A shaky peace has been put in place in strifetorn Kannur following one of the worst spells of political bloodshed in recent years in a district described as the cradle of the Communist movement. The murder of a schoolteacher early this month in full view of his students and the reprisal killings that followed shocked the social conscience and provoked a g roundswell of popular revulsion that forced the states establishment to work out a truce between the warring cadres of the CPI(M) and the Sangh parivar.
An all-party peace conference convened by chief minister E.K. Nayanar on December 6 put a stop to the week-long orgy of violence which claimed seven lives and raised the total death toll in political violence in the district to 128 in the span of two decades. However, the question remains: will the peace hold?
The peace initiative has evoked cautious optimism among the main players the CPI(M) and the BJP-RSS combine. Peace accords, including one brokered by eminent jurist V.R. Krishna Iyer, have proved fragile in the past. This time, the public outrage over the classroom killing of BJP leader and schoolteacher K.T. Jayakrishnan prompted political parties to come together in an earnest quest for peace. The brutality had clearly reached new levels.
As Kannur crawls back to normalcy in the shadow of an uneasy truce, the scars left behind by the violence have come into sharp focus. Remisha, 11, a sixth standard student of Mokeri East Upper Primary School, is being treated for insomnia and other symptoms of trauma. She was among the group of students present when their teacher was hacked to death. Then there is Amavasi, a 12-year-old ragpicker who lost an eye and a limb when a bomb went off while he rummaged through a garbage heap. "These are the victims of the bomb manufacturing cottage industry in the district," remarked Womens Commission chairperson Sugathakumari, while inaugurating a fast for peace attended by intellectual and cultural leaders in Kannur.
At its peak, the political violence paralysed civil life in the district. People were too scared to venture out of their homes even to shop for groceries, doubting if they would return home alive. The local populace is keeping its collective fingers crossed that the district will not slide back into violence.
The key guarantors of the peace the CPI(M) and the Sangh parivar are guarded on the subject. Notes CPI(M) ideologue P. Govinda Pillai: "Kannur has a long history of civil conflict. The climate cannot change overnight. But the foundations for a lasting peace have been laid this time. The parties concerned have realised that the violence has gone out of control." This sentiment is echoed on the opposite side. Observes C.K. Padmanabhan, B J P state president: "Violence is counter-productive. But it cannot be turned off like a switch."
The mutual distrust is still there. Each side blames the other for triggering the killing spree. The CPI(M) traces the Jayakrishnan episode to the near-fatal attack by RSS activists three months ago on P. Jayarajan, the manager of the Kannur edition of C P I(M) mouthpiece
Deshabhiman i. The Sangh parivar retorts by reminding the CPI(M) of the earlier murder of BJP district secretary Panyannur Chandran. Much of the bloodshed in the district occurs against the backdrop of revenge. The leadership on either side of the political divide admits that their cadres a re not amenable to controls when they are driven by the need to take revenge.
There might be a consensus for peace at the moment. But fundamental differences continue to dog the rapprochement process. RSS ideologue P. Parameshwaran explains: "Whenever two sides clash, you will find the CPI(M) on one side. The CPI(M) will not allow other parties to function in their strongholds." To buttress this claim, Sangh parivar leaders point to CPI(M) state secretary Pinarayi Vijayans call to the RSS to restrict its shakha activities to its own areas. The CPI(M) came under fire from Opposition parties at the peace conference for using the police as a tool of the party. "The police take orders not from the DGP but the AKG Centre (CPI(M) headquarters )," an RSS leader quipped.
However, the peace initiative demonstrates that the CPI(M) and the BJP-RSS combine are willing to look beyond mutual animosities that stretch back for over two decades. Leaders on both sides are now committed in public to the task of shepherding their cadres along the path of peace. And the locals can only cheer the move.