Even as the police is in the dark over the instigators behind the hartal, it is somewhat clear that the aim of the hartal-mongers was to disrupt communal harmony in the state.

 

On Monday, 16 April, the day after Vishu, the Malayalam new year, Kerala was witness to a bizarre bandh in select districts of the state, mainly those in the north. Apparently, the undeclared “WhatsApp hartal” was called by social media groups on Monday, seeking justice for the eight-year-old gang-rape and murder victim in Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir. But police now suspects it was an attempt to spread communal discord in the state. The flash strike resulted in large scale violence in Malappuram, Kozhikode, Kannur, Palakkad and Kasaragode. Normal life was badly affected in all these districts. With no one owning responsibility for the bandh, it was free for all with lumpen elements making the most of it. According to reports from these districts, mobs supporting the bandh allegedly vandalised shops and business establishments; stoned and burned private and public vehicles. Even those on their way to attend weddings and funerals were not spared. Public transport came to a halt. Several police personnel and passersby were injured in the violence. Police have taken 250 people in judicial custody and declared prohibitory orders for a week in many parts of north Kerala. Now an alert has been sounded for the next three days, following intelligence inputs of communal riots being planned in parts of the state. According to the police, most of the arrested belonged to Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political wing of the Popular Front of India, an organisation the Central government plans to ban. However, no political party or any other group had owned up to issuing the bandh call. The ruling CPM and the opposition Congress leaders were taken aback by the mass response to the bandh. They had absolutely no clue as to what was happening in those five districts. Most of the leaders came to know of it through television channels. It is a shame on the part of mainstream political parties that their organisations failed to intervene and bring things under control, especially in areas where they have considerable influence.

Even as the police is in the dark over the instigators behind the hartal, it is somewhat clear that the aim of the hartal-mongers was to disrupt communal harmony in the state. There are allegations that arsonists targeted the members of a particular community while enforcing the bandh in those affected areas. The BJP on Wednesday sought a probe by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) into the incidents. The party’s state president, Kummanam Rajasekharan said the assailants wanted to unleash communal violence in north Kerala. “Extremists have found their way into the ruling CPM. So the NIA should probe into the violence that took place under the guise of the hartal,” he said. Three days after the hartal, police has arrested around 950 people in connection with “the premeditated political act that pitted communities and disrupted life in certain areas”. More arrests are to follow. Though there is concrete evidence as such to terrorist links, the arrested include activists from Muslim militant groups, Muslim League, Congress and even the CPM. That militant communal forces have successfully infiltrated into the ranks of mainstream political parties is seen as a dangerous trend. There have been intelligence reports that northern Kerala has become a hotbed of terrorists, with many families reporting members joining Islamic militants abroad. But it seems that police and the government have not taken their activities seriously enough. Otherwise how can one explain the swelling of ranks of SDPI and the Welfare Party of India, the political front of the Jamaat-e-Islami? Both organisations have condemned the arrests of its members, but not the bandh or the violence that followed. “The police are hunting people from the minority community over a hartal called on social media. It was quite natural to have such reactions against atrocities by the Sangh Parivar,” Welfare Party secretary Sajid Khan said.

But the question remains: Who is responsible for this false hartal? It cannot be denied that at the final count it is the government of the day which is responsible for keeping law and order in the state. The government has failed in its duty. What is the duty of the police if the force cannot detect that such a bandh was going to take place and take prompt action to thwart the same? What was its cyber cell doing? There is no answer to this except the state police chief Loknath Behera promising stringent action against those found responsible for the bandh call. Going by past experiences, these are mere hollow threats, just for the sake of public consumption. Promises are not translated at the ground level. Such anonymous bandhs can happen again. There is no guarantee that it can’t. The Chief Minister, who is also the home minister, is yet to respond to the happenings of 16 April. Time and again his police has failed the system, but he is refusing to hand over the crucial portfolio to someone else. Vijayan seems to be following the footsteps of party ideologue E.M.S. Namboodiripad, who too held the home portfolio while leading the government; of course, to disastrous consequences. Marxists seem to have an uncanny knack for not learning from the past. But can it be at the cost of the state is the question.

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