In the increasingly shrill war of words between the BJP-RSS and the CPI(M) over political violence in Kerala, facts have been a casualty, too.While both sides play the victim after each killing, an investigation by The Indian Express of police and court records and interviews with at least 50 leaders, families of victims, and alleged killers on both sides, shows that it goes much beyond a turf war.Indeed, other than ideology, both sides reflect each other — beginning with the number of the dead.
And nowhere is this most visible than in Ground Zero of the violence, Kannur, a northern district wedged between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea. Records show that of the 96 political killings recorded here since January 1995, 42 were victims affiliated to the BJP-RSS and 40 were from the CPI(M). Kannur accounts for just over half of the political killings linked to the rivalry between CPI(M) and BJP-RSS in Kerala since 2006 — 41 of 80. Click here to read this story in Malayalam
Kannur, also home to Kerala Chief Minister and CPI(M) veteran Pinarayi Vijayan, is, therefore, a test case to understand the nature of this cycle of violence. Both BJP-RSS and the CPI(M) deploy similar networks in their politics of vendetta, the investigation has found. Both use mainly poor young men as hired guns while their leaders and office-bearers mostly stay behind the scenes. Both tap into family and caste links to perpetuate the violence. After each killing, tardy investigation and delayed trials mark most cases.
Worst of all, there are no support groups or party mechanisms to address the emotional trauma and grief of the survivors and families of victims. The death count in Kannur, according to police and court records, underlines a significant trend:
65 of the 92 cases related to the 96 political killings were registered when the CPI(M) was in power in Kerala — 1996-2000, 2006-2011 and from May 25, 2016. n Apart from those affiliated to the BJP-RSS and the CPI(M), victims during this period included five Congressmen, four activists of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), two of the erstwhile National Democratic Front (now called the Popular Front of India or PFI), a radical Muslim outfit, and three without any established political affiliation.
Among the various police stations in Kannur district, Panoor under the Thalassery sub-division, topped with 17 cases linked to political killings since 1995. But no political killings have been recorded here since 2009. Payyannur, where the BJP is planning to expand its base, has emerged as the new battleground over the last year with three cases recorded. Read: Toddy tapper, truck driver, saw mill worker: look who are getting killed in Kerala. Click here
New players: criminal gangs
But what’s really worrying police in Kannur is a chilling new trend: the entry of criminals in the fray.
P P Sadanandan, the Kannur DySP who has investigated dozens of cases related to political killings for nearly 15 years, says criminal gangs, fuelled by alcohol and drugs, are the new players in this arena.
“For instance, the accused in the murder of former CPI(M) leader T P Chandrasekharan in 2012 and that of CPI(M) worker K Mohanan in 2016 were not just from the CPI(M) or RSS. They had a history of organised crime, including dacoity,” said Sadanandan.
The T P case, as it is commonly referred to, is one of the most high-profile cases in this saga of political vendetta. Chandrasekharan, who left the CPI(M) to start his own outfit Revolutionary Marxist Party, sustained 51 cuts in an attack by an eight-member gang on May 4, 2012. Eleven persons, including three CPI(M) functionaries, were sentenced to life imprisonment by a special court.
While the rivals blame each other, police officers in the district say that both sides give tacit support to the accused. “Both CPI(M) and BJP have stocked weapons and bombs in their strongholds. Most of those involved in the killings are less educated, economically backward, and some of them hail from broken families,” said a senior police officer. Rivals in blame game P Jayarajan, district secretary in Kannur of the ruling CPI(M), claims that his party is the loser in every killing, irrespective of who is killed.
“Using social media, the BJP-RSS is spreading lies in New Delhi about the Kannur violence. We can’t afford to encourage violent politics, especially when we are ruling the state, even though we have the support of over 50 per cent of the people in Kannur. We are the losers in this violence, because each murder disrupts public life, governance and government schemes. But often, our people are forced to resist RSS criminals physically,” said Jayarajan, who was the target of an RSS attack in 1999 when his right arm was nearly cut off.
Referring to the recent spate of attacks by cow vigilantes in north India, Jayarajan said, “What you are witnessing in the northern states is what we have been fighting here for several years. And, we will continue this fight,” he said.
K K Balaram, the Kannur-based RSS state leader, claims that violence has become routine after the CPI(M) started using force to prevent their men from switching to the Sangh. “The Congress abandoned its resistance fearing strong attacks from the CPI(M). Having lost their ideological charm, the CPI(M)’s political insecurity of losing its support base has led to these violent killings,” said Balaram.
And now, with the BJP Government at the Centre, and Kerala identified as the party’s emerging political market, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Read | Kerala Killings: In communist bastion, not just war of ideology but race for Hindu vote. Click here
So no surprise then that the violence now resonates in Delhi, too, with BJP leader and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh voicing his concern in a call to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on July 30, a day after the killing of Rajesh, a BJP worker in Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital, 460 km south of Kannur.
Six days later, Union Defence Minister Arun Jaitley met Rajesh’s family in Thiruvananthapuram and said, “Every time the LDF comes to power, the incidents of violence increase. The political opponents are killed in a most brutal and barbaric manner.”
Responding to Jaitley’s charge, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, the CPI(M) state secretary and a former home minister, told The Indian Express, “The number of killings increases either when the BJP is ruling the Centre or Left is ruling the state because we are a mass party and it is easy for them to target our workers. It is the RSS agenda to maintain this tension in Kerala.”
For families: ‘all about loss’
But in the broken homes and shattered families of Kannur’s victims, all this is just empty talk and nothing else.
Barely 500 m from Chief Minister Vijayan’s home in Pinarayi, is Karunya Nivas and its lone resident Narayani. The 59-year-old lost her husband Uthaman to an attack in 2002 and her only son Remith to another attack on October 6, 2016 — in both killings, the attackers were allegedly linked to the CPI(M).
“In this CPI(M)-dominated village, I am awaiting my death. My husband and son were not active BJP workers. But is it a crime to be a BJP sympathiser? Let the CPI(M) take my head too, if that’s what they want,’’ said Narayani.
C V Sajini, who hails from a CPI(M) family, saw her husband and local party leader C V Dhanaraj being hacked to death, allegedly by RSS-BJP workers, inside her home at Ramanthali in Payyannur on July 11, 2016.
“I am still scared of the dark, when the horror of that murder returns to haunt me. My elder son, who also witnessed the murder, is still in shock. He refuses to eat at night and has undergone several counselling sessions. My youngest son does not know what happened. He always asks for his father, and I console him by saying he has gone to the Gulf,” said the mother of two boys, aged five and three.
“Be it any political party, the victims’ families get orphaned. I have become a widow at 34. A political martyr would be a great asset for any party. I had also thought of it as something great. Now, I realise that it is all about the loss of a dear one,” she said. “When my children grow up, I will tell them not to take vengeance upon anyone.’’ (Tomorrow: In 22 years, 92 cases, just 18 convictions)