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INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.
     CURRENT ISSUE OCTOBER 16, 2006
 
   STATES: KERALA
 

Not So Godly

An investigation into the communal carnage that occurred in Marad in May 2003 has indicted the state's entire political class

 
  PICTURE SPEAK

ARMS AND THE WOMEN: Marad after the incident

All the political parties of the state like to take the credit for God's Own Country remaining relatively free of the communal violence that has ravaged many other parts of the country. But they can't do that now. For the Judicial Commission's inquiry into the communal carnage that occurred on Marad beach, Kozhikode on May 2, 2003, which killed nine people, has indicted the state's entire political class for it. The one-man commission headed by Thomas P. Joseph, district and sessions judge, has also put in the dock the civil and police administration as also four key officials for having failed to prevent the carnage. The Left Democratic Front (LDF), which tabled the commission's report and the Action Taken Report in the state legislature last week after the Oommen Chandy government sat on it for three months, has decided to request the CBI to conduct a fresh investigation into the incident as directed by the commission.

The Government has initiated punitive action against the indicted officials, including a district collector and two IPS officers. "The report rips open the façade of our so-called enlightened society," says Sukumar Azhikode, prominent thinker and writer.

The incident involved a gang of about 90 armed people unleashing terror in a Hindu-dominated area. The gang attacked everyone in sight, leaving eight, all Hindus, dead and scores injured. One of the assailants, a Muslim, was also killed. Later the police arrested a few assailants and seized a large cache of arms, which consisted of swords and country bombs, from the Juma Masjid at Marad.

VOICES

"The Antony government had bowed to fundamentalist pressure, which caused the disaster."

V.S. ACHUTHANANDAN, CHIEF MINISTER

"I did not opt for a CBI inquiry because all political parties, except the BJP, were against it."

A.K. ANTONY, EX-CHIEF MINISTER IN UDF GOVERNMENT

"We were the only party to demand a CBI probe, which was opposed by all other parties."

P.S. SREEDHARAN PILLAI, STATE BJP PRESIDENT

The state police's Crime Branch CID (CBCID), which investigated the case, later found that the incident was in retaliation to the communal clashes that occurred in the same area a year ago, when five people-two Hindus and three Muslims-were killed.

The 2002 incident was a rare case of communal clash in the history of the state, following a rumour that a Hindu boy had misbehaved with a Muslim girl during the new year celebrations in the area. The state police later filed charge-sheets against 115 people accused in the riot. The Judicial Commission has found that there was undue delay by the then UDF government in prosecuting the accused. Maximum number of accused were workers of the Muslim League, followed by those of the CPI(M) and the BJP.

After the carnage of 2003, the CBCID filed charge-sheets against 148 people, although it did not point to the involvement of any external fundamentalist or terrorist organisation. The commission has now said the incident was not merely retaliatory in nature, but was a well-planned, deliberate and unprovoked attack on Hindus in which Muslim fundamentalist and terrorist forces were involved. It has come down heavily on the CBCID for not investigating the larger conspiracy or the source of weapons and funds, and has lambasted the then A.K. Antony-led UDF government for not entrusting the investigation to the CBI.

The commission also suspects that it was the pressure exerted by Muslim League leader P.K. Kunhalikutty, industries minister in the UDF government, which held Antony back from ordering a CBI probe as demanded by Hindu organisations. It has also accused the Antony government of ignoring state intelligence reports which said that two ministers in the government had close ties with a person who was suspected to have funded the terrorists in Marad.

The commission has criticised the CPI(M), the BJP/RSS and the Muslim League for taking advantage of the religious divisions among the backward fishing community to further their political ends. It blames the CPI(M) for attempting to create divisions between the Hindu and the Muslim sections after a combined candidate put up by the BJP and the League in the panchayat election defeated its candidate. The BJP/RSS and the League have been blamed for all the communal disputes that have occurred in the area. The then Kozhikode district collector T.O. Sooraj, the then IG of police Mahesh Kumar Singla who headed the CBCID investigation, Kozhikode City Commissioner of Police Sanjeev Kumar Patjoshi, and Assistant Commissioner of Police Abdul Raheem have been named for having failed in their duties. The commission has taken Sooraj to task for having permitted Muslim League leader and Union Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed to perform namaaz in the locked-up Marad Juma Masjid at a time when prohibitory orders were in force and the communal divide was at its peak. The mosque was shut down after the police hauled up many assailants and seized a huge cache of arms from there.

Predictably, the report has triggered a storm in the state, with every party getting into a blame game. The BJP and other Hindu organisations claim that the report has vindicated them totally. "We were the only ones to demand a CBI probe, which was opposed by all others," says P.S. Sreedharan Pillai, BJP state president.


Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan says Antony and the then UDF government owe an explanation to the people for the serious lapses the commission has cited. Antony says it was his government's timely action that prevented the communal flare-up from spreading. "I did not opt for a CBI inquiry because all political parties, except the BJP, were against it. Besides, the advocate general, too, had recommended against it," he says. Antony's argument is that he never saw the intelligence report which referred to the links his ministers had with a person who had allegedly funded the carnage. Kunhalikutty has dismissed the commission's findings as "speculation and arbitrary guesses".

However, Vayalar Ravi, Union minister for non-resident Indians, hopes the report would be an eye-opener for all political parties and especially for those who are in the government. Interestingly, all the parties which had opposed the CBI probe tooth and nail, have now welcomed it wholeheartedly.

The ongoing blame game vindicates the commission's epilogue: "Attempt to gain, regain or retain political upper hand was found to be one reason for major communal clashes. It is high time, if not too late, for the political parties to introspect."

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INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.
CURRENT ISSUE
OCTOBER 16, 2006
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