Last night (Sunday, September 10) produced a remarkable display of histrionics by Arnab Goswami of Republic TV. In what was billed as a debate on whether the left or the right was more intolerant, Arnab focused his considerable energies on the ongoing cycle of political killings in Kerala. He referred to recent attacks that had led to the death of RSS workers, and segued into an attack on the “liberals”. Where was Sagarika (Ghose), where was Barkha (Dutt), where was Rana (Ayyub), he demanded.
He banged the table as he brought his peroration to a close. “Where were the Not In My Name people?”, he thundered as he flicked back an errant lock of hair.
It was an awe-inspiring performance that I watched with all the morbid fascination of a spectator at a train wreck.
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is not given to such infantile histrionics. Speaking recently to the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, the minister was calm and reasonable as he condemned the killing and segued smoothly into an attack on “liberals”.
“Why is it that all my liberal friends who speak so eloquently and so strongly against the killing of a journalist, perfectly so entitled to, or even maoists and naxalites, maintain a conspicuous silence when so many RSS workers are killed in Karnataka or BJP workers in Kerala?” the minister asked.
Union Minister Arun Jaitley has a way with words. Last month, he visited the home of an RSS worker who was brutally murdered in Kerala. He rightly condemned the barbaric killing, he talked of the ruling CPM creating a climate of violence, and took the by-now obligatory dig at liberals who protest violence in other parts of the country, but ignore what is going on in Kerala.
Last week, BJP president Amit Shah was slated to flag off a padayatra protesting the killings of BJP/RSS workers. Union ministers, and chief ministers of BJP-ruled states, were to participate. BJP MLA O Rajagopalan spoke of the killings of his party activists and added a winkle by pointing out that the victims were mostly from the SC/ST/OBC categories.
So hey, let’s talk about Kerala.
The national narrative has been set in concrete. Broadly, these are the tropes: Kerala, as BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi said so eloquently in Parliament this month, has gone from being God’s own country into a “forsaken country”. The Left parties are solely responsible – whenever the Left comes to power, violence escalates and this violence targets the RSS, the BJP and affiliates; those killed are mainly from the disadvantaged sectors of society. The violence is one-sided: RSS and BJP activists are being killed in their dozens; the killers are Left cadres; they kill with impunity. (Passing mention: Kerala police arrested all suspects , workers of the party in power, within 48 hours of the murder of Rajesh).
RS Prasad, Arun Jaitley, Amit Shah, state BJP president Kummanam Rajasekharan, Meenakshi Lekhi, O Rajagopalan, Arnab Goswami – a line-up of powerful, influential voices have drawn attention to the RSS/BJP cadres who have fallen victims in this ceaseless cycle of political violence.
They are right – there is violence in Kerala, and RSS/BJP men are dying and, ignoring for the moment the ‘Where are the liberals?’ whataboutery, there are voices drawing attention to those crimes. So I will avoid duplication, and focus instead on a few events that may have escaped the attention of these various worthies, and therefore failed to make it to the national narrative.
#May 19, 2016: One person is killed and eight others injured when bombs are thrown at a CPM rally in Kannur to celebrate the party’s victory in the assembly elections. On the same day, another bomb is hurled at a rally in Mattannur.
#August 22, 2016: In Kannur, BJP worker Dikshith dies when the bomb he is assembling explodes prematurely. The police recover an assortment of lethal weapons from the dead man’s home. Six hours after Dikshith’s death and 20 km away from the site, bombs are hurled at a CPM office in Kodiyeri.
This is not new. Back in November 2008 – well before the CPM, who according to the established narrative is responsible for the wave of violence, had assumed power – police recovered 125 bombs from Kannur; they were alerted after two RSS workers died while handling those bombs. A day later, a further 18 bombs were discovered a stone’s throw from where the two had died.
#October 2016: In course of a public interaction, BJP leader Valsan Thillankeri admits that RSS youth are making bombs, and says they are fully aware of the risk. These bombs are for self-defense, says Thillankeri in defense of RSS workers.
“They are putting their life in danger to make these things for self-defence. That’s how little faith they have in the law and order system in place,” he said.
#December 2016: Anil Kumar, a former RSS activist who converted to Islam, is brutally murdered outside his home. Eleven RSS workers are arrested for the crime.
#December 19: Eleven RSS activists are sentenced for periods ranging from life to double life imprisonment for the murder of a DYFI activist. The murder precedes, by years, the CPM victory in the assembly elections.
January 27, 2017: A bomb is hurled at a public meeting in Kannur where CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan was speaking. One person is injured.
