Even for Keralites, for whom hartal has become a way of life, the one they suffered on Monday is something dubious and mysterious. It was secretly planned through Facebook, Whats App and Twitter, with minimum publicity, known mainly to the group members who hit mainly the Malabar region of the State. There were violent incidents throughout the region, with highly provocative communal slogans and appeals, all to provide justice to the 8-year old poor girl of Kathua, who was raped and killed. Many vehicles were burnt, buses damaged, a sizeable number of people injured including police persons in the undeclared hartal, which took everyone by surprise though the intelligence wing had warned about such moves to the authorities. In some areas of Malappuram battlefield like scenes were seen where hartal activists clashed with the police.
It is a serious development. Groups of people could organize almost secretly such violent acts shouting communal slogans spreading hatred do not augur well. The fact that 950 activists were arrested too indicated that it was well planned and a large number of people were involved. Among the arrested majority belonged to SDPI and PFI activists. However some of them belonged to the IUML, Congress, CPM and other parties. This shows that a number of SDPI and PFL activists may have managed entry into other parties secretly which many suspected for long. However leaders of IUML, Congress, CPM and other parties disassociated with the hartal and condemned it as well as expressed concern that such activities can be organised secretly in the state.
The whole issue has to be seen in the background of activities of some front organizations of the IS operating in the state. Many were recruited from the State and taken to Afghanistan and Syria and even training camps were held in the hilly terrains of the state. There are some social media outfits trying to propagate IS and its activities. It is true that these elements could not make much headway among the minorities in the state. Majority of them belong to IUML which is a moderate organization and its head, Panakkad Thangal, is highly respected spiritual leader of the community. Even after the Babri Masjid demolition there no major incident in the state is a proof of the influence of Thangal and IUML among the community.
But the Monday’s secretly planned violent hartal, presumably to ignite communal violence and spread hatred, show that the situation is not all that harmonious and peaceful. It also shows the state of affairs in the state police. The custody deaths in the state speak volumes for its brutality. Inefficiency to handle mass demonstrations with tact is widely known. That the police could not prepare itself to face the Monday hartal in spite of information given by the intelligence wing is a matter of concern. Perhaps what is needed immediately is to place it under some capable officers and not those who are willing to perpetuate the interests of the people in power and fail to uphold law and order.
Be that as it may, the situation in the state warrants strict vigil and effective functioning of law enforcing agencies. Organising a well planned secret hartal reflects the strong presence of the negative forces and the weak presence of the state administration. This is a disturbing situation. It is a threat to the peaceful life in the state and undoubtedly will keep the investors away. None would like to risk their capital in a state threatened with such activities. Above all, it threatens to destroy the state’s well known secular values and cosmopolitan outlook. The presence of these danger elements are now not restricted to just a few misguided youth. Clearly their number is now swelling.
Ignoring the realities would mean allowing these forces to flourish. The perilous situation needs to be handled with care and tact. This would mean handling the whole matter not as a law and order problem alone but meeting the challenge politically. Winning these forces back to the mainstream would mean a test for the political leadership ultimately. The state has to find out the reasons for the estrangement of the youth in the minority community and take steps to win them over as a first step. Such measures need to be supplemented by the tactful handling of the police and backed by dynamic administrative skills.