That elements in the Hindu right, including in its political wings like the BJP and the Shiv Sena, have engaged in violence, not only against political opponents but even innocent Muslims and Christians without any party affiliation, is well documented and such violence indeed deserves the strongest condemnation, and the perpetrators must be duly punished as per the law, as many of them have even indeed been, some prominent examples of convicted BJP leaders including Maya Kodnani in connection with the riots in Gujarat in 2002 (she indeed spent some years in jail and recently got bail on health grounds, over which there has been some controversy) and Manoj Pradhan in connection with the anti-Christian riots in the Kandhamal district of Odisha in 2008. Likewise, we’ve also had instances of violence against innocent Hindus by Muslim and Christian extremists. However, we have often seen many religious right-of-centre people offer all kinds of bizarre rationalizations for the violent acts of these ultra-rightist goons. The same is, however, also true for many left-of-centre people as well when they offer rationalizations for violence by goons under a leftist banner.
The most radical sections of the left are, of course, the gun-toting Maoists who have bombed election booths, killed election officers, engaged in forced recruitments, derailed trains, executed people on suspicion of their being police-informers in kangaroo courts and killed even young children who escaped from their fold, other than planting land-mines knowing fully well that they can (and even do) take civilian lives. Their attempt at imposing a dictatorship of their party cannot be a guarantee against corruption or inefficiency but would kill accountability, and possibly deprive the poor of the ladder to success that entrepreneurship or many private sector jobs have to offer. Howsoever serious the grievances may be, violence to root out democracy is not the solution. The jal satyagraha in MP in which farmers endured blisters but refused relocation without due compensation (taking to the gun would have led to enduring more and given the state more excuses) and activists taking the judicial recourse to implement the Forest Rights Act have done much more to fight exploitation of the poor than any violence would. To give starving or unemployed people the gun, taking foreign funds, is not the way one can help the nation prosper or solve the problems of the economically deprived.
However, not only the ultra-left in India, but even what claims to be the mainstream party left operating under our constitution has shed much blood. While the Nandigram episode attracted the most attention in recent years, CPI-M cadres have been involved in many murders and massacres in West Bengal, like the murder of two important Congress leaders belonging to the Sain family of Burdwan in 1970, the massacre of Bengali Hindu refugees from Bangladesh in Marichjhapi in 1979, the burning alive of Ananda Margi monks in 1982 and the killings of eleven landless Muslim labourers suspected of being supporters of the Trinamool Congress in Nanoor in 2000, among many others.
Northern Kerala has indeed, for long, seen violence between cadres of the Left and the BJP. While the BJP has failed to make much headway in Kerala electorally given the very large Muslim and Christian presence and many Malayali Hindus’ aversion to the BJP over a possible threat it could pose to the syncretic Malayali culture of the same cuisine, attire and language (and a festival like Onam being celebrated by all Malayalis), irrespective of religious affiliation, the BJP has made some headway at the municipality level in the northern part of Kerala, possibly owing to a spurt in Muslim extremism (of which there have been several examples, but one attracting attention was the chopping off of the hands of a Christian professor for allegedly insulting Prophet Muhammad in an exam question paper set by him) with many expats returning from ultra-conservative countries like Saudi Arabia.
Violence between CPI-M and RSS-BJP cadres has been a recurring phenomenon from both sides, and William Dalrymple referred to it in his book Nine Lives released in 2009. Some recent instances of murders of RSS-BJP folks, like an autorickshaw-driver in Kannur, have come to light recently on the social media. The CPI-M must rein in its goons and employ legal methods to have any political opponents resorting to violence booked; else, if their party is seen as killing others for ideological disagreement, then they are on a very low moral ground to sermonize about tolerance to others. The Congress-led coalition government in Kerala must take action against the goons, irrespective of their party banner. That the Congress has its own history of politically motivated murders, like that of Safdar Hashmi, as also the anti-Sikh riots in 1984, is another story altogether.
CPI-M folks in Kerala, in January this year, even physically attacked a former diplomat when he had come to attend a conference he was invited to, saying they were protesting against the commercialisation of higher education, but is physically attacking a guest, or anyone for that matter, the right way to do so?
This is not in the least to suggest that Hindu extremists’ crimes can be overlooked or condoned on this basis, but to highlight that unlawful violence needs to be exorcised from our polity across the spectrum for democracy to properly function and for the rule of law to prevail, rather than politicians acting as feudal lords.
(Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)