Party Gramam: Stronghold or stranglehold?

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 15 Jul 2017 10:05:40


Such symbols of CPI-M on the roadside proclaim as to which party dominates a village or an area in a village.

By Kartik Lokhande,

 Pinarayi/Kannur,

July 14,

If you are travelling to rural parts of Kerala, especially in Kannur district, and you come across bus-sheds painted all red or electric poles painted with letters denoting abbreviations of various political entities and apolitical organisations affiliated to those, you are in a village dominated by that political entity or ideology. In short, you are in a ‘Party Gramam’ or a ‘party village’. On record, every political party or its affiliates will deny existence of such a ‘thing’. However, in private, people speak of ‘Party Gramams’ and how they are not ‘strongholds’ (as the parties would call it), but are ‘strangleholds’.

 


Pinarayi, the home-town of current Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, is said to be one of the ‘party gramams’ of CPI-M, but the party calls such phrases as ‘media exaggeration’

A police officer, wishing to remain anonymous, said that ‘party villages’ did exist. It is political domination that is on its gory display in these villages, he said. The concept was first nurtured allegedly by Communist Party of India (Marxist). In some cases, in the recent past, CPM did not allow victims of rape and other crimes in its ‘party villages’ to lodge police complaint. Instead, the party settled the matter locally. According to police sources, there are more than 50 party villages in Kannur district alone.

P Jayarajan, District Secretary, CPM, strongly denies existence of something called a ‘party village’. “Media is propagating these kind of things. There is no threat to anyone in elections. Free and fair elections are held. Polling rate is very high in Kerala which is an indication of a healthy democracy. In the last Assembly elections, 83 per cent polling took place. Democracy exists in its full meaning in Kerala. Youth and women participate actively in political development in Kerala,” he says.

 


Parapram is the place where the first meeting of Communist Party was held in Kannur district. Now, this place has been converted into a memorial.

According to P Jayarajan, in Kannur district, the only municipal corporation at Kannur is ruled by CPM. Of nine municipal councils, seven are ruled by CPM, and one each by Congress and Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). Of 71 Panchayats, Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by CPM rules as many as 57, followed by 14 by Congress and IUML. Besides, all 11 block Panchayats in Kannur district are ruled by CPM, he says.

Adv Bala Ram, Prant Sah-Sanghchalak of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), says ‘party villages’ of CPM do exist. “In party villages, CPM controls everything,” he says. According to him, a book of CPM’s party meetings found some time ago had details about what was going on in a household in a village controlled by the party. “This reveals how strong is party’s hold in villages under its control. In many cases, even the family disputes are settled with the intervention of party’s local office, and not through police or court,” he adds.

Umesh Babu, a Marxist poet who has parted ways with CPM, also had a taste of CPM’s dominance in a village. He was a speaker in a programme organised by Yuktivadi Sangham, a rationalists’ organisation, at Vallur near Payyanur in May 2017. However, local CPM people threatened the organisation’s office-bearers and forced it to cancel the programme. Sadly, no one speaks about this kind of intolerance.

On record, right from CPM to IUML to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), everyone denies that they recognise the concept of ‘party villages’. However, irrespective of the denial by CPM and others of the existence of ‘party villages’, one can see clearly the political domination in various villages in the form of ‘coloured’ road-side bus-shelters, electric poles. In some cases, even the wells are painted in red to indicate CPM domination.


RSS painted on electricity poles indicate the influence of the organisation in this particular area of Pinarayi.

Electric poles painted with letters CPM, RSS, IUML, INC (Indian National Congress) indicate who is dominating which area. In some villages, one can see electric poles painted with different letters in different localities. The sickle-and-hammer symbol made in cement and coloured in red or golden can be seen in Pinarayi, the home-village of present-day CPM Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in various corners. Similarly, the image of Che Guevara can be seen on hoardings, banners, bus-shelters built by CPM and pro-CPM outfit Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI).

Besides, Feminists Kerala Network, in its fact-finding report relating to the case of violence against one Dalit woman auto-rickshaw driver Chitralekha in 2010, offers an interesting comment regarding ‘party village’. It states, “In Malabar, there are entire villages that are controlled by various political parties, of which the CPI (M) is the most dominant one. Once a party takes over a village, it enforces an extra-judicial power over all the people who live in that village. The CPI (M) exists and thrives in North Malabar through the use of such power over entire villages. Anyone who questions the party or goes against its wishes are harassed, alienated, ostracised and sometimes even killed.”

An indirect admission to the existence of ‘party villages’ could be found in the statement of Home Minister in the erstwhile Congress-led UDF Government, that the Government would ‘evacuate and liberate’ such villages.
All these raise the question whether the ‘Party Gramams’ are really only ‘political strongholds’, as described by CPM and others; or, are the ‘strangleholds’ on exercise of democracy and normal life? Only those living in these villages and trying to practice and preach any other ideology than the one dominant there, can answer the question...

(Pics by: Kartik Lokhande)

(To be continued)