Police administration in Kerala
The hallmark of a genuine politician is the ability to turn even adversity to account. But there are others who have an uncanny knock for courting controversies. One should have thought that it would be extremely difficult to break the record of former chief minister Oommen Chandy in creating controversies. But given the pace with which his successor, Pinarayi Vijayan is lurching from controversy to controversy, the former’s record is in real danger of being broken.
The latest controversy relates to the utterly inhuman police excesses on a grief-stricken mother battling for justice for her deceased son. All that the mother Mahija whose son, Jishnu Pranoy who died under suspicious circumstances, was attempting was a peaceful sit-in in front of the Kerala Police Headquarters seeking immediate arrest of all those responsible for her son’s death. The police would have us believe that it was a case of suicide. But the mother and other family members say it is a case of cold-blooded murder because of Jishnu’s attempt to resist the errant ways of the management of the Nehru Engineering College, Pambadi of which he was a student.
But an arrogant police refused to allow the peaceful protest. In a shockingly insensitive action which has a touched off a wave of indignation across the state, the police removed the mother by dragging her all the way to the police van! The utterly ridiculous argument advanced by the police was that protests outside the police HQ cannot be allowed!
What was even more shocking was the Chief Minister’s defence of what is undoubtedly indefensible. The CM justified the police action, sending shock waves even within the CPM. The police were only trying to lift Mahija and remove her from the site. There was no attempt to drag her away as is being made out by the opposition parties. This was against overwhelming evidence provided by the TV cameras which tell an entirely different tale.
Expectedly, the Opposition Congress and the BJP are trying to extract maximum political mileage out of the sordid episode. In fact, the two parties called for a bandh yesterday which was total – eloquent proof of the people’s wrath over the insensitive police action.
To say that the incident, seared into the collective psyche of the Keralites, would extract an enormous cost both in political and electoral terms is only to state the obvious. The whole thing has come as an acute embarrassment for the ruling LDF as it is locked in a grim electoral battle for the Malappuram Lok Sabha by-election caused by the death of IUML stalwart and MP, E. Ahmad.
But there are silver linings to an otherwise dark cloud. A few leaders have emerged with flying colours from the acid test. They are CPM patriarch V. S. Achuthanandan, CPM Politbureau member M A Baby and CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran. VS fired the first salvo. As soon as the news of the incident came out, VS called up state DGP and gave him a piece of his mind. Achuthanandan also rang jup the distraught mother of Jishnu and other members of the family to express his solidarity with them.
PB member M A Baby also came out with a strong reaction. He scoffed at the police claim that protests cannot be held before the police HQ. Condemning the police action in no uncertain terms, Baby said the police bungled badly in the matter. The barbaric way the police reacted was simply not the policy of the LDF Government, and it is clearly the handiwork of a few policemen who were innocent of the government’s police policy, Baby asserted.
The incident also brought into the open the north-south divide in the CPM. Apart from Baby, Finance Minister Thomas Isaac also deplored the police action. Even leaders belonging to the famous Kannur Lobby within the CPM have chosen to remain tight-lipped. CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan came out with a neither-here-nor-there kind of statement: The party would examine whether the police made a mistake or not!
CPI state secretary Kanam was also unequivocal in his condemnation. This was simply not the way to react to a peaceful protest by a distraught mother. Has the police lost basic human values, he asked, adding that such incidents would inflict irreparable damage to the credibility and reputation of the LDF Government. The Government should take an extremely serious view of the unfortunate incident. That was Kanam’s considered view.
Meanwhile, there are indications of the mother and other family members hardening their stance. Mahija said a firm no to an offer of talks by the DGP. She has insisted on action against the policemen who manhandled her and family members. In fact, she is on a fast from her hospital bed. And as soon as she leaves the hospital she would resume her sit-in before the Police HQ. That is what the mother has vowed to do. An initial effort made by Minister Kadakampally Surendran to mollify her has failed. There would be no talks before action against the guilty policemen. That is her firm stand. And if the widespread dismay and horror the incident has caused is any guide, the people are firmly behind the mother.
It is time for the CPM’s central leadership to intervene. Otherwise, things could go out of control. In fact, there are unconfirmed reports that CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury has conveyed his displeasure over the clumsy handling of the issue to CPM state secretary, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. There is no denying the facts however unpalatable they are to the state CPM leadership. The earlier the rampaging police is reined in, the better. The Government must take expeditious action to police the police. (IPA)