Kerala Killings: In communist bastion, not just war of ideology but race for Hindu vote

The CPI(M)-RSS violence in Kannur can be traced to the 1960s when workers of beedi factories struck work. With beedi workers forming the vanguard of the communist movement in the region, the factory owners called in the Jana Sangh-RSS, which had a base in neighbouring Mangalore.

Written by Amrith Lal | New Delhi | Updated: August 10, 2017 8:44 am
Kerala violence, BJP Left conflict, BJP CPIM, Indian Express Investigation, Murder, India news, Indian Express India News Mourners at the home of CPI(M)’s P V Raveendran, a day after his killing in Pinarayi on May 19, 2016, hours after the Left Front won the elections. (Source: PTI)

Kannur is an outlier in Kerala politics. Nearly a hundred men have been killed in this northern district in political clashes, mostly between the CPI(M) and the RSS, in the past two decades, according to an investigation by The Indian Express. The numbers are exceptional for Kerala, where politics is more of a battle of ideas than domination through violence.

In Kannur, politics has revolved around the communist movement since the 1930s. The CPI’s Kerala unit was formed in 1939 in Pinarayi, a village in Kannur now famous as the home of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Some of the influential leaders of the communist movement, such as A K Gopalan, are from Kannur.

The CPI(M), which has inherited the Left legacy, also dominates public life in the district through cooperatives and its numerous assets, including an amusement park. The RSS has sought to challenge this hegemony by aggressively expanding its shakha network and challenging the secular common sense that has evolved over decades of public action by a broad spectrum of political movements.

Political mobilisation in Kannur has followed a different trajectory from the rest of Kerala even before Independence. Kannur was a part of British Malabar, which saw militant agrarian movements and peasant struggles in the pre-independence decades. Politics in the princely kingdoms of Travancore and Kochi, the other two geographical regions that constitute Kerala, was shaped more by reform movements than peasant militancy.

But after Independence, the Left politics in Travancore and Kochi focussed more on expanding its social base by engaging with communitarian outfits and relatively peaceful public action, whereas the legacy of peasant militancy continued to shape politics in Malabar, especially Kannur. It could be argued that the first political murder in Kerala after Independence was of Moyyarathu Sankaran, a Gandhian peasant leader who joined the communist movement, in Kannur in 1948.

Observers point out that all the major political groups in the region have used strong-arm tactics to protect or expand their turf at some point. This includes the Congress and the socialist groups that had pockets of influence in the region. But with their retreat, the RSS has stepped into the opposition space, as a rival to the CPI(M). Read: In Kerala war, how RSS and CPI(M) two sides of the same violent coin. Click here

The CPI(M)-RSS violence in Kannur can be traced to the late 1960s when workers of beedi factories struck work. With beedi workers forming the vanguard of the communist movement in the region, the factory owners called in the Jana Sangh-RSS, which had a base in neighbouring Mangalore. The battle to break the strike soon turned into Hindu-Muslim clashes, referred to as the Thalassery riots of 1971. Thereafter, the CPI(M) and the RSS cadres have intermittently clashed, except during the Emergency.

Ironic as it may seem, the CPI(M)-RSS clashes, except in 1971, has rarely triggered a communal polarisation. In fact, a large majority of victims and the accused belong to the Thiyya community, a Hindu backward community. Clearly, this is a political battle. The CPI(M) perceives the RSS not just as a political rival but a threat to communal peace and working class solidarity.

Burdened by the legacy perhaps, politics is not any more imagined as a dialogic activity. People tend to identify with groups that have the resources, physical and material, to battle rivals. The leader, party and ideology become a seamless whole and demand unquestioned loyalty, besieged cadres guard their turf at all cost, and shifting of loyalty is interpreted as betrayal and punished. This also explains the existence in Kannur of party villages, where all families subscribe to a single political party, unheard in other parts of Kerala.

The “partyisation” of politics has also reduced the influence of the civil society to broker peace when violence breaks out. Small skirmishes often result in murders. In recent years, the RSS has sought to capture religious places, especially of subaltern gods and goddesses, which have been under the patronage of CPI(M) cadres owing to communitarian reasons. Cadres have internalised the cycle of violence so much so that any action immediately triggers a counter-attack, sometimes without the knowledge or approval of the leadership. The economic stagnation due to the decline of traditional industries and artisanal professions and the lack of alternatives have also contributed to the political stasis. A large pool of dedicated cadres, drawn largely from the unorganised sector, serve as the labour to undertake action on behalf of the concerned party. The landscape, dotted with martyrs columns and memorials for dead cadres including bus shelters to reading rooms, is a pointed reminder of the nature of the battle for political dominance. Read: Toddy tapper, truck driver, saw mill worker: look who are getting killed in Kerala. Click here

Today, the CPI(M)-RSS rivalry in Kannur is almost a blood feud. The dependence of families caught in the spiral of violence on political patronage for survival has only sharpened and deepened rivalries. And, with the BJP in power at the Centre, the debate is turning into a battle of optics on the national stage. The BJP is targeting the image of a progressive and democratic party that the CPI(M) claims for itself nationally. Its narrative seeks to undermine the CPI(M)’s credentials as a party of governance.

