Kerala CPI chief Kanam asks police to stop custodial torture

High time police stopped using third-degree methods: Kanam
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CPI Kerala state secretary Kanam Rajendran, who has been viewed as a corrective force within the Left front not so long ago, now treads a cautious path while dealing with issues concerning the government and CPM, the leading and more influential partner.

The general assumption is that things are not as confrontational as before in the coalition set-up because the two parties have found the metaphorical middle ground. That being said, the Communist leader has not been hesitant about pointing out the government’s mistakes whenever the latter deviated from Left ideologies.

In an interview with Manorama, Kanam makes his party’s stance clear on various controversies that rocked the LDF government in recent times, including the Nedumkandam custodial death.

Excerpts:

The custodial death of a private financier and cheating case suspect in Idukki has snowballed into a major political controversy. The CPI took out a protest march to the Nedumkandam police station and the party district secretary K K Sivaraman mounted a scathing attack on the chief minister. What is the CPI state leadership stance on the incident?

The mood at the CPI Idukki district committee meeting convened on June 3 was overwhelmingly against the police. The party workers felt that the police top brass including the Superintendent of Police (SP) were aware of the victim's illegal detention and the sequence of events leading to his custodial death. The district committee opined that that party was obliged to take a firm stance on such local issues, regardless of its position as a coalition partner. The state executive committee meeting, held the next day, backed that stand.

High time police stopped using third-degree methods: Kanam
Custody death victim Raj Kumar

In the meantime, the chief minister had strongly condemned the custodial death. The government, conceding the Opposition’s demand for a judicial inquiry into the incident, apparently constituted a committee. Though the proactive measures by the government rendered the decision taken by the CPI Idukki district leadership on June 3 irrelevant, the protest march was taken out as planned. However, we feel that the provocative speeches made during the march could have been avoided. Blaming the police is fine, but pointing fingers at the chief minister, home department, or the government is unacceptable.

Does it mean there was breach of discipline on the part of K K Sivaraman? Will there be disciplinary proceedings against him?

Public vilification of the government and the chief minister who initiated immediate measures against the guilty was a mistake. While pointing out that, the party does not intend to justify the custodial killing or to whitewash the government. A fact-based approach is important while dealing with such matters. Instead of opting for disciplinary actions, the party reminded him political sobriety and propriety.

Isn’t it true that the state administration is seemingly losing control over the police and their actions are causing perennial headaches for the government?

Police should do away with custodial torture and third-degree methods. It has been the stance of the Left ever since the first Communist ministry came to power in 1957. We have been issuing circulars and instructions in this regard. A section in the police force pays no heed to that policy. Such behaviour is ill-suited to a uniformed and disciplined force. A loud message must be sent out that such transgressions will not be tolerated and swift, stringent action should be taken against the violators.

High time police stopped using third-degree methods: Kanam
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan

Even if such atrocities are committed by a small group of policemen, it will malign the government’s image. Once such incident will be enough to cast a shadow over the good deeds done by the government.

Are you suggesting that all this happened because of indiscipline in the police force and not because of the government’s inefficiency?

The chief minister and the government are implementing the police policy of the Left Democratic Front. It does not approve of custodial violence. That is why the chief minister made it clear that the government will not protect the guilty.

Don’t you think the DGP has a responsibility in ensuring discipline and decorum in the force?

The DGP might be performing his duties in a formal and conventional manner; that is passing on administrative instructions to the lower rungs. He should be willing to closely monitor the force and take a more proactive role.

The Opposition alleges that the police in Idukki are acting according to the whims and fancies of Power Minister M M Mani…

He has to introspect whether it was proper to justify the police after the chief minister condemned their actions in the Assembly. At the same time, I have seen him criticising the police.

High time police stopped using third-degree methods: Kanam
M M Mani

Didn’t his controversial remarks on the issue cause embarrassment to the government once again?

He is someone who is candid with remarks. His language is one used by the common man and not the scholarly or refined. It is up to him to look into such criticisms.

The CPI had opposed the proposal to arm police commissioners of Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram with magisterial powers. Has the government shelved that plan?

The CPI has conveyed its strong disapproval of the move to the chief minister and the CPM state leadership. The Home Department cannot take an arbitrary decision. The matter should be discussed in the LDF. The common criteria for conferring magisterial powers on the city police commissioners are not applicable to Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. The law and order situation in Kerala is far better as compared to other states. Whether we are in power or not, we see police as a tool in the hands of the ruling dispensation. The move to expand the police’s powers beyond those explicitly established is against the Left’s declared stance.

Do you believe it is his advisors who influence the chief minister to deviate from Left policies?

Advisors and bureaucrats can be power hungry, but the political leadership should not entertain that. That is why we raised criticism when the government used the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) against artists and activists.

While accepting the chief whip post, your party had announced that certain regulations would be brought in. When there is a minister for parliamentary affairs, does this post hold any relevance?

Since the post is of Cabinet rank, the Chief Whip is entitled to benefits afforded to a minister. However, the number of personal staff will be limited to 13 or 14. The party has decided against demanding official residence for the Chief Whip. We are looking to avoid controversies and confrontations at any cost. The role and responsibilities of the parliamentary affairs minister and the chief whip need to be sorted out.

Once known as a corrective force within the LDF, you have seemingly adopted a soft approach towards the CPM and the government…

It is the media who labelled me a ‘corrective force’. I have pointed it out whenever Left policies are violated or there’s a deviation from the LDF’s declared stance. The media often portray it as a fight between the CPM and the CPI. I don’t wake up every morning thinking about criticising the CPM. We have to stick together as mutual support is imperative in the current scenario.

What is your reaction to C Divakaran’s comment that there is a dearth of quality leaders in communist parties and that the present leaders lack mass appeal?

I don't think Divakaran made those remarks after careful thought. Leader with mass appeal is an outdated concept. Politicians need to evolve to meet the demands of changing times and societal dynamics.

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