In Tamil Nadu, murder on the streets used to be more common in action-hero oriented films, rather than in politics, despite the deep political divide.
Let's face it, this is not a state where political parties would refrain from contesting in elections to 2300 plus panchayat posts, out of sheer fear of life and limb.
Which is why the recent murders of state BJP and Hindu Munnani functionaries— three in a span of three weeks-makes you wonder if there's any paradigm shift in the state.
On July 19, the BJP's state secretary V Ramesh, also a practicing chartered accountant, was hacked to death in Salem. Exactly eleven days earlier, on July 8, Nambu, belonging to the Rameshwaram unit of the Hindu Munnani was killed. On July 1, Hindu Munnani's state secretary S Vellaiappan was murdered in Vellore. Last year, on July 4 BJP's state executive member Pugazhendhi was done away with, while in October BJP's medical wing secretary Arvind Reddy lost his life.
For a party with no sign of turning into a serious contender for even number three slot in Tamil Nadu politics anytime soon, why are so many of them being targeted?
Auditor Ramesh's murder had BJP leader M Venkaiah Naidu winging down to Chennai. He told the media that there was a "pattern" in the attacks, and that he suspected communal hands were at work. DMK chief was quick to fire a salvo at the ruling AIADMK government, alleging that law and order was at a low.
Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa gave orders for the formation of a Special Investigation Team (SIT), empowering it to handle the ongoing investigation into the murder of Vellaiappan.
On Sunday, Rajarajeshwari, a working committee member of the BJP in the state died, after she immolated herself. The BJP held a state-wide bandh on Monday, but normal life was not affected in any manner. BJP party sources however claimed that over 600 cadre were taken into custody, and termed the bandh a 'huge success'.
Experts feel that the aforesaid attacks have less to do with politics and more likely an outcome of personal rivalry or business deal gone south.
However, some in the BJP are convinced that the attacks are political in nature. Tamilisai Soundararajan, BJP's national secretary says the attacks against her party cadre are aimed at "tarnishing the image of the BJP".
Refuting the argument that the BJP is hardly a threat to any party, she sees a conspiracy against the "growing reach of the BJP in the state, and its idealogy". Citing the party's victory in the Nagercoil and Mettupalyam panchayat elections a couple of years ago, she is convinced the attacks are aimed at rooting out a nascent support base.
"Ten years from now, we will be much stronger in Tamil Nadu," she says.
Political commentators such as Gnani are not convinced that the recent attacks are political or communal, as the BJP claims, in nature. However, he concedes that there has been a paradigm shift in the state's politics, with the entry of criminal elements and thugs.
"In the last four years, nearly 40 panchayat presidents of various political parties, including the BJP have been attacked. In a number of cases, Hindus have been named as prime accused, after investigations into the attacks were held," he points out. According to him, politics in the state is not about ideology anymore. A number of criminal elements and thugs have slunk into almost all the parties, and these shady characters want to wield power one way or the other, he feels.
Most observers want the attacks probed on a case by case basis without any political overtones. Whether apolitical investigation wins or political spin doctors walk away with the honours is a story for the future.
Other columns by the author:
Dalit boy's death: A Vanniyar group that is fighting against casteism
Anti-woman attitudes fueling caste violence in TN
TN board exams: Good marks doesn't mean bright students
Bhama Devi Ravi is a Chennai based journalist