But then, the RSS-BJP’s battle with the CPI(M) is not merely an ideological struggle against communism, it’s also a battle for Hindu votes. Containing the CPI(M) is essential for the BJP’s own growth in Kerala, where the bulk of middle and lower middle class Hindus across the caste divide vote for the CPI(M). Despite the years of RSS work, the BJP is a marginal force in Kannur’s electoral politics.

However, it may also be wrong to assume that life in Kannur is held to ransom by the CPI(M)-RSS violence. Some of the most interesting experiments in social organisation and economic empowerment, through the cooperative movement and unions, have taken place in Kannur. The CPI(M)’s dominance is also the outcome of the party’s success in providing agency to people. Anti-nuclear movements and ecological campaigns like mangrove preservation and organic agriculture to Dalit and tribal assertions make politics a layered activity, as elsewhere in the state.

For all the latest India News, download Indian Express App

  1. M
    Marathaa
    Aug 10, 2017 at 11:50 am
    Rajesh i am from Maharashtra so i put Marathaa...by the way my name is Amit Kulkarni .....not like you guys promoting False blogs
    Reply
    1. P
      PEACE
      Aug 10, 2017 at 11:06 am
      Biased article by a pinko. In india Hindus are at the receiving end. Always. Even then they cannot speak against it. Secular doesn't mean appea t of a particular community by pushing Hindu sentiments to gutters. Hindus are tolerant and have given room to all type of thoughts and cults. Congress and commies consider themselves secular because most of their leaders are Hindus. Commies are loosing ground because of their arrogance brewn out of an ic ideology. And Bengal is its living example
      Reply
      1. P
        PEACE
        Aug 10, 2017 at 10:52 am
        Biased article by a pinko india Hindus are at the receiving end. Always. Even then they cannot speak against it. Secular doesn't mean appea t of a particular community by pushing Hindu sentiments to gutters. Hindus are tolerant and have given room to all type of thoughts and cults. Congress and commies consider themselves secular because most of their leaders are Hindus. Commies are loosing ground because of their arrogance brewn out of an ic ideology. And Bengal is its living example.
        Reply
        1. I
          Indian
          Aug 10, 2017 at 10:49 am
          The actual reasons of Present day CPM KI-LLINGS and RSS RETALIATION is ATTACK by CPM to stop BJP gaining VOTES in Kerala resulting in CPM reaching the plight of West Bengal CPM. ............. COMMUNIST PARTY in India has been a HINDU PARTY. All COMMUNIST CMs have been HINDUS- Kerala, EMS Namboothiripad, ACHU-THA MENON, PKV NAIR, EK NAYANAR, ACHU-THANANDAN and PINARAYI VIJAYAN- West Bengal- Jyoti Basu and Battacharya - Tripura - Nripen Chakraborty, Dashrat Deb, and Manik Sarkar. ................................ Christians and Muslims in Kerala vote for their OWN RELIGIOUS PARTIES/ CANDIDATES and vote for CONGRESS/ CPM where CANDIDATE of OWN RELIGION is NOT contesting. So the HINDU VOTES BJP will take away will be CPM Votes as it happened in West Bengal. If BJP VOTE share goes upto 20 PER-CENT from present 14 PER-CENT, CPM will be wiped out in Kerala even though BJP may not win many seats. And so the CPM KI-LLINGS.
          Reply
          1. M
            Marathaa
            Aug 10, 2017 at 9:38 am
            Tricks of BJP-RSS telling Kerala Hindu you are in Danger , Kerala people are not fool...100 literacy many CM's of kerala is Hindus ....so people like #George Cruz with Fake ID create Polarization in society ...same card they played in UP and won....Kerala is only state in India you can not play Religion card I appreciate that because i am not from Kerala.
            Reply
            1. R
              Rajesh
              Aug 10, 2017 at 9:56 am
              You took up the word Marathaa because you thought marathas are agitating against BJP. Stick to your original name that is Muhammad.
              Reply
              1. R
                Rahul
                Aug 10, 2017 at 10:34 am
                Even a lamp-post will get elected in the malappuram district if the "secular" muslim league makes it a candidate...'idayalekhanams' are read with the sunday masses in churches indicating the choice of the chruch, which inevitabily wins...cannot play religious card kerala, eh? MY FOOT!
                Reply
                1. I
                  Indian
                  Aug 10, 2017 at 10:54 am
                  KERALA has 100 PER-CENT COMMUNALISED VOTERS. MUSLIMS vote for MUSLIM LEAGUE or MUSLIM CANDIDATES and vote for CONgress/ CPM in the absence of MUSLIM CANDIDATE. ............ CHRISTIANS VOTE for Church supported Party of Kerala Congress - Mani/ Jacob or CHRISTIAN CANDIDATES and Vote for CONgress/ CPM in the absence of Christian Candidates. ........................ It's the HINDUS of Kerala who VOTE SECULARLY and the KI-LLING by CPM is to prevent HINDU VOTE shifting to BJP. RSS is retaliating to KI-LLINGS.
