The all-party conference called by Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan on Saturday having resolved to take steps to end the chain of violence in Kannur district, the people are waiting to see if the feuding political parties will turn a new leaf.
Nearly 200 persons have been killed in recurrent political violence in the district since 1961.
To begin with the combatants were members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress, which head the fronts that have been alternating in power for nearly three decades.
The killings began when some CPI-M supporters defected to the Congress and the party tried to liquidate them. After the two parties struck a deal to end clashes, CPI-M defectors started gravitating towards the Bharatiya Janata Party, as its militant partner, Rashtreeya Swayamsevak Sangh, was seen as the only organisation capable of protecting them.
Thereafter CPI-M and BJP-RSS cadres became the main combatants. The worst clashes between them took place in 1981. Twelve persons were killed on each side that year. A scrutiny of the death roll of the clashes suggests that the two sides constantly try to achieve parity in casualties.
The two sides have experienced no difficulty in finding followers who are ready to kill and be killed. One reason is that both the parties command fierce loyalty. Party leaders support families of members who get killed and provide legal and financial assistance to those arrested.
The CPI-M, as a party that comes to power in alternate elections, is able to help its jailed cadres to get parole and other benefits. On more than one occasion the High Court has made adverse references to favouritism shown towards CPI-M prisoners.
The weekend peace effort came after a fresh round of violence in which the BJP-RSS camp lost five lives against CPI-M's two, and its supporters retaliated outside the State. The CPI-M's headquarters in New Delhi, Andhra Pradesh office in Hyderabad and district office at Nagerkovil in Tamil Nadu and the residence of its Karnataka state secretary in Bangalore were stoned.
Both the CPI-M and the RSS are cadre-based organisations with a high reputation for discipline.
Although they have been clashing in Kannur for long, leaders on both sides were able to confine the troubles to the district.
There is reason to suspect that the almost simultaneous attacks on CPI-M targets outside the State were the result of a conscious decision by the national BJP-RSS leadership. The CPI-M alleged as much.
BJP and RSS leaders, on their part, alleged that the CPI-M, which heads the government, initiated the latest series of attacks. They also alleged complicity between the party and the police.
The question who unsheathed the knife first has only limited academic relevance. The first attack evoked an almost instant retaliation at a point not far away. Evidently both sides were ready with theirs knives.
Kannur is a cradle of the Communist movement in the State. Since the CPI split in the 1960s, it has been a stronghold of the Marxist faction. In the State party, the district enjoys considerable clout as the home of a galaxy of leaders from the charismatic AK Gopalan to the present State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan.
The BJP is a weak force in the State. Although at one stage it commanded about eight per cent votes, its support base lies scattered and it has not been able to win a seat in the State Assembly so far. Kerala is the only major State where the party has no representation in the legislature.
The poor clout of BPP-RSS in the State is a factor that has precluded the possibility of a deal between it and the CPI-M on the lines of the one that the latter worked out with the Congress.
While the BJP-RSS attacks on CPI-M offices outside the State invited universal condemnation, they have changed the rules that governed the game of political violence in Kannur. Now the CPI-M has to reckon with its rival's clout elsewhere in the country.
A hopeful aspect of the government's handling of the latest bout of violence is the statesmanship shown by Achuthanandan. In his first public comment, he rose above narrow partisanship, which is a hallmark of CPI-M's approach to many issues, and voiced regret over his party's involvement in the violence.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 17, 2008.