February 17: RSS state chief P Gopalan Kutty ‘Master’ praised Chief Minister Pinnarayi Vijayan for the latter’s efforts to end political violence in Kannur. He said the CM had called him nine times, to ensure RSS participation in meetings convened to make peace between the warring political groups.
#March 1: 20 days after the RSS testifies to Vijayan’s peace-making efforts, an RSS rally takes place in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh. DR Chandrawat, the area RSS Pramukh, announces a Rs 1 crore reward for anyone who can bring him the head of the Kerala chief minister. He speaks of “300 activists” belonging to the RSS and the BJP that have been killed in Kerala and says:
“We will offer a garland of three lakh human skulls to Bharat Mata, this is a warning to Leftists”.
Seated on the dais as the RSS pramukh openly incites violence and calls for the murder of an elected chief minister are BJP MP Chintamani Malaviya and MLA Mohan Yadav.
#April 9: Ananthu, a 17-year-old school student who quit the RSS to concentrate on his studies, is dragged out of a temple and beaten to death. His crime: protesting the sexual harassment of girls in his school. 17 RSS members are arrested.
It was an “unintentional murder”, says Alappuzha district president of the BJP K Soman.
#May 15: Three friends of a murdered CPM worker are arrested for the retaliatory killing of Choorakkadu Biju, an accused in the murder of CPM worker CV Dhanraj.
Less than a month later, on June 11, men on motorbikes flung bombs at a CPM rally taken out to mark the first anniversary of Dhanraj’s death. Seven CPM activists are injured in the attack. The CPM retaliates by vandalizing a BJP office in Payannur, in Kannur district. No one is injured in the incident.
#May 17: Kummanam Rajasekharan shares on his Facebook page a video showing what he claimed were CPM workers celebrating the killing of an RSS worker. The video is fake; Kummannam is booked on charges of promoting enmity among groups. He is the state president of the BJP.
May 29: State BJP general secretary K Surendran shares on Facebook an image of a street littered with slaughtered cows, that he claims is from Kerala. He was blatantly, deliberately lying.
In passing, does the BJP have a beef problem in Kerala? Not if you judge by available evidence. N Sreeprakash, the NDA candidate for the Muslim-dominated Malappuram assembly seat, assured votersthat if he was elected, he would ensure the supply of “good quality beef”, taking due care to ensure it is ‘halal’, in deference to the sensibilities of the Muslim voter. He further said that even in UP, the ban was only against selling the meat of sick and deceased animals. He promised to create “good slaughterhouses” in the area.
More recently, the newly-inducted Union Minister of State for Tourism and IT KJ Alphons, said immediately after taking the oath of office that the Modi government is “inclusive” and “doesn’t really have a problem” with beef being consumed in Kerala.
Of course it doesn’t – inducting Alphons into the Union cabinet is part of the NDA political calculus as concerns Kerala. Try as it will, it has been unable to rally the majority of Hindus in Kerala to its side. The Congress remains a strong political force, as does the CPM. For the Muslims in the region, the BJP is anathema. The Syrian Christian community is thus the only sizeable demographic it can hope to win over in numbers – and for that community, beef is a staple. In fact, across Kerala the preferred dish for beef-eaters is known simply as “Syrian Christian beef.”
This is not true of Kerala alone. In June, ahead of Amit Shah’s trip to the north-east, leaders of the party units in Assam, Arunachal, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim were warning the BJP high command that any proposal to ban the trade in cattle would hurt the party in the elections.
In July, Goa Chief Minister and erstwhile member of the Union cabinet Manohar Parikkar was earnestly ensuring the state assembly that his administration was taking all possible steps to ensure against a shortage of beef in Goa. And the party’s Meghalaya unit chief was busy blaming “vested interests” for spreading the rumor that the BJP would ban beef – please read that part over again, slowly – and assuring the people that no UP-style beef ban would happen if the BJP came to power.
Hypocrisy (noun): The practice of claiming to have higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case.
For the BJP, as evidenced by its own words and actions, there is nothing “holy” about the cow – the ‘Mother’ is to be saved or slaughtered purely on the basis of the political calculus of the time and place. If calling the cow ‘Mother’ serves to win votes, fine; if not, kill, consume, do as you wish, just vote BJP when the polls roll along, thank you very much.
Okay, where were we?
June 9: Steel bombs are hurled at the CPM office in my hometown, Kozhikode.
July 5: A VHP activist and yoga instructor is arrested for hurling petrol bombs at the headquarters of the CPM in Coimbatore, in Tamil Nadu, in retaliation for the violence in Kerala. Unpack that slowly – a yoga instructor’s response to violence is not peace but spreading the violence to a neighboring state.
