Protests are a part of daily life in highly political Kerala. Though violent occasionally and disruptive at times, they are seen as a testimony to the healthy and vibrant democracy. It’s not unusual to see political parties, organisations affiliated to them, and other groups taking out marches to the Raj Bhavan, the state secretariat, central government offices, district collectorates, and holding sit-ins on streets as a matter of routine.
However, events that have unfolded in the past few days have raised the spectre of a new disturbing trend. The Congress-led UDF and BJP have been protesting, demanding the resignation of CM Pinarayi Vijayan after Swapna Suresh, the prime accused in the gold smuggling case, made some startling allegations. The agitation took a dangerous turn last Monday when two Youth Congress workers boarded the flight in which Vijayan was travelling from Kannur to Thiruvananthapuram.
An inquiry report prepared by the airline said they “rushed towards the CM” shouting slogans as soon as the seat belt signs went off. The two are now in judicial custody after being slapped with attempt to murder charges. What followed were widespread attacks on Congress offices and properties, including its headquarters Indira Bhavan in the state capital, by CPM workers. Two protesters tried to barge into the residence of opposition leader V D Satheesan. As a counter, the CPM office in Perambra in Kozhikode was set on fire.
The leaders of the rival fronts in Kerala have treated each other with respect even while their policies and politics remain poles apart. It was A K Antony who as CM in 1977 facilitated the transfer of prime government land in the capital city for the CPM to construct its headquarters. A few months ago when Congress leader P T Thomas was seriously ill, Vijayan offered to arrange treatment for him in the US. But the recent incidents have breached the Lakshman rekha of civility in politics. This is a dangerous precedence. If the senior leaders don’t stop targeting the personal spaces of leaders, there will be serious consequences. While the right to protest is essential in a democracy, they should keep in mind the dictum: The liberty to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins.