The hartal observed in Kerala on April 16th was a different phenomenon for many reasons.
The incident in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua region, where an eight-year old girl was raped for days and brutally murdered and the BJP Ministers coming out to protect those who committed the crime, shocked every human being. The hartal on April 16th was called in the wake of the growing outrage across the nation against the rape and murder. What is most amusing is that it was not declared by anyone. It is understood that a call for hartal was circulated through the WhatsApp groups. Local cultural committees, sports clubs and libraries were all at the forefront spearheading the hartal and promoting it. The workers of almost all political parties had taken part in the protests and programs on that day. The hartal which began on a low scale was seen gaining momentum by noon. A large number of people took part in the protests. The rage stirred by the Kathua rape and murder and the resentment towards the Sangh Parivar atrocities, were the factors that bound the crowd together. It shows that the Kathua incident had an impact deep enough to bring a large section of the people to the streets without any specific call.
However, after the hartal there have been attempts to demonise it. It was LDF convener Vaikom Viswan who initially remarked that extremist organisations were behind the hartal. Kodiyeri Balakrishnan had also put forth a similar view. What would be the reason for the CPM to adopt such a stance on a hartal called against the RSS brutalities? The participation of the members of the Muslim community in the hartal was big. It is a fact that the CPM has only one method to dissect the social activities in which Muslims take part or any that takes place in the Muslim majority areas. And that is to stamp it as an act of extremism. When the people in Malappuram who were on the brink of losing their homes due to land acquisition for the development of National Highway took to the streets, and those in Mukkom who were driven away from their homes in the name of GAIL pipeline protested, CPM had dubbed it all as extremism. In both the places, majority of the victims belonged to the Muslim community. Despite even the CPM local committee members from the respective areas taking part in the protests, there is only one reason for the CPM to raise allegations of extremism. The party has reached a stance that and every social movement organised by Muslims is extremism.
Like the BJP and the CPM, Congress and the Muslim League had come out against the hartal. There are reasons for that. The Muslim Youth League had earlier given a call to defeat the hartal. However, the hartal was at its strongest in Malappuram, the stronghold of League. Locally, it was the Muslim League supporters who took part the most in the hartal. The fact that a large section of the community and the supporters are moving ahead with their own political sense might have upset the League. In that case, alleging extremism was the easiest way. If one takes a count of the League supporters who were arrested in the name of hartal, the absurdity of their allegations of extremism would be exposed.
There are observers who read into this WhatsApp hartal signs of popular politics taking shape the world over. This model of people-based politics represents a phenomenon wherein marginalized and disaffected sections outside the realm of conventional political leadership, take centre stage of the political discourse. The rise of such a political move is something that discomfits parties and alliances both on the left and right. That is the sole background factor that led to a united front against the hartal. One has also to take note of the actions taken by police in Kerala, the moment the conventional politicians raise their chorus against the hartal. The youth who have been arrested across the state number in the hundreds. Many of them were arrested from their homes at midnight. In Koduvalli, Kozhikode, the hartal supporters have been put in detention on non-bailable charges of causing religious hatred. Their actual guilt was that they shouted slogans against the Central government. Does the Left government construe slogans against Modi government as a crime of causing communal friction? The police have so far been taking such acts as to create a high degree of insecurity in minority localities. Suitable action of course has to be taken against those who committed violence during the hartal. But that is different from the police trying to suppress with brute force the manifestations of nascent political awakening which will take matters to dangerous consequences. Those concerned would do well to remember that.