July 12: Seven activists of the Left are injured after bombs are thrown at a gathering of party workers. Hours later, offices of the BJP and RSS in Kannur are set on fire.
July 28: In a series of widespread attacks across the state capital, houses of CPM leaders in Thiruvananthapuram are vandalized. Six RSS activists are arrested and a cache of lethal weapons are seized from the RSS office.
#August 6: Kummanam Rajasekharan participates in a meeting with senior CPM leaders aimed at restoring peace. The meetings are “cordial”. It is, remember, the second such meeting initiated by the CPM, at which the state BJP chief was present. Against that, the RSS/BJP has called only for hartals, for the dismissal of the government, for President’s rule. Never for peace.
September 8: One day after BJP president Amit Shah was slated to flag off the padayatra protesting Left violence, seven bombs containing high explosive are recovered from an RSS center in Kannur.
The catalogue of RSS/BJP criminality above is by no means exhaustive, but it serves to underpin a question: How did we get here, to a point where the national dialogue is one of right-wing victimhood – including as late as last week in Parliament — and where there is no acknowledgement of the fact that the Left is as much sinned against as sinning?
That both sides are guilty is not, by the way, a judgment devoid of factual underpinning. Analysis (Scroll, FactChecker) of police data obtained through RTI from Kannur, ground zero in this vicious conflict, shows as topline that during a 16-year period ending November 2016, 31 RSS/BJP activists have been killed in that region as against 30 from the CPM. Each one of those 61 deaths deserves condemnation but equally, so does the cynical politics of one side that consistently, with help from its fellow travelers in the media, paints itself as the innocent victim of this bloodbath.
So what is happening on the ground? The RSS/BJP combine is in the thick of what Subramanian Swamy, now a foot-soldier of that camp, once termed The Final Solution. The strategy has two prongs: On the one hand, to consolidate its hold on those states it already controls; on the other, to disrupt states that are ruled by opposition parties, to create an atmosphere of violence and instability in those regions and look to trade in on the resulting anarchy. (For instance, note the steady drumbeat of calls for President’s rule in Kerala because of CPM violence – where in that argument is any mention of the fact that the RSS/BJP is as violent, if not more?)
The BJP, in its honeymoon period after Narendra Modi’s barnstorming win, touted development as its mantra, and as the reason it should be favored over all others by the electorate. But after widespread farmer unrest, after demonetization, after the chaos in the wake of GST, after the decline of the GDP, ‘development’ as a mantra has a shopworn look to it. (BJP president Amit Shah underlined this problem the other day when he said that people should not “rely on statistics”).
So if ‘development’ is not the open sesame to the Kerala assembly, what then? Cultural appropriation was tried, and found wanting – notably when, last year, Amit Shah attempted to subvert the traditional Onam celebrations and twist it into a risible ‘Vamana Jayanti’, oblivious among other things of the fact that the Vamana legend has no backstory; the fourth avatar of Vishnu merely lasted for a few hours.
And so the BJP-RSS combine, in the midst of an unprecedented push to acquire adherents, is forced to fall back on the one infallible play in the book: violence.
By gaslighting (or at least, attempting to), as for instance when one of its subsidiaries organized a pork festival hoping someone would protest. (OMG, you will totally believe what happened next because this is Kerala).
By using fake photos and videos to incite, to pour further fuel on already raging flames, as the BJP state chief and general secretary among others have done.
By stockpiling weapons, making bombs (and celebrating the bomb-makers as valiant warriors), by carrying out random attacks and, when retaliation comes, playing the hapless victim and using it as an excuse for further provocation, gaslighting, and renewed violence. All this in the hope – expectation — that the state’s machinery will crumble under the ceaseless onslaught, and the BJP can then come in and prey on the spoils.
And if in the process people are killed, if the societal equilibrium is upset, if industry suffers in a state that has long resisted wholesale industrialization and only now awakened to the danger of hard-Left obstruction and begun to reverse the process, what of it?
All of this begs the question: How much stress will you put on a society, how high a price are you willing to pay, in the interest of capturing power for its own sake? Where do you draw your moral line? What is it you will NOT do for the sake of narrow political gain? The “Nation” might not want to know – but it should, for the sake of its own safety, security, sanity, ask the question. Because if not now, when – after the house has burned down in its entirety?
It is a question that is largely absent from the carefully curated mainstream discourse underwritten by the national government and ventriloquized by its captive media outlets; it is to raise that question that I write this.
Originally published as 'So hey, let’s talk about Kerala' at Smoke Signals.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.