A protest march of the Students Federation of India, the students wing of the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist, against Congress MP Rahul Gandhi's office in Wayanad on Friday, turned violent as a group of protestors allegedly entered the Lok Sabha member's office and vandalised it, prompting Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to strongly condemn the incident and warned stern action against the culprits.
Alleging Gandhi’s inaction in the issue of buffer zones around forests, SFI workers on Friday held a protest march towards the Congress MP's Office in Kalpetta in Wayanad district and allegedly vandalised it, drawing widespread condemnation from the party leaders and workers.
While the Congress alleged that the Wayanad MP's office was vandalised with the knowledge of the chief minister, Vijayan in a strongly worded message said this land ensures space for freedom of expression and democratic protest but it was a wrong practice if it turns into violence.
The police said around eight people were taken into custody following the ruckus in front of the MP's office and a few police officials were also injured in the incident. Following the attack on Gandhi's office, Congress workers including the Youth Congress and KSU, have staged protest marches across the state.
"As of now, eight of the protesters have been taken into custody and brought to the station. A few policemen, including Kalpetta SI, were injured in the stone pelting following the march," the police told PTI.
Congress leaders alleged that three of the staff who were at the MP's office at the time of the incident were assaulted by the SFI activists. Television channels aired visuals of persons entering the office, and creating a ruckus.
Stone pelting was resorted to, injuring a few police personnel after they stopped the march at the entrance of the building.
Senior Congress leader K C Venugopal strongly criticised the attack and alleged that the office was vandalised with the knowledge of the chief minister.
Venugopal said the police who witnessed the attack "remained a mute spectator" aiding the "SFI criminals" to vandalise the office of the senior Congress leader.
"Instead of fighting the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre, the CPI-M was attacking the Congress in the buffer zone issue. The chief minister is answerable to this violence planned by SFI criminals. The party strongly condemns the attack," Venugopal told the media at the KPCC office in Thiruvananthapuram.
Denouncing the attack, CM Vijayan said, "Strongly condemn the attack against Congress MP Rahul Gandhi's office at Wayanad. This land ensures space for freedom of expression and democratic protest but it is a wrong tendency to turn such protests into a violent one. The government will take stern action against the culprits."
KPCC president K Sudhakaran welcomed the chief minister's assurance but doubted his sincerity.
Sudhakaran alleged that the attack was with the knowledge of the CPI-M leadership and sought action against the police officials who allegedly "aided" the protestors.
"We welcome the chief minister's statement condemning the issue. But we doubt his sincerity. Action should be taken against those police officers who failed to take action against the attackers. If CPI-M fails to control their workers, the Congress will be forced to take a strong defensive stand. We also know how to retaliate," Sudhakaran said.
Leader of Opposition V D Satheesan also sharply reacted to the incident and said the attack showed lawlessness and goondaism.
"Ghastly attack by SFI goons at Rahul Gandhi's MP Office at Wayanad. It is lawlessness and goondaism. CPM has turned into an organised mafia. Strongly condemning the attack," Satheesan tweeted.
The Congress alleged that the protest march to Gandhi's office was held without any prior announcement.
The SFI organised the protest alleging that Gandhi failed to intervene in the issue of buffer zones around forests in the hilly areas of Kerala.
However, two hours before the incident, the Wayanad MP had posted a letter he had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address the concerns of the local communities likely to be impacted by the Supreme Court judgment on buffer zones.
A recent Supreme Court order mandates the maintenance of an eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of one kilometre around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, which has led to widespread protest in various parts of Kerala.
The high range areas of Kerala, particularly areas in Idukki, Wayanad, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts, had been witnessing hartals by various political and farmers' groups against the apex court order delivered on June 3.
Issuing a slew of directions, a bench headed by Justice L Nageswara Rao had ordered that no permanent structure will be allowed within such ESZs and said if the local law or other rules provide for an ESZ of more than one km then the earlier provision would continue to apply.
The SC order came on a batch of applications filed on a pending PIL from 1995 and they raised two sets of issues with the first one related to mining activities in and around Jamua Ramgarh, a wildlife sanctuary in Rajasthan.
The second set of issues was related to prescribing ESZs surrounding the wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.