The ongoing turf war between workers of Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Sangh Parivar in Kerala's politically sensitive Kannur district aggravated further, with the rival outfits taking out parallel processions and pageantry on Tuesday, on the occasion of Sree Krishna Jayanthi.
The events, organised under the aegis of Balagokulam and Balasangham, children's outfits backed by RSS and CPM respectively, passed off peacefully on Tuesday. But the unease they created in a district which has already witnessed violent clashes may linger on.
Such post-Krishna Jayanthi tensions had led to clashes in several parts of the district in the past. The police was on its toes since it recovered seven high-explosive steel bombs from a temple under the control of RSS at Keezhur, on the eve of the festival this year.
Last year, an RSS worker at Thalaserry was killed while manufacturing bombs. The police had later recovered a big cache of weapons from his house. The temple from where the bombs were recovered on 8 September this year was one of the concluding spots for the 'Shobha Yatra' organised by Balagokulam.
The police averted a showdown between the two warring groups this year by assigning separate spots and routes for their respective processions. The police also did not allow them to go beyond 6 pm. Over 3,500 policemen, including armed personnel, were deployed in sensitive areas of the northern district.
The Balagokulam, which has been conducting the programme for the last 40 years, organised processions in about 450 centres in the district. Children dressed up as Krishna and Radhika in glittering robes took part in processions organised by the RSS-backed outfit. The Balasangham also took out over 300 processions.
The CPM, which celebrated the occasion for the first time in 2015, used the same religious symbols. But following criticism from several quarters, the party kept out deities the next year and instead depicted social reformers like Sree Narayana Guru and Ayyankali, freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh and Mohandas Gandhi, and former president APJ Abdul Kalam.
But the processions organised by CPM this year did feature religious symbolism alongside cultural leaders. It came with the slogan 'Great personalities for humanity'. Many children turned up decked in Krishna attires in processions led by district secretary P Jayarajan at Thillankkary, where an RSS worker had fallen prey to political violence in September last year.
The CPM had earlier opposed the Shobha Yatra, saying it was a strain on children. The Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), the youth wing of the party, had even undertaken a door-to-door campaign against parading children on the streets.
However, the party set aside this concern for children as well its atheistic moorings, and mooted parallel pageantry in 2015, alleging that the RSS was using the religious event to wean children into the Hindutva ideology. Though the programme was said to be part of the CPM's campaign against communalism, it was confined mostly to Kannur district. The party did not organise such programmes in other districts.
The CPM had organised the first Shobha Yatra saying it was part of its week-long Onam celebrations in the state. The second yatra in 2016 was organised on the pretext of Sree Narayana Guru Jayanti and Chattambiswamy Jayanti celebrations. And the third one is purportedly aimed at spreading the renaissance message.
The BJP views the CPM's bid as an attempt to disrupt the Balagokulam's Shobha Yatra. The party's state president Kummanam Rajasekharan termed it as a challenge to the believers and the children. He said it was against the spirit of the peace meeting initiated by the government to end the spate of political violence in the district.
"Though the CPM's counter processions were brought to the attention of the peace meeting, the district administration and the police were obliging the CPM by enforcing restrictions on mike permit and denying permission to Balagokulam processions," he alleged.
RSS leader Valsan Thillankery said the CPM was organising parallel events after the party found its cadre increasingly being drawn into the saffron fold. He said that a large number of CPM workers belonging to the Hindu community have been joining BJP in Kannur, as they felt that the latter was the best defender of the community's interests.
"The CPM is rattled by the spiritual awakening among Hindus. They are experimenting with new tactics after they failed to use muscle power to stop the exodus of cadres. But this too will not succeed. CPM workers are fed up with the party's outdated philosophy," he said.
However, P Jayarajan, CPM's Kannur district secretary, said there was nothing religious in the party's programme. He said the party was countering the Sangh Parivar's attempt to utilise the occasion to take children to the streets with political motives. "Traditionally, Ashtami Rohini had been observed by believers in temples. It was the Sangh Parivar that took believers to the streets. And it's the Sangh Parivar which is opposing the CPM's processions, because it fears children would be weaned away from the Balagokulam processions," he added.
He said that the procession, being organised under the aegis of cultural organisations with a slogan "great personalities for humanity", was being opposed by the Sangh Parivar because they feared that it would draw a large turnout like it did last year.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said CPM's decision to organise the programme on Sree Krishna Jayanthi revealed its ideological bankruptcy. The party is trying to counter RSS by staging religious events, as it is clueless about its political standing, he said.
Political observers view the CPM's indulgence in the Hindu religious activity as a sign of the communist movement's decay. NP Chekutty, a political analyst based out of Kozhikode, said that the CPM was trying to fool the people by organising a parallel programme on Krishna Jayanthi. "If the party is honest, it should conduct the programme as a religious event. Instead it is organising it under different names. This is cultural mimicry," he said.
Political observers view the CPM's decision to confine the programme to the violence-prone northern district alone as an admission that the party cannot stop the growth of the RSS through arms.
Kannur, the cradle of Communism in the state, has been gripped by waves of political violence ever since RSS made inroads into the Marxist bastion in the 1980s. More than 250 people have been killed and hundreds maimed in cross-fire in the district over the last three decades.
The stand-off between the two sides in the run up to the Shobha Yatra has turned many places in the district into flash-points, threatening to escalate the fragile situation in the coming days. View More