Kerala's Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan made a reference to the book 'The RSS and the making of The Deep Nation' while admitting that talks were held to check the spiral of violence between the CPM and the Sangh Parivar outfits in Kannur, his native place.
He also said spiritual leader Sri M was a mediator involved in trying to bring the feuding parties to the negotiation table.
Onmanorama catches up with Delhi-based journalist Dinesh Narayanan, author of the book, to get a big picture of the efforts to stop the unrestrained spectre of bloodshed in Kannur. Edited excerpts:
How did you stumble upon the thread of an RSS-CPM secret meeting to end political violence in Kerala?
Before the 2014 LS polls, I had profiled RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. It spoke about how the RSS had brought BJP to the cusp of power. The BJP stormed to power then. I had been researching about the RSS and that research continued as there was always an idea to develop it into a book. In 2016, someone tipped me off that talks have been held between the RSS and the CPM to end the violence in Kannur.
Providentially in 2017, a website carried a report quoting P Gopalankutty of the RSS confirming that there was indeed a meeting between the Sangh and the CPM.
(Watch this space for a video interview)
How did Sri M enter into the picture?
In my conversations with stakeholders, it emerged that Sri M had approached CM Pinarayi Vijayan expressing his wish to mediate between the CPM and RSS to end the violence. That was the time the violence had intensified. Sri M had earlier participated in a Yoga camp organised by the CPM in Kannur, where he met Pinarayi for the first time. So when Pinarayi became the CM, Sri M would have thought that it would be a great opportunity to initiate talks. So Sri M proposed taking up the mantle of the mediator and Pinarayi agreed.
Was there a series of meetings between the CPM and the RSS?
In fact yes. After the first meeting between Sri M and Pinarayi, the discussions continued. Sri M continued his meetings with the RSS leaders on the issue. He met RSS general secretary Suresh Joshi and Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat. Sri M also met P Jayarajan, the then Kannur district secretary of the CPM.
One reason why he met P Jayarajan was that on previous occasions peace talks were – this was not the first time such meetings took place – mostly initiated by district collectors and even at the national leadership level of these organisations.
When E K Nayanar was the CM, P Parameswaran had taken the initiative and RSS ideologue Dattopant Thengadi had spoken to CPM politburo member P Ramamurthy and Home Minister TK Ramakrishnan to facilitate this. It was held in Kochi.
But what used to happen in such meetings was that even though the top leadership agreed for the need for peace, it never percolated down to the cadres. Due to this, often violence would abate for some time and then flare up again. Even the district administration and the state machinery could not handle it.
So this time the district leadership got involved and one of the first things that Sri M did was to meet P Jayarajan, who assured that he did not have any grudge against anyone though he himself was a victim – his arm was slashed by rivals.
This assurance helped take the talks forward. Sri M met Mohan Bhagwat after that. Once he got the go-ahead from all the stakeholders he booked a room in a five-star hotel in Thiruvananthapuram for the peace meeting.
Why was Jayarajan roped in?
It was one of the most crucial meetings. As mentioned earlier these mechanisms used to break down once it reached the ground level. So taking the district level leadership of the feuding organisations helped create a much more conducive atmosphere and to put in place a robust mechanism to check the spiral of bloodshed.
Who were the key players present in the meeting with the CM?
Gopalankutty Master, state secretary of the RSS, Kannur Vibhag Prachar Pramukh Valsan Thillenkeri and M Radhakrishan, the MD of Janmabhoomi, the RSS mouthpiece in Kerala, and former Pranth Pracharak Sethumadhavan apart from CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. The CM was the last to arrive and he came without a police escort as this was supposed to be a secret meeting. So if the news leaked out, the talks would have been derailed.
What transpired in the meeting?
As the meeting progressed the RSS side talked about what happened in the past and how their cadres had lost their lives at the hands of CPM activists.
How did the CM respond?
As this continued, the CM said I have not come here to burden ourselves with the past but maybe to look ahead and see how this can end. I am interested in ending the violence, he said. This, sort of, broke the ice with the RSS leaders as well.
