The Communist Party of India (Marxist) terms Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act – popularly known as UAPA – a draconian law, but in Kerala, the only state it is in power, it has given freehand to police to slap UAPA on those who even possess literature of banned outfits.
The latest incident that provoked a debate on the UAPA was the arrest of two college students in Kozhikode district. Alan Suhaib and Thaha Fazal, students of law and journalism respectively, have been slapped with UAPA for their alleged links with Maoist outfits.
Police claimed that Thaha and Alan were in possession of Maoist literature. Thaha faces more severe charges that he raised pro-Maoist slogans when the police reached his house for search. Many senior CPM leaders have criticised the police, which is under direct control of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, for their insensitive actions.
However, Pinarayi doesn't heed to the charges. On Monday, he echoed police's claims in the Assembly. It fuelled further criticism that he relied on police reports, despite CPM leadership's demand that the government should control the force.
What triggers the criticism from within the Left fold is the fact that the two youths arrested in Kozhikode were CPM supporters. Alan hails from a family of staunch CPM supporters. The police action has thus given Pinarayi's critics, including the opposition Congress, a chance to accuse him of using UAPA against even his own party supporters.
As many as 25 UAPA cases have been charged after CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) under Pinarayi Vijayan came to power in 2016.
'Parties need UAPA while in power'
“It's strange to note that all political parties need UAPA while they are in power. The CPM is a party which vehemently opposes the law, but the same party uses the law when it's in power,” rights activist and Left sympathiser Sebastian Paul told Onmanorama.
Paul, who was elected to the Lok Sabha as an LDF-supported independent, is highly critical of Pinarayi on the way he deals with the police. “As a home minister, one will have to defend the police. However, there should be some limit,” he said.
Paul said it was surprising to see Pinarayi extending full support to the police force even as being himself a victim of police atrocities. During the Emergency, police had brutally tortured Pinarayi, who was an MLA at that time.
“This could be a reflection of one's attitude towards power. Once you assume power, there could be a feeling that it is your duty to safeguard the system,” he said. Calling that mentality a trap set by Parliamentary politics, Paul said late Communist stalwart A K Gopalan had warned his party leaders against falling into the trap.
Political observer K Venu, who was part of the early Naxalite movement in Kerala, echoed similar views and blamed the ideological deficit of the CPM leadership for incidents like the arrest of the youths in Kozhikode.
“There's no confusion among the CPM leadership about its stance on the UAPA. The party is opposed to it. However, the lack of ideological commitment in the present leadership in Kerala is behind the excess police actions,” he said.
When a communist party is in power, the leadership has to compel the government to follow the ideological line. But in Kerala, the party does not exist any more as a collective system,” Venu said. He went on to say that a fascist atmosphere has been prevailing in the CPM under the leadership of Pinarayi.
“The state government cannot ask the police not to slap certain existing laws on the arrested,” CPM leader K T Kunhikannan told Onmanorama, drawing a comparison between UAPA and capital punishment. “The CPM is against capital punishment, but we cannot ask the police to not slap IPC section 302 against a murder accused,” he said.
“The CPM's stance is that UAPA should not be slapped against a person. So the LDF government had decided to review the cases wherein UAPA is charged. Several UAPA cases registered during the tenure of both the LDF and the previous UDF government have been reviewed and charges dropped,” he said.
Asked about the allegations of mismanagement of police force, Kunhikannan said the police has not transformed itself to suit a modern society.
“Police force is a state machinery. The Left, when it comes to power, always tries to make the force people-friendly. But there are some practical difficulty in reforming the force which is trained to protect the interests of the state,” he said.