POLITICS

Encounter-Killing Of Maoists In Kerala: When The Ruling Class Left Takes On The Revolutionary Left 

What the government cannot overlook is the manner in which its forces operate.

28/11/2016 2:49 PM IST | Updated 28/11/2016 3:35 PM IST
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Incoming Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan (C) stands alongside Governor of Kerala P. Sathasivam (R) as he takes part in a swearing-in ceremony in Thiruvananthapuram on May 25, 2016.

The recent encounter killings of two alleged "Maoists" in the Western Ghats of Kerala is an exceptional incident for two reasons: one, it spoils the reputation of a state that doesn't extra-judicially shoot and kill its people like many other states in India allegedly do; and two, it exposes the contradiction of the ruling CPM that prides itself on its (past) revolutionary fervour, but cannot stand the alternative left that also subscribe to a similar ideology of resistance.

Laughably, both the CPM - or the Kerala Marxists - and the Maoists belong to the same ideological stock because primordially their inspiration is the same: Marxist revolution. Even while subscribing to Marx, Lenin (and Mao), one tactically took to democracy, while the other persisted with their revolutionary path. While the former's shift to Indian "bourgeoise" democracy made them the ruling class, the latter are stuck in Mao's great proletarian cultural revolution of the 1960s.

With no credible explanation from the government as to why the two—a woman and a man—both not from the state, were killed and not captured, the suspicions of a fake-encounter are credible.

Their names have changed from Naxalites in the 1960s and 1970s to Maoists now; but they are more or less the same. Chairman Mao is their inspiration and they continue to live in the bushes.

With no credible explanation from the government as to why the two—a woman and a man—both not from the state, were killed and not captured, the suspicions of a fake-encounter are credible. That both were ripped apart by bursts of bullets and that the police couldn't produce any evidence of them being armed, makes the suspicions very strong.

From media reports, it looks like a one-sided attack and the onus is on the government to prove otherwise. The government has ordered a magisterial enquiry, which will be conducted by the district collector. How impartial can a government employee's enquiry about the conduct of his own government be? That's the question that a lot of people in the state are asking.

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NEW DELHI, INDIA - MARCH 19: CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat (C) speaks to the newly elected chief minister of Tripura Manik Sarkar (L) as Pinarayi Vijayan during Sangharsh Sandesh Rally at Ramlila maidan on March 19, 2013 in New Delhi, India. Launching a scathing attack on the UPA government CPI-M accused it of following policies that favour the rich and were also leading to high inflation.(Photo by Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

A group of prominent citizens that included well-known writers, historians and activists have demanded a judicial enquiry by a High Court judge because they fear a cover-up if the government itself probes the incident. Being a "Maoist" is not a crime for a shoot-at-sight order, they said. The state needs to know what was their crime and how they were killed. The accounts that circulate now are contradictory, they said.

This is a fair demand and the Pinarayi Vijayan government is under a lot of pressure primarily because the state's tolerance to "encounter" killings is very low. The state hasn't had one in the last 46 years since a legendary Naxalite leader, Arikkad Varghese, was killed in a fake encounter. Varghese's killing is a perpetual blot on the state's public conscience. Its perpetrators of the crime had been sent to jail decades later when the police constable who pulled the trigger confessed in his old age out of crushing guilt. The police atrocities during the emergency later made the people of the state extremely vigilant against possible rights-abuses by the police and the government.

"The state government should examine whether there is something wrong in somebody raising his voice for the welfare of tribal and the scheduled caste people. Nobody has the right to gun down those expressing their opinion. If anybody tries to silence such people, it is not suited for a civilised society."

The Congress, except the opposition leader and former home minister Ramesh Chennithala, has also expressed doubts over the claims of the government, with the president of the Kerala unit asking for a judicial enquiry. He also said that the probe by the crime branch of the police or a district collector wouldn't be sufficient to clear the cloud of suspicion. A young Congress legislator, VT Balram, took to Facebook to compare Vijayan with communist dictator Kim Jong Un of Korea and became the target of vicious attacks by CPM-supporters. His post titled "Why Encounter Killings" carried a photoshopped image of Vijayan resembling Kim Jong Un and a hashtag "PeoplesAuditOnPinarayiGovt."

A bigger embarrassment for Pinarayi Vijayan came from his own ally in power, the Communist Party of India (CPI). Kanam Rajendran, party secretary, was scathing when he said that the "state government was not elected to copy encounters as followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi."

"The state government should examine whether there is something wrong in somebody raising his voice for the welfare of tribal and the scheduled caste people. Nobody has the right to gun down those expressing their opinion. If anybody tries to silence such people, it is not suited for a civilised society," he reportedly said.

That Vijayan was quite casual about the incident is clear from his initial reaction. He said that it was an ongoing problem - there have been attacks by Maoists on the police and the latter have been looking for them and a similar encounter seems to have happened. However, when pressure mounted, a minister in his cabinet, G Sudhakaran, said that the Government had no role and it was a police action that would be probed.

It will be really hard for Vijayan and his government to prove that this was a genuine encounter and the police killed the duo in self-defence. So far, the police haven't been able to present a credible case. The possessions of the Maoists that they displayed to the media looked very basic - some solar panels, battle-fatigues, tablet-computer, SIM cards, food etc. There is no evidence of an armed gang that needed to be taken down by a battalion of "Thunderbolts", the armed police dedicated to anti-Maoist operations in the state.

Gopalan's problem was that his party was in power and his point was simple: our revolution was for the working class and against the bourgeois ruling class, but your revolution is against us. Pinarayi's problem is no different.

The CPM's problem will also be its historical baggage regarding the radical left. The most well-known Naxalite leader in the state, K Ajitha, had recounted how inimical the CPM had been even in the 1960s when their ideology was taking roots in the state. In her memoirs, she quotes AK Gopalan, the leader after whom the party headquarters in Delhi is named, as saying that their effort would not help the labour-peasant movements, but would destroy the "revolutionary organisation" while strengthening the bourgeoise ruling class.

Gopalan's problem was that his party was in power and his point was simple: our revolution was for the working class and against the bourgeois ruling class, but your revolution is against us. Pinarayi's problem is no different.

Beyond the debate about encounter-killing, and whose ideology is really left, the more fundamental question is if Kerala really needs such an overkill? Does the Maoist situation in the state really warrant an excessive operation? Is to secure central government's anti-Maoists funds as some allege?

Although there are no major incidents in Kerala, that is no ground to allow them to set base and also make it a sanctuary for leaders who are wanted in other states.

All that the state has witnessed in the name of Maoism so far are propaganda, some incidents that resembled standard political vandalism, and reported sightings of leaders. The state government, whether headed by the Congress or the CPM, has a point when it says that it has a justifiable constitutional responsibility to thwart the growth of Maoist presence in the state because they are a threat to national security.

Although there are no major incidents in Kerala, that is no ground to allow them to set base and also make it a sanctuary for leaders who are wanted in other states. However, what the government cannot overlook is the manner in which its forces operate. It cannot be extra-judicial, that too when a left party is in power.

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