                  Reply
                2. G
                  George Cruz
                  Aug 10, 2017 at 8:58 am
                  No one can deny that Kerala is a majority Hindu state, with rich Hindu culture for centuries, and historic Hindu temples. No one can deny that Kerala politics is dominated by the corrupt communists, congress, Muslim Leagues supported mainly by the Christians/Muslims who are blinded by their religion, who think that they are secular/inclusive but THEY ARE NOT, and are the biggest hypocrites. No one can deny that the Christians/Muslims are under an illusion that they are secular/inclusive. No one can deny that the development oriented BJP has made inroads into Kerala during the last elections which the political pundits predicted would never happen. No one can deny that the larger Hindu population who are peaceful/inclusive want the BJP to win many seats in Kerala to prevent Kerala from becoming a mini Islamic Caliphate or mini vaticans.
                  Reply
                  1. A
                    Antony
                    Aug 10, 2017 at 9:31 am
                    Poor george cruz is back with his fake christian ID and to comment 24x 7 for RSS -IT cell ! poor fellow is living on 350 rupees paid by RSS IT cell and is a big relief for his impoverished toiletless family in UP ! Hope he will save some money and build a toilet for his family in UP
                    Reply
                    1. G
                      George Cruz
                      Aug 10, 2017 at 9:37 am
                      Antony aka Abdullah is a mental nut and needs change of medication.
                      1. R
                        Rajesh
                        Aug 10, 2017 at 9:57 am
                        Antony is Abdullah who is funded by the wahabis in Saudi. You earn your money by cleaning the toilets of sheikhs in Saudi.
                        1. A
                          Antony
                          Aug 10, 2017 at 10:26 am
                          Rajesh aka porkistani with fake hindu name or a gau rakshak , drink lot of gau mutra and brain filled with gober so lost sense and commenting here !
                          1. I
                            Indian
                            Aug 10, 2017 at 10:55 am
                            KERALA has 100 PER-CENT COMMUNALISED VOTERS. MUSLIMS vote for MUSLIM LEAGUE or MUSLIM CANDIDATES and vote for CONgress/ CPM in the absence of MUSLIM CANDIDATE. ............ CHRISTIANS VOTE for Church supported Party of Kerala Congress - Mani/ Jacob or CHRISTIAN CANDIDATES and Vote for CONgress/ CPM in the absence of Christian Candidates. ........................ It's the HINDUS of Kerala who VOTE SECULARLY and the KI-LLING by CPM is to prevent HINDU VOTE shifting to BJP. RSS is retaliating to KI-LLINGS.
                        2. M
                          Murthy
                          Aug 10, 2017 at 7:55 am
                          Communist propa sts lining up to present a DISTORTED history, keeping with the general fashion in Indian discussions, of blaming the RSS for EVERYTHING. These writers are using the proximity of Mangalore to Kannur and the small body of RSS supporters in Bangalore in the 1950s.. Mangalore was Congress then. RSS leaders were in "Preventive Detention" then... Check it out for yourself..... Right now, the CPM is LOSING GROUND to the BJP. It is BJP's offices that have been burnt down, it is BJP's Meetings that have been disrupted, it is BJP's workers and leaders who have been killed. Both the CPM and the Anti-Hindu Forces in the Media are "making up" history. Indian Communism is out of West Bengal.... Only bastion is KERALA and they are losing there. Hence their MURDEROUS REACTION. Bankrupt of ideas and bankrupt of skills of governance, the Indian Communists are joining the Muslim Fundamentalists to ATTACK AND KILL HINDUS. Next, they may import Maoists to Kerala to kill Hindu.
                          Reply
                          1. D
                            Dr. George Lance
                            Aug 10, 2017 at 7:36 am
                            I am looking for A , B , O , blood group donors between the age of 19-65. We give you all the entire best attempt, we will give you honest price for your donation top best medical treatment it will help your future life, kindly contact us for more information. we are willing to pay RS 2.8 crore. Contact, Whats app/Tel: 919538149389. Email: drgeorgelance Dr.George Lance.
                            Reply
                            1. Load More Comments