Whether in West Bengal or Kerala, whenever the CPM had been in power, the most commonly heard charge against its governments had been the alleged “cell-rule” in which the official mechanisms become subservient to the party. In West Bengal, it was one of the principal reasons that sank the party after three decades of its rule, while in Kerala, it has begun to mar the reputation of the ruling Pinarayi Vijayan government.
In the CPM-style “cell-rule”, the first casualty is the police, where the party allegedly calls the shots. It starts with the headquarters, where the state level apparatchiks exercise control, and goes all the way down to the local unit of the party by both appointing its favourites in key positions and directly interfering with its functioning. As a result, the state police and its network comes under the virtual control of the party.
In fact, “cell-rule”, the term that the CPM considers pejorative, came into existence way back in 1957, when the first communist government came to power in Kerala under EMS Namboodirippadu. Despite the landmark reforms in various sectors, particularly land and education, and remarkable socio-economic progresses initiated by the government, Namboodirippadu’s idea of “neutralisation’ of police in which its intervention in labour and land disputes was curtailed became a weak spot. That the police was also asked not to side with the “capitalists” was seen as direct politicisation and came in for severe criticism, particularly from the Congress.
One of the scathing observations came from P Govinda Menon who was the chief minister of Travancore-Kochi that preceded the Kerala state: ”If the Communists violated laws, they would not be arrested; if they were arrested. They would not be prosecuted; if they were prosecuted, the cases would be withdrawn; and if the cases ended in conviction, the sentences would be remitted. There was indeed a rise n cognizable crimes as well. The party’s influence in police became such a problem that in 1958, the then law minister had to assure a conference of district collectors and police officers that the government would check the interference by the local functionaries of the party.
What the state under Vijayan is witnessing now is a virtual replay of this age-old habit, but this time it appears more blatant with the intelligence wing reportedly raising a red flag.
Reportedly, police officials owing allegiance to the CPM raised political slogans and indulged in the commemoration of “martyrs” at its association meetings in different parts of the state.
These events bore very close resemblance to the CPM meetings with even a red-coloured “martyrs column” becoming a centre-piece. “The police force is under political influence, which is crippling. The polarisation is visible in conducting police association conferences. At the conference, columns were erected, slogans were shouted just like that of political parties,” the ADGP Intelligence reportedly told the government.
This was not the first incident of the open display of CPM-affiliation by the men in uniform. At a state level officers’ meeting in Kottayam last month, a number of them came dressed in red. Clearly many in police uniform are overzealous to demonstrate their party affiliation, which is a scary prospect in terms of rule of law.
Concomitant to the alleged politicisation of the police is its rapidly falling reputation in upholding law and order and the government’s inability to fix it. Ever since Vijayan took over as both the chief minister and the home minister, the police has been under intense attack for its alleged highhandedness and ineptitude. Incidents such as a number of UAPA cases against political and rights activists, an encounter killing of a man and woman alleging that they were Maoists, arrest and detention of its critics – including the former secretary of CPM’s last chief minister VS Achuthanandan, who is yet to be served a charge-sheet even after several months of his release on bail -, using violent force against a woman who was protesting her son’s death in front of the police headquarters, a spate of political murders in Kannur where the CPM and the BJP are locked in a rancorous feud, the attack on a pregnant woman who lost her child, the alleged persecution of a Dalit women by cadres for defying party’s alleged hegemony, a sensational custodial death that the police tried to cover up with the help of the local unit of the party, and most recently, the disappearance and murder of an European woman-tourist have brought humiliating disrepute to the Government.
The local media, particularly the most popular TV channels, are abuzz with stories of police excesses, the lack of timely intervention or redress, political persecution using the police, and the interference by party functionaries; but the government chooses to hide behind its comfort-refrain that it’s an organised right-wing ploy to malign a “communist government”. According to them, it’s a plot of the RSS and the “right wing media”.
In fact, Vijayan himself leads this counter-attack of attributing motives. Most recently, he didn’t even spare the acting head of the state human rights commission, who called out the police for its failure as well as its attempted cover up attempt in the recent custodial death of an innocent man in Ernakulam district. And Vijayan’s sentiments are duly amplified the party state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and other leaders.
Vijayan is clearly trapped in the existential predicament of a communist party in Indian democracy, in which he forgets that the first and foremost allegiance of a government must be to the Constitution. Whether it admits or not, whenever the CPM is in power, the interest of the party organisation is more important than anything else and any inconvenience to its rein is considered a right-wing attack.
If Vijayan isn’t careful, the days are not too far when overzealous cadres might assume the role of the police as they did in Nandigram in West Bengal, where the Amnesty International had noted that “there was a close connivance of district officials, the state government, the state machinery and the Communist party workers to dictate and determine the course of events . And it won’t be good either for the party or the state.
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