Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader Kundan Chandrawat–now relieved of his post as joint publicity chief in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh–holds Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or the CPM, responsible for the death of “more than 300 RSS pracharaks (crusaders) and activists” in the state.
But over 16 years to 2016, the number of party workers killed from both sides in the northern Kerala district of Kannur–a hotbed of such fighting–has been roughly equal: 31 from the RSS and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and 30 from the CPM, according to police data obtained by 101reporters.com through a right-to-information request.
The reply from the Kannur district police, dated November 16, 2016, said details of caste, religion and age were unavailable.
Between 2000 and 2016, Kannur reported 69 political murders. In 2016, the RSS-BJP tally of deaths (four) in political clashes in Kannur was one more than the CPM’s (three) but in the 15 preceding years, both parties lost 27 supporters each to political violence.
Source: Kannur district police, in this Right-to-information reply
While the scale of murders was greater during the reign of the CPM in 2000 and between 2006 and 2011, the CPM also reported more than or an equal number of victims of politically-motivated violence as the RSS-BJP.
In the Congress-led government’s term between 2001 and 2006, the RSS-BJP lost three more workers than the CPM. In its second term from 2011 to 2016, both parties reported four victims.
The district reported no political murders in 2003, while 2000 and 2008 were particularly violent, with the CPM reporting 11 dead and the BJP-RSS reporting eight, according to police data.
Source: Kannur district police, in this Right-to-information reply
CPM-bastion Kannur accounts for 20-50% of all political murders in Kerala
Kannur is considered to be a bastion of Kerala’s communist movement since the 1930s. Kerala chief minister Vijayan, a local, won his assembly seat from this district’s constituency of Dharmadom.
With a population of 2.5 million and a literacy rate of 85%, Kannur is said to be the state’s most violent territory–more so with the advent of the RSS in the 1960s, according to this Firstpost series from November 2016.
Last year, the much-publicised “revenge murder” of RSS-BJP activist K Ramith (mentioned as C Ramith in the RTI data), following the murder of CPM party leader K Mohanan, took place here, India Today reported in October 2016.
Kerala reported the third-highest number of murders (12) committed due to political reasons in 2015, the top two states being Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, according to 2015 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, the latest available. A quarter of these crimes were committed in Kannur alone.
On further analysis of the NCRB data, we found at least half of all politically-motivated murders in this state of 14 districts were reported from Kannur during the CPM’s last term, between 2006 to 2011, and one year of its term in 2000,
During the two terms of the Congress-led state government, 20-30% of political murders reasons were from Kannur.
FactChecker contacted the Kerala Director General of Police’s office requesting district-wise information of data shared with the NCRB on political murders, but the DGP’s office denied the request, saying the office does not fall under the RTI and that such information was difficult to collate.
Crimes reported in Kerala have steadily risen over nearly a decade, according to state police data. From 252,408 cases reported in 2008, the police registered 707,541 cases in 2016, up almost two-fold.
RSS threats/ allegations and CPM’s reactions
On March 1, 2017, at an RSS rally in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, protesting the killings by Marxists in Kerala, Chandrawat–sharing the stage with BJP Lok Sabha Member of Parliament Chintamani Malviya–offered to award his wealth and property to anyone who would bring him the Kerala chief minister’s head, a remark for which he was relieved of his responsibilities.
“Haven’t you killed 300 pracharaks and activists?” said Chandrawat. “We will offer a garland of three lakh human skulls to Bharat Mata, this is a warning to Leftists.”
Referring to the Godhra train-burning incident in 2002 and the Gujarat riots that followed, he had also said: “Have you forgotten Godhra? Fifty six were killed, 2,000 were sent to the graveyard. They were pushed beneath the ground by the same Hindu community.”
“The Sangh Parivar has taken heads of several,” Vijayan said replying to the death threats.
Sangh Parivar has taken heads of several: Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan on RSS Mahanagar Prachar Pramukh of Ujjain Kundan Chandrawat’s remark pic.twitter.com/B9DgACCm3u
— ANI (@ANI_news) March 2, 2017
A day after Chandrawat’s statement, Kerala state president of the BJP, Kummanam Rajasekharan, posted on Twitter a list of 12 RSS-BJP activists allegedly killed by CPM in nine months since the party won the state elections in May 2016.
— KummanamRajasekharan (@Kummanam) March 2, 2017
Chandrawat later retracted his statement, and the RSS has relieved him of “responsibilities” as sah prachar pramukh (joint publicity chief) in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh.
Kundan who made controversial statement at Ujjain protest mtg has been relieved of his responsibility in RSS: Dr MM Vaidya pic.twitter.com/4t1emJH5PT
— RSS (@RSSorg) March 3, 2017
Thereafter, three RSS members were allegedly attacked by the CPM on March 5, 2017. RSS leader Rakesh Sinha tweeted Kerala is “in the state of anarchy.” “President’s rule seems only solution.”
— Prof Rakesh Sinha (@RakeshSinha01) March 5, 2017
While condemning Chandrawat’s statements of violent retribution, the Kerala BJP said the party does stand by the sacked leader’s allegation that the CPM government has been targeting RSS-BJP party workers and activists in the state since it came to power in May 2016.
“From the 1960 to 2016, the CPM has killed 270 BJP-RSS party-workers. Vijayan himself is a murderer. He killed one of our party workers when he was a local CPM activist in the 1960s,” R Sandeep, state media coordinator for BJP Kerala, told FactChecker on the telephone.
“The CPM-led Left Democratic Front government is targeting our RSS-BJP people because of the vital role we are playing in Kannur–their stronghold–which is probably the party’s strongest remaining point in India. They are provoked because we are putting up a decent fight.”
CPM leader Nilotpal Basu said the RSS claims were “absolutely false”.
“In fact, if you look at our CPM body count, it is more,” Basu told FactChecker over telephone from Delhi. “This is a concerted campaign by the RSS to destabilise governance in Kerala… the first incident of violence since we assumed power in 2016 happened the day after we won the elections when one of our own comrades was killed.”
“The RSS did this to provoke some kind of retaliation from the CPM and they continue to provoke violence and then charge the state government and administration for it. Not only do we have to suffer the loss of our comrades, we also have to deal with these allegations; but we will fight them,” he said.
(Saldanha is an assistant editor with IndiaSpend and Factchecker. Patil is the founder of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)