As per newspaper reports, the central agency has registered an FIR against the youths after the Union Ministry of Home Affairs issued a notification saying it was taking over the case. Normally, the NIA takes over cases based on recommendations from state governments.
Here, the larger question is whether the police under Pinarayi had demanded an NIA probe into the issue or not? That question needs to be answered as the Chief Minister himself had at press meet strongly reiterated the police claim that the youths were Maoists and not party members. Vijayan was unconcerned about the human rights issues involved in saying this even as the investigation is underway.
He had also not given any face value to the submissions of the families and friends of the two youths that no incriminating materials had been seized from them other than mobile phones. Vijayan has remained unresponsive when civil rights activists quoted court orders which held that merely being an adherent of Maoist ideology did not amount to an offence. The NIA move is becoming a major embarrassment for the CPI (M), whose stance against police excesses and branding of dissenting voices as those of Maoists is widely known. They have repeatedly called UAPA a black law.
Alan Shuhaib and Thwaha Fasal were arrested by the police on November 1, soon after the Manjakandy alleged encounter killing of Maoists that shocked the whole state. The CPI, partner in the LDF government, had clearly said that the encounter killings were a violation of human rights. And to justify the arrests, the police had claimed that they recovered incriminating material and ‘CPI (Maoist) literature’. However, the police reports filed in courts later revealed that there was no major seizure from the youths, who are now are in judicial custody after the high court denied them bail.
At the outset, the party had pacified the family members of the two students, who are card-carrying members that the government will intervene in the case at the appropriate time. Initially, Pinarayi Vijayan too, had taken a stand supporting the families. However, there has been a volte-face, and the chief minister’s stand contradicts the position of senior party leaders, including CPI (M) General Secretary, Sitaram Yechury and Politburo member, M A Baby, who came out openly against the invocation of UAPA on the students.
Now, it seems the party and the government have disowned the two youths completely. The Kozhikode area and district committee members of the party have also begun parroting the Pinarayi line that the students are Maoists. According to sources, this appears to be a complete surrender of the party and government to the script of chief minister’s police adviser Raman Srivastava and state police chief Loknath Behera, who have a strong affinity with the BJP government at the Centre.
The party had hoodwinked the families of the youths by saying that it will intervene at the time of the review. Now it is washing its hands off saying that the case has been taken over by the central agency. The party must have been aware that the NIA would take over the case. The promised legal aid of the party to the students also remains unfulfilled.
The whole matter exposes the double standards of Pinarayi Vijayan, who, at one level is taking a high moral ground as a champion of democratic rights and at another level, discards due process when it comes to Maoist encounters and their legitimate human rights.