When Red Fades, It Turns Saffron
The Sangh Parivar’s attempts to wrest control of Kerala’s Left bastion, Kodungallur, is threatening to undo the town’s historic legacy of communal harmony. KA SHAJI reports
KODUNGALLUR IS an ancient seat of tolerance and communal amity. This coastal town in central Kerala, with a sizable population of upper caste Hindus, was supposedly where St. Thomas — one among the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ — landed in AD 52 to preach Christianity, and was welcomed by the locals. Later, the port town reaffirmed its faith in the harmonious co-existence of religions when its popular king Cheraman Perumal embraced Islam and went to Mecca for Haj. Even the unique taste of the presiding deity at the ancient Devi temple here caused no communal disturbances. Interestingly, the goddess likes risqué talk, sexual humour and sexually explicit songs. During the annual Bharani festival in April-May, devotees throng the temple and sing ribald songs to the deity. Despite these unusual circumstances, there has been no record of minority communities living close to the temple finding fault with the centuries-old tradition.
However, the situation is different now. Hindutva forces are now trying their best to get control of the temple and sow seeds of intolerance and animosity among different religious and social groups in Kodungallur municipality and its adjoining panchayat areas. The temple administration has been threatened against leasing out land to Muslim and Christian traders to put up stalls during the annual festival. For the last 10 years, lumpen elements of the Sangh Parivar have been forcibly removing the stalls of people from other religions during the annual festival. During the last Christmas season, the Sangh Parivar had enforced an eccentric and illegal ban: no trader near the temple was permitted to sell Christmas stars made out of glittering paper. These stars are traditionally displayed in front of homes to celebrate the arrival of the festival. Whenever India wins cricket matches against Pakistan, the Sangh Parivar uses that opportunity to hold mammoth anti-Muslim rallies. Muslim members of the CPM and its youth organisation Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) are often dubbed agents of the Muslim extremist organisation National Development Front (NDF).
KODUNGALLUR IS rapidly turning into a Hindutva lab. The BJP-RSS are determined to tear apart its rich legacy of communal harmony and social solidarity. “We will not allow them to implement their communal agenda here,’’ says MB Rajesh, state president of DYFI. But Kodungallur is turning into a new flashpoint for CPM-BJP clashes, second only to the volatile Kannur district. With the CPM and DYFI coming out in support of the minority communities and declaring an ideological war against the Sangh Parivar’s hate campaign, Parivar forces started engaging in murder politics. In the first week of July, DYFI area vice-president, Karekkattu Biju was allegedly stabbed to death by BJP-RSS men. The murder was followed by a three-day hartal and widespread destruction of property belonging to followers of the Sangh groups. Shops, houses and vehicles of innocent people were attacked; even pedestrians were not spared. Paramilitary forces have been deployed and an eerie silence prevails in Kodungallur.
“Both the BJP-RSS and CPM are equally responsible for the destruction. The police inaction in arresting the real culprits is equally condemnable,’’ says Oommen Chandy, Kerala’s Opposition leader and top Congress man.
“The CPM never abetted violence. We were just attempting to ideologically fight their hate campaign. Four DYFI activists were killed here in the recent past for fighting the communal agenda of the BJP-RSS,’’ said Rajesh. He also said that his outfit was against murder politics but would not hesitate to give a fitting reply to unprovoked assaults.
Local BJP leader PK Sreekumar goes back to the 80s to trace the origin of murder politics in the region. “A young RSS leader named Satheesan was brutally killed in the beginning of the 80s by CPM-DYFI goondas. They were worried over his ability to win over youth to the RSS fold. The prevailing tension is a sequel to that,’’ he said. According to him, another RSS worker was killed last year by DYFI activists without any major provocation. “The violence will stop once the CPM recognises our right to hold shakhas and conduct everyday political activity,’’ he says. He remained silent when the long gap between the murder of Satheesan in the early 80s and those of 2008 was pointed out. Sreekumar also had no reply when asked about those who killed the four DYFI activists.
The CPM camp says Biju was a clean and honest political activist who never engaged in any violence. “The targeting of people with no criminal background shows the cruel mind of the BJP-RSS men. We are in the process of uniting all like-minded forces to fight their agenda,’’ said CPM’s local leader MA Vijayan.
“In the past, bloodletting in Kodungallur was limited only to the sacrifice of cocks as part of temple rituals. Though blood and belief blends in symbiosis during the Bharani festival, murders are quite new to the region,’’ says TN Joy, a Kodungallur-based human rights activist.
According to him, the volatile situation emerged last year with the advent of a powerful local BJP leader — even his detractors are afraid to name him — who considered muscle power the best way to ensure growth for the party. His first agenda was to take control of the temple. First, he took the contract for conducting fireworks during festivals. “The revenue ranges between Rs 75 lakh and Rs 1 crore while the expense would only come to around Rs 17 lakh,’’ informs Joy. The leader then took control of the right to allocate space for advertisements during festivals. He gets at least Rs 2 crore from this business.
“That leader is behind all the existing problems here. ‘Groupism’ and other internal problems made the CPM’s ranks ineffective in the last three years. The BJP leader used that period to consolidate his position,’’ says K Venu, former Naxalite leader and independent thinker.
Local journalists are also under threat. A passing reference to the criminal past of a BJP leader in an article resulted in the brutal manhandling of Kerala Kaumudi reporter KM Mithran. The house of Somasundaran, the owner of a local evening newspaper, was damaged in response to a series of articles against BJP-RSS activists.
“Only the CPM and DYFI are fighting the Sangh Parivar agenda in Kodungallur now. That is why their activists are getting killed. It is the duty of all secular and democratic forces to fight the communalists’ agenda of segregation in Kodungallur using all democratic means,’’ exhorts Venu. •