The Kerala High Court on Friday strongly condemned and initiated suo motu proceedings against the leaders of Popular Front of India (PFI) for the illegal call of flash hartal (shutdown) in the state. By the time the court began its sittings, there were numerous reports of the PFI activists damaging public properties and threatening people who tried to venture out.
There were reports of stone pelting in multiple Muslim-dominated areas. Bike-borne PFI goons were seen terrorizing citizens and attacking both public and private property in many places. A bus carrying students on a study tour was pelted with stones. A car dropping passengers to the Thiruvananthapuram international airport was attacked in Kumarichantha locality, allegedly while a posse of around 20 policemen did nothing.
At Pallimukku in Kollam, PFI activists rammed their two-wheelers on two on-duty policemen injuring them. The policemen had stopped them from abusing ordinary passengers.
Around 30 KSRTC (Kerala State Road Transport Corporation) buses in the state were attacked, and many including the employees were injured. Stones were thrown at vehicles in Thiruvananthapuram, Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta, Ernakulam, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Palakkad, Kannur and Kottayam. It is said that police remained mute spectators in many places while the violence was going on. Even an ambulance carrying a patient was attacked in Thrissur.
Some passengers said that when they sought help from the police to travel, they just smiled and stood helpless. Driver P Rajendran of Pandalam-Peruman service sustained eye injuries and has been admitted to a hospital. A petrol bomb was hurled at a vehicle carrying newspapers in Kannur. A vehicle of a media channel that came to report the hartal in Kozhikode was attacked.
Many PFI goons were armed with deadly weapons to close shops and block vehicles. One shop near Pothancode was forcefully shut down and its items destroyed. A masked man on a bike threw stones at a hotel at Parampayam in Nedumbassery, injuring a person who was eating inside. A lottery shop was vandalized at Samkranti in Kottayam.
However, at Erattupettah in Kottayam district, the police took on the PFI workers and chased them away and detained five of them.
The visuals of two KSRTC bus drivers driving buses wearing helmets went viral.
“A few years ago on a shutdown day, when I was driving the bus, a stone hit the front glass and pieces of glass dust got deposited in my eyes and I had to suffer a lot, hence today I had to take precaution and wore the helmet,” said the driver, Latheef, who was driving the bus in the state capital city.
On Friday, the Division Bench of Justice A.K. Jayasankaran Nambiar and Justice Mohammed Nias ordered stringent action to be taken against the violators of a 2019 court order which stated that no hartal could be called for without adequate notice to public and authorities.
“The action of the aforementioned persons in calling for the hartal without following the procedure contemplated in our earlier order, prima facie, amounts to contempt of the directions of this court in the order aforementioned,” the bench stated in the order while saying, “It is suo motu initiating a separate action for contempt.”
It is a matter of shame and worry that governments in different parts of the nation, including the centre, freeze when lumpen mobs take to the streets and wreak havoc. We saw this happen during the anti-CAA protests, ‘farmers’ protest, and recent ‘blasphemy’ protests in Rajasthan and Telangana as well. Non-stop electoral politics and the fear of upsetting vote-banks or vested interest groups seems to have paralyzed our elected representatives. If this is the cost of being a multi-party democracy, we need to rethink the governance model most suited to a nation like ours.
Only the Yogi Adityanath government has shown the foresight and decisiveness to swiftly tackle such trouble-makers and recover damages from them – of course, not without judiciary stepping in to protect ‘civil rights’ of said rioters.
Despite his reputation as a hardline Communist leader, Pinarayi Vijayan has repeatedly proven to be utterly weak-kneed in front of Islamists and the Church.
Kerala model – ‘mandatory’ hartals
The Kerala High Court had previously, in an order dated January 7, 2019, taken note of the peculiar circumstances in Kerala where calls for hartal would ordinarily not be viewed as illegal. But over the years the call for a shutdown carried an implied suggestion that the general public, if they did not cooperate with those calling the hartal, faced threats of violence.
The court then issued directions to ensure that a call for hartal or general strike did not have the effect of affecting the fundamental rights of those who do not align with the cause of those calling for the hartal, and had laid down a procedure to be adhered with while calling for hartal. The court had made it clear that flash hartals, namely those hartals/strikes called without adhering to the procedure of giving seven days clear public notice, would be deemed illegal/unconstitutional entailing adverse consequences to the persons/party calling for the hartal.
And taking cognisance of this, the court initiated suo motu proceedings against the PFI and soon the police decided to register a case against PFI general secretary Abdul Sathar. The court then directed the police to ensure that adequate measures are put in place to prevent any damage to public and private property.
It also asked the media to ensure that whenever such illegal flash hartals are called for, the public be duly informed that this is in violation of the orders passed by the court. The case was then posted for next Thursday.
PFI rioters finally dealt with
On Friday, the police after watching the PFI activists take law into their hands in most places, started to take action soon after the court spoke tough. And, more than 100 PFI activists were taken into custody.
The maximum impact of the dawn-to-dusk bandh was seen in the Muslim stronghold areas of the state. At several places, the activists forced the people to down the shutters of their shops.
On Thursday, as many as 19 PFI activists from Kerala, including the top brass of their leadership, were arrested as part of an early morning joint operation by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and National Investigation Agency (NIA). Even though the Kerala Police had made elaborate arrangements and warned of strict action against those who resorted to violence, the PFI activists went on a rampage and pelted stones at numerous places.
Most of the universities in the state have postponed the day’s examinations and educational institutions across the state remained closed.
(With IANS inputs)