The Kerala Left Front government’s decision to allow its DGP to initiate criminal proceedings against the Pradesh Congress Committee president and order a CBI inquiry against two of the senior-most Congress leaders, both in a week, have not only angered an otherwise docile Opposition, but also exposed the double standards of the ruling regime. In an action-packed week, which witnessed the announcement of a byelection, the Pinarayi Vijayan government first allowed its DGP Loknath Behera to file a defamation case against state Congress chief Mullappally Ramachandran for his remark that the police chief was behaving as if “he is a branch secretary of the CPM”. In a letter to the government last May, Behera had sought permission to file a defamation case against the PCC president under Section 199 (4) of the CrPC since Mullappally’s remark would “create misunderstanding among the public and hurt the morale in the police force”, not to speak of “tarnishing” his own image. Normally, the government ignores such requests since the onus solely lies on the complainant to prove his or her credibility in a court of law. For reasons unknown, the government led by a communist Chief Minister thought otherwise and has now allowed Behera to prove that it is an insult to be compared to a branch secretary of a communist party. The government order issued by the additional chief secretary observed that the comments made by Mullappally were highly defamatory for a “public servant of the rank of DGP and state police chief”, and hence approved the legal route. Ironically, in Kerala, where communist thought and ideology run deep, being an active worker of a Left party is no more considered demeaning as was the case in the 1940s and the 1950s. Today, a branch secretary of either CPM or CPI holds a respectable position in society, though cases of misuse of power have sullied the post as well as the parties’ image of late.
Even if one forgets about the comparison, going by his track record as police chief of the state, Behera will find it difficult to prove his credentials, let alone his image in public mind. Under his stewardship in the past three years, the state police force has shamefully failed again and again in protecting people’s lives and property, having been involved directly or indirectly in the death of 30 ordinary citizens, in custody and otherwise. In these three years, the state had also witnessed three deaths in two encounter killings, including a woman activist belonging to an ultra left group. This does not include political killings which have touched 20. While nine people were killed in 2016, five murders were reported in 2017 and four in 2018. This year, so far two persons, both Youth Congress workers, have been killed in one incident weeks before the general elections. In most of these cases, the accused either belong to CPM cadre or are goons hired by local party leaders. In some of these cases, the government is directly involved in defending the accused, with the police playing a crucial role in erasing evidence. The general impression in the state is that Behera and his Chief Minister have no control over the police force.
Even as the Congress accused the Left Front of following in the footsteps of the BJP government at the Centre, the government announced its decision to recommend a CBI probe into a graft case involving former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and the Leader of the Opposition, Ramesh Chennithala. The 2006 case related to irregularities in setting up of an effluent plant worth Rs 256 crore in the state-owned Travancore Titanium Products Ltd. It is said that the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau, which had probed the case, suspected inter-state and international deals that needed further investigation, prompting the government to seek CBI’s help. However, it is the timing of the investigation that is being questioned. The opposition United Front, which has hitherto failed to mobilise any mass movement against the Left Front, has been quick to see a “BJP-like” operation in the state. “It is fascism,” Ramesh Chennithala has said while vowing to face the probe. Chennithala claimed that Pinarayi Vijayan was engaging in cheap political hounding stunts right before an election. A byelection is scheduled to take place end of this month for the Pala Assembly constituency, a fiefdom of the late K.M. Mani whose Kerala Congress is part of the opposition UDF. The CPM is desperate to improve its performance in the election after its drubbing in the general elections.
But how a CBI inquiry is going to help the government in regaining its lost ground is something which only the CPM leadership will know. People’s memory of this government is one that of spending huge amount of public money to thwart CBI inquiry into a couple of murder cases where CPM leaders’ involvement is suspected. These include the sensational murder of CPM rebel T.P. Chandrashekharan and the slaying in public of Youth Congress worker S.V. Shuhaib. Earlier in 2018, the Kerala High Court, due to objections from the state government, had rejected a PIL filed by a BJP-affiliated organisation, Gopalan Adiyodi Vakkeel Smaraka Trust, to order a CBI inquiry into the killings of seven BJP-RSS workers since the Left Front came to power in 2016. This was despite the CBI expressing its willingness to probe the same.
Selective use of CBI and trying to defend an indefensible police officer are not what is expected of a communist government that claims to be championing the cause of the working class. No one in Kerala is foolish enough to believe that CPM and its partners in the Left Front are not aware of the writing on the wall.