Updated: December 21, 2021 8:38:18 am
Over the weekend in Kerala, in a span of 12 hours, a state secretary of the SDPI, the political arm of the Popular Front of India, and the BJP OBC Morcha state secretary were murdered in what appeared to be retaliatory killings. This year alone, five persons have been killed in clashes involving SDPI and BJP/RSS workers, three of them in Alappuzha district, where the latest killings also took place. Police have taken at least 50 persons into custody and prohibitory orders are in force in the district. An all-party meeting has been convened, which is to be chaired by two senior ministers. The ruling Left Front and the Congress-led UDF must take the lead and join hands with civil society to calm tempers and restore peace. These killings should not be allowed to lead to greater social and political polarisation.
The SDPI and the Hindu right-wing have been trying to spread their wings in the state by aggressively mobilising supporters through communally charged campaigns. The latent violence in the speeches of leaders appears to have seeped down to cadres, some of whom seem willing to physically annihilate their political opponents. The SDPI has been trying to appeal to Muslim youth dissatisfied with the sober parliamentarianism of the Muslim League, the mainstay of Muslim politics in Kerala: It has sought to project itself as a muscular outfit with a radical voice, even if it means confronting its political rivals physically. Besides the BJP/RSS, the SDPI has also been involved in clashes with the CPM. Many lives have also been lost in BJP-CPM clashes over the years in Kerala. However, the Alappuzha murders have upped the ante. This time, the victims are not just party workers, but state-level functionaries. The planning of the murders and the chosen targets indicate that both parties wanted to convey a message to each other.
That message is ominous for Kerala, which prides itself as a state with an enviable record of communal harmony and inclusive public action. Kerala could make significant gains in development indices despite a low economic base mainly because political and civil society were invested in maintaining social peace and would jointly resist attempts to privilege communal identities over the collective self. This is a sobering moment that calls for a reiteration and reassertion of the progressive spirit the state is known for.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on December 21, 2021 under the title ‘Kerala’s dark spot’.