Thursday, September 4, 2008

When Might is Right: A study of political action in J and K, Orissa and Kerala

We see today in different parts of the country the sight of rulers standing helplessly before organized forces. The Central and State government were reduced to the role of spectators when Muslim separatists ran amuck in Kashmir valley and Hindu communalists in Jammu province. Jammu and Kashmir is a State where an extraordinary situation has been prevailing since long. This limits the freedom of operation of the regime. This does not fully explain the failure of the authorities but it deserves consideration when we appraise the situation in the State.

Orissa does not resemble Jammu and Kashmir even remotely. The wave of violence set in motion by communal elements there following the murder of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati has not subsided at the time of writing. Reports say thousands of Adivasis driven away from their villages are still hiding in the forests. The State government discouraged MPs who wanted to visit the trouble-hit areas, saying it cannot guarantee their security.

When we examine the Orissa developments, there are reasons to believe that the violence was pre-planned, as in the case of the anti-Muslim riots of Gujarat in 2002. Swami Lakshmanananda was engaged in wooing back to the Hindu fold tribesmen who had embraced Christianity. Earlier, too, there had been attempts to kill him. Although the authorities said suspected Naxalites committed the murder, the Sangh Parivar ignored it and turned against the Christians. Even after Naxalites owned up responsibility, the Parivar did not revise its position. It appears that just as the Godhra incident was used to carry out a plan prepared in advance in Gujarat, Swami Lakshmanananda’s killing was used as a pretext to put through a plot hatched against the Christians in Orissa’s tribal region.

The burning of Graham Staines, a foreign missionary, and his sons, aged seven and nine, in a vehicle by communal elements in Orissa nine years ago is an event we can only recall with a sense of shame even today. In the circumstances, the authorities must have foreseen the possibility of the situation in the tribal region getting out of hand. Yet they were not able to take effective steps to prevent violence. They could not also bring the situation quickly under control once violence broke out. It may not be quite correct to say that they are not able to keep the miscreants in check. The fact is that they are not able to work for it sincerely. The Biju Jana Dal chief minister, Navin Patnaik, is in office with the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party. At the national level, the BJD is associated with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. All this renders the Patnaik regime inactive before the Sangh Parivar’s organized strength.

The Orissa violence must have aroused the most anger and anxiety in Kerala. After all, this is the home of the country’s largest Christian community. Priests and nuns deputed by different Churches in Kerala are actively engaged in social work there. There were reports that their institutions were burnt down and that many of them were hiding in the forests. This makes the Orissa events something more than a mere challenge to secularism from communal forces. It is a problem that directly affects us.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and its affiliates are in the forefront in organizing protests against the Orissa events. This, no doubt, is in keeping with their proclaimed policies and traditional positions. But, then, all parties work with their political interests in view. The party, which has been publicly clashing with the leadership of some Churches, evidently sees the Orissa developments as an opportunity to improve its relationship with that religious group. The Christians being hounded in Orissa are mostly Adivasis. That the CPI (M) has never shown to the Adivasis of Kerala the kind of sympathy it is pouring out for the Adivasis of Orissa directly proves this. Here, the party has been with the hunters, not the hunted. The CPI (M) has not been behind anyone else in extending protection to migrants from the plains who encroached upon the tribal territory extensively with the cooperation of the political and bureaucratic leadership in the years since Independence.

The CPI (M) has also adopted a negative approach to the agitation by the landless, most of them Dalits and Adivasis, going on at Chengara estate for a year. The blockade, which the plantation workers’ unions, including the CITU, which is under the control of the party, began on August 3, is an attempt to bring a people to their heels by denying them food and medicine, as the Americans did in Iraq. Not only those who wanted to express solidarity with the agitating landless people but also government doctors who went to provide medical aid were denied access to the estate. There have been complaints that those who came out of the estate to buy food and other essential commodities were stopped and harassed. The police did nothing to check such acts. Instead, it provided total protection to those involved in such activities. P.V.Rajagopal, a well-known social worker and vice-chairman of a commission constituted under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister to study land reform, was also stopped when he went there to talk to the leaders of the agitation. A press photographer recorded that scene. In the picture, a police officer can be seen, standing like a scarecrow in a paddy field. That picture conveys the same message as the news reports from Kashmir, Jammu and Orissa: the regime stands paralysed before an organized force.

When leaders who remained silent as such scenes were enacted nearer home become eloquent about the Orissa violence, one must assume there are political considerations behind it, not human considerations. The organizers of the blockade had declared that they would march into the estate and drive out the agitators on Wednesday, exactly a month after the blockade began. In the light of the situation prevailing there during the past month, this declaration had aroused anxiety. Since the authorities woke up and acted promptly, the workers’ march passed off without any untoward incident. This shows Kerala society can still avoid lapsing into a situation where Might is Right. This is a development that kindles hope. The political and official leadership which foiled the ill-advised move of the labour unions through timely intervention deserves three cheers. The statement of the Leader of the Opposition, who has been silent all this while on the Chengara issue, at this stage that the police is indifferent, is, to put it mildly, strange.

The attack on the police station at Kottackal the other day and the blockading of teachers and officials by student and youth organizations at different places in the State are all activities based on use of force. The political parties that control these organizations must realize this and be ready to give them up. A consensus on such issues is needed more urgently than Special Economic Zones to ensure Kerala’s progress.
Based on column “Nerkkazhcha” appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated September 4

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