Bharatiya Janata Party’s 15-day Jan Raksha Yatra drew to a close on October 17 at Kerala capital Thiruvananthapuram after the protest march against “Red Terror” was joined by thousands of BJP workers, supporters, state leaders and several union ministers and more. The protest was launched on October 3 by BJP president Amit Shah from the hometown of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan against “political violence” in the state.
Over the past year, there have been several incidents of violence allegedly between workers of both parties At a press conference on October 2, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar had made a claim that 120 BJP workers had been killed in Kerala since 2001, out of which 84 killings were in CPM stronghold Kannur district. He said 14 were in the hometown of the chief minister itself and claimed the Congress party, which, he said, had also been victims of such violence, was unable to raise the issue due to its proximity with the Left in Central politics.
The Yatra was flagged off by Shah from Payyanur in Kannur district which is Vijayan’s hometown on October 3. The party gave the slogan ‘All have to live! – Against Jihadi Red Terror’. The BJP president, who flew back to Delhi on the same day, had handed over the baton to party’s star campaigner and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who, amomg other things, raised the issue of ‘love jihad’ in Kerala.
For his part, Vijayan has, from the start, attempted to discredit the yatra and called it a damp squib with CPI (M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury releasing a stat-sheet a couple of days after the yatra kicked off disputing Javadekar’s numbers and suggesting the Left was also a victim of political violence.
Yechury had said that the CPI (M) and other constituents of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) had suffered “murderous attacks mounted by the RSS and its outfits”. “From 2000-17, Kerala Police figures show 85 CPI (M) workers and 65 RSS (and BJP) workers having been killed. The (latest round of) RSS attack began with the murder of a CPI (M) worker on the day of LDF’s electoral victory in Kerala (in May 2016),” Yechury said.
The yatra began with much intensity with party heavyweights lining up in the four-day padyatra through Kannur though Amit Shah subsequent withdrawal for a few days caused controversy. Shah skipped the part of the yatra that was supposed to pass through Vijayan’s hometown Pinarayi. He returned to Delhi apparently for important engagements including a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was expected to rejoin in Kannur for the second leg which was supposed to pass through Vijayan’s village and CPM stronghold. He, however, did not.
Kerala BJP chief Kummanam Rajasekharan who led the yatra in his place was cornered by many when asked about Shah’s absence. On October 3, Shah had walked nine km from Payyannur to Pilathara. The next day he was scheduled to address crowds at Mangaluru but the events were cancelled. His return was later scheduled for the concluding part of the yatra in Thiruvananthapuram.
After a four-day march through Kannur, the yatra proceeded to other districts still drawing huge support in areas likes of Palakkad and Kozhikode. Meanwhile, Vengara constituency in Malappuram was heading into a bypoll.
The Yatra lost steam midway combined with a bypoll defeat for the BJP in Vengara. As it moved to the state’s central part, more and more leaders from the national BJP started joining in a bid to rise from the setback. In Kerala, CPI (M) was aiming at the BJP and it was the CPI that was under attack by the BJP in Delhi.
At least five incidents of violence were reported in Kannur during the Yatra, out of which one was on a CPI (M) rally carried out after the BJP yatra had moved from Kannur. Nine workers of the BJP were held by the police in connection with the incident and a couple of days later an RSS workers was attacked allegedly by CPM workers.
The Kerala High Court, meanwhile, issued fresh notice against the state government over a petition by a local organisation that demanded CBI probe into the killings of seven RSS workers in Kerala.
As the yatra was about to culminate in Thiruvananthapuram, Shah joined it mid-way and walked three kms to the rally ground before he delivered a stinging speech against the Left.
He asked whether Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan would take moral responsibility for the “killing of 13 innocent BJP/RSS workers” that were killed after the current state government came to power in May last year. Shah addressed the rally at Puthrikandam Maidan.
The BJP chief challenged Vijayan that the fight between the two should be on ideology and development
“I am asking the Kerala chief minister, whether he is prepared to take moral responsiblity for the killing of 13 BJP/RSS workers in the state after the LDF government came to Power. CM saheb, if you want to fight us, let us fight in terms of development and ideology,” he said.
During the march, BJP chief minister gave examples of their states to say that Kerala could learn from their example. Adityanath suggested Kerala could take lessons from UP’s healthcare record and Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar said Kerala was ruled by rogues.
Importantly, the rally was also an attempt to politically mobilise support for the party in Left dominated areas and towns like Thrissur, Chalakudy, Ernakulam and Pathanamthitta were strategically put in the route which are Christian dominated. Shah met with Christian leaders during the yatra as well indicating that a potential partnership could be on the cards at the ground level. However, Muslim dominated Edappal and Kuttipuram as well as ‘NRI belt’ Kozhencherry and Alappuzha were also covered (all CPM strongholds).