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Is the Left in Kerala losing space to Right-wing groups?

The arrest of Kamal C Chavara is the latest example of how Right-wing and nationalist groups are carving a space for themselves in Kerala while the Left is becoming an overarching hollow shell over the state. It is a sign that the Left in India are losing the last of its major strongholds, and that of the BJP is increasing its presence in the southern state

opinion Updated: Dec 20, 2016 11:59 IST
Viju Cherian
Kamal C Chavara, a Malayalam writer and theatre personality. (Facebook)
Kamal C Chavara, a Malayalam writer and theatre personality. (Facebook)

The fissures between nationalists or the self-appointed guardians of culture and the so-called liberal Left in Kerala runs deep and is getting evident with every passing day — with the scales now tilted towards the former. The latest example of this is the arrest of writer and theatre personality Kamal C Chavara on Sunday.

The Kerala Police arrested Chavara based on a complaint filed by the Bahratiya Yuva Morcha, the youth wing of the BJP, which felt that Chavara’s Facebook post insulted the national anthem. On Sunday evening the 41-year-old writer was released on bail, and on Monday the writer began a hunger strikeclaiming that false charges were being leveled against him and his friends.

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“The arrest is a denial of human rights, or civil rights,” says K Satchidanandan, a poet and former secretary of the Sahitya Akademi. “I saw the post by Kamal [Chavara] and did not find anything particularly objectionable in it. He has not made fun of the national anthem. He has put the anthem in a situation and it is a critique of the situation, rather than the anthem.”

On November 31, the Supreme Court had asked all cinema halls to play the national anthem before a film was screened “for the love of the motherland”.

Since then, there have been several incidents where people have been detained for not standing up for the national anthem. Film director Kamal, who voiced his disapproval of the court’s decision, became the target of the Yuva Morcha, which marched to his house in Thrissur, in Kerala, and sang the national anthem in protest.

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“It is a misuse of the national anthem. If you make the national anthem as an excuse to take revenge on those whom you consider as the ‘other’ in society, then it is a misuse. The national anthem is used as a ploy for revenge. [Director] Kamal was targeted by the Yuva Morcha only because he was a Muslim,” Satchidanandan told Hindustan Times.

Malayalam novelist and newspaper columnist Paul Zacharia feels that Chavara’s arrest was “motivated” and other events related to the national anthem reflect the failure of the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government in Kerala. “The complaint filed by the Right-wing group was one meant to harass [Chavara]. It was motivated.”

“There is a strong feeling that this government is not able to protect the rights and freedoms of the people. It appears to be carrying out the agenda of the central government,” Zacharia says. “I don’t know why Pinarayi Vijayan is afraid of the police or he is not capable of handling them.”

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“Where were these ‘activists’ till the SC judgment came? They are using this as an occasion to come to the light,” says novelist TP Rajeevan. “I am against the Supreme Court judgment, and at the same time I am against those mocking or misusing that judgment.”

Is the Left in Kerala losing space to Right-wing groups?

Many believe that recent events point towards this.

“I fear that we are losing the sense of humour. That is absolutely scary. If you can arrest someone for a cartoon or innocuous jokes, I think we’ve come to a time when we’re losing our sense of humour. This always happens in fascist and totalitarian societies. The first thing that dies is the sense of humour,” says Satchidanandan.

Read | Violence leaves north Kerala bloody as political equations change

On the political and social front, since the Pinarayi Vijayan government took office in May, there have been two visible changes in society: First, the emergence of a political restive BJP. Motivated after winning its first assembly seat from the state capital, the Right-wing party has grown bolder in making its political presence felt. The violence by Right-wing groups in north Kerala is a sign of this boldness.

The BJP has moved into the position of a third front in the state at a time when the Left appears to be equivocating from its responsibilities and the UDF allies are busy fighting each other.

“This is happening because there is an opinion, a consensus that politicians are corrupt....Also, after K Karunakaran in the Congress and EK Nayanar in the Left, leaders have lost their contact with the public,” Rajeevan told HT.

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Second, the BJP is keen to extend its “nationalist” agenda to the southern state. Though it drew a blank in the 2014 polls and won just one seat in May, the party is undeterred. Under Amit Shah, the BJP is in for the long haul in Kerala.

The Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government is failing to protect the rights, justice and freedoms of individuals — guarantees one expects from an elected government, particularly from a Left government.

“If the Left government thinks that appeasing the RSS is the right way to survive in Kerala, I doubt it. If they’re trying to do it, this is the end of the CPI(M). The Congress have been appeasing them [RSS] for years and that’s why they’re nowhere,” says Zacharia.

Read | Too early for the BJP to break out the bubbly in Kerala

The arrest of Chavara is the latest example of how Right-wing groups are carving a space for themselves in Kerala while the Left is becoming an overarching hollow shell over the state.

It is a sign that the Left in India are losing the last of its major strongholds, and that of the BJP is increasing its presence in the southern state.

@VijuCherian