Congress and three CPI MLAs condemned the growing police violence in the state.
New Delhi: The endorsement that “If our police beat us up, what is your problem Congress?” (very catchy to hear in chaste Malayalam!) must be music to policemen in Kerala, coming days after the state Chief Minister accused them of helping the RSS during the Sabarimala agitation. The police all the more welcomed it as it came from the junior partner in the ruling Left Front government, the Communist Party of India (CPI).
Now a pale shadow of its original self of the 1950s with hardly any mass following, the CPI was known to have leaders who had the stature to stand up to the Big Brother CPM. But the party’s credibility was dented early this week when the state witnessed a bizarre incident in which the police brutally beat up protesting CPI workers and students in central Kochi. The issue relates to a fight between CPM’s Students Federation of India (SFI) and CPI’s All India Students Federation (AISF), a regular feature in state campuses, at Government College, Vypeen, off Kochi. Two AISF leaders were admitted to hospital following the clash. Subsequently, CPI’s Ernakulam district secretary, P. Raju, was heckled by a group of CPM supporters when he went to visit the students at the hospital. A local CI, who was present at the hospital did not interfere. The next day, hundreds of CPI supporters marched to the Kochi Range IG’s office demanding action against the CI. The march turned violent and the police resorted to a lathicharge in which a local MLA was thrashed so badly that his left hand was fractured, the district secretary had a patch on his skull and another senior leader, too, broke his hand. Though the police claim that they did not manhandle the MLA, videos of the incident clearly show that the officers singularly picked on the legislator. This was perhaps the first time that a legislator belonging to a ruling party was roughed up by the police in the state.
Strangely, while the injured CPI leaders and the Opposition Congress condemned the incident and expressed concern over the growing police atrocities in the state, the state CPI leadership, especially the state secretary, Kanam Rajendran, did not react for two days. The Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan as usual referred to the incident as an “isolated one” which “should not have happened” and asked the district collector to submit a report on the incident. CPM state secretary, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, went one step ahead saying it was an “unfortunate incident” which had “pained” him very much as CPI comrades were brothers. It was after a meeting with Pinarayi and Kodiyeri at CPM headquarters, amid reports that four ministers belonging to CPI had raised the issue at the Cabinet level, that Kanam Rajendran dropped a bombshell saying “police did not beat up party men at their homes…they (CPI cadre) went asking for it”. Kanam said, “We went there and got beaten up. The lathicharge began only after we marched up to them. The police didn’t attack the party secretary or MLA in the confines of their home.” He further said: “CPI cannot dance to other’s tunes…cannot act like an Opposition party. It was a collective decision by the CPM and the CPI that the collector should probe the incident. Based on the report, action will be taken.” While the injured MLA and other senior leaders belonging to Ernakulam district committee continue to hold the police responsible for the incident, it is not clear as to what the CPI state leadership tries to convey to party workers by giving a clean chit to the police. It will be interesting to see what action is taken once the collector submits his report. Going by past experience it is unlikely that any police official will be booked. At best, the CI concerned may be transferred.
The political twist here is the sudden submission of CPI leadership to what some party men used to refer to in the past as the “authoritarian style of functioning” of the Chief Minister. In the past three years, the brunt of criticism against the Left rule centred around the police force, which is controlled by the Chief Minister, who is also the Home Minister. CPI used to question and had even dared to differ with the CPM on many issues, mainly on illegal land holdings in the hills of Munnar. The party’s revenue minister had a running battle with the Chief Minister’s Office regarding this. Handling of the police force was another bone of contention. But of late, the CPI state leadership seems to have developed cold feet and has been toeing the line of CPM in many incidents, leading to public outcry, the latest being the custodial death of a private financier in Idukki district. The local CPI leadership was the first to raise the issue of police-CPM nexus in the murder and had demanded action against the district SP. However, the state leadership overruled its district committee and supported the government decision not to take any action against the SP, said to be a confidant of a CPM minister from the area, who in turn is known to protect the land mafia in the hills. Whatever be the reason for this turnaround by the CPI, some say political blackmail by CPM, the Left Front is now reduced to one-man rule. Pinarayi Vijayan’s is the last word, in CPM and the government. People of Kerala will have to live with that for another two years.