At that moment everybody came on the same page and said let bygones be bygones and let's start talking about peace, putting mechanisms in place (to end bloodshed), how to take this forward, manage the cadres, keep them assuaged and keep them on the same page and level of the respective leaderships.
The idea was to bring them to the same mindset and thought process of the leaderships. So Pinarayi suggested they hold the next meeting in Kannur itself since they had agreed to go ahead with confidence-building measures. After that, he said, he will announce that there had been meetings between the CPM and the RSS and they were putting in place mechanisms to end the violence.
When was the next meeting?
The next meeting in Kannur was also a crucial one in which the local leadership of the organisations also participated and they were taken into confidence. More confidence-building measures were talked about in detail. More intricate mechanisms were put in place like the exchange of phone numbers of local leaderships to contact each other because till then what used to happen in Kannur was that there was no communication between local leaderships. They didn't even know whom to talk to if some untoward incident happened – they always used to communicate through the government machinery, administration etc. So the government machinery was always dealing with this and this time a mechanism evolved so that key people from either side could sort it out in case of any untoward incident.
Did Sri M attend the Kannur meeting?
Yes. The Kannur and Thiruvananthapuram meeting were the ones he attended. Don't know of any other meetings of major stakeholders which he attended.
How did Sri M manage to bring sworn enemies to the negotiating table?
When the CPM held the Yoga camp in Kannur, he came in touch with senior CPM leaders in Kerala.
He was already familiar with top RSS leadership. Those days he had done this walk of hope from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, which took a little more than a year passing through all major states. He had interacted with political leaders throughout the county. This could have given him the confidence to try and mediate in such a thorny issue. Since he was familiar with the thinking of various political parties and ideologies, he had a better understanding of the feelings on the ground as well. That is probably the advantage Sri M had, unlike an administrator – district collector or a chief secretary – who are bound by administrative norms and rules. SO this was more informal, open and candid. That helped.
Your book talks about the RSS campaign to publicise the Kannur violence nationwide
Sometime during this peace initiative, the RSS was also running a campaign called 'Redtrocity'. The first meeting of the 'Redtrocity' was organised in Delhi in the Constitution Club.
There was Sadanandan Master, a victim of Kannur bloodshed – he had lost both his legs. Then there was a former principal of Palakkad Victoria college, Sarasu. There were differences of opinion between her and students of the college union. Some miscreants had put up a grave for her on the day of her retirement, deeply hurting her. So these people were recalling their experiences. That was the first in a series of meetings the RSS organised to publicise the Kannur issue. After that a few newspaper articles appeared, then journalists were taken for a tour of Kerala and lot of articles appeared in national journals. There were debates organised on television. It was an effective campaign in the sense that it could make Kannur a national issue.
Was there a larger political game-plan for the Sangh Parivar to agree to this meeting?
I do not know if there was a larger game-plan except to end the political violence. There were RSS leaders who said they were finding it difficult to expand their footprint in Kannur. CPM leaders have said nobody has been stopped from functioning in the district or state, while RSS leaders said it wasn't the case. That was one of their major grouses – that the RSS was not able to expand.
Did these meetings have any impact on the RSS-CPM clashes in the district?
I believe so. Even though there were some violent incidents immediately after the meetings and one or two political murders within a year, I think it had a positive effect. The violence sort of tapered after that. Have not heard of any major incidents between the RSS and the CPM in the past two-three years. These meetings concluded in 2017 or a bit before that. Immediately after that, there was an incident in which an RSS activist was killed. The RSS leadership got in touch with the CPM and there was no escalation of violence. The police arrested the culprits. I think the violence has tapered down now and is negligible. Even though there are other incidents, I have not come across reports of a murder involving these two rivals recently.
How did Sri M, the RSS and the CPM react to this chapter – War of Ideologies – which deals with the Kannur issue.
So far no one has complained. One reason could be there is nothing in this which was not known before, though maybe not in so much detail.
I had spoken to practically everyone who was present in the first meeting itself in detail. That was why nobody had any objections to this because everything was based on facts.
How do you react to Pinarayi's reference to the book in a press meet?
He confirmed everything written in the book. He said yes this happened, he said Sri M mediated and he also said people should read it carefully.