On the night of May 18, with five days left for counting of votes for the Lok Sabha elections, C O T Naseer, a former CPI(M) worker who contested from Vatakara constituency in Kerala as an Independent candidate, was attacked by assailants. The opposition Congress pointed fingers at the CPI(M), particularly at P Jayarajan, the party candidate from the seat and an accused in two cases of political killings in Kannur district.
Two days after the attack, Jayarajan rushed to the hospital where Naseer was admitted. He later told reporters, “Naseer has always been my friend. I have nothing to do with the attack. This is a move to frame me.”
The case saw a twist when on June 21 police arrested N K Ragesh, an aide of CPI(M) legislator A N Shamseer, who represents Thalassery Assembly seat that’s part of Vatakara.
Recovering from the attack, Naseer, 37, a native of Thalassery, told The Sunday Express, “Shamseer has held a grudge against me ever since I exposed certain anomalies in the development of a stadium last year.’’ He added that the assailants probably chose to attack him during the elections knowing well that the blame would shift to Jayarajan.
When contacted by The Sunday Express, Shamseer refused to coment.
Arguably the most popular CPM leader in Kannur in a party that is suspicious of personality cults, Jayarajan, a former district secretary, has increasingly been finding himself on the wrong side of the party bosses. Once a close confidant of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, their relationship soured after Vijayan became CM in 2016. He is now often compared to V S Achuthanandan, Vijayan’s bete noir during his days as party secretary, who was popular among the masses but often took positions that embarrassed the party. But unlike Achuthanandan, Jayarajan is also popular among the party rank and file, with the 66-year-old achieving near cult status among the cadre in the northern districts of the state that are considered the party’s stronghold.
Just when the party was dealing with the fallout of the Vatakara attack, the recent suicide of an NRI investor further widened the faultlines within the party, with Jayarajan once again pitted against the seniors in the party.
Sajan Parayil, 48, an expatriate who had returned to the state after 15 years in Nigeria, hanged himself on June 18, allegedly after the CPI (M)-ruled Anthoor municipality delayed the occupancy certificate for a
Rs 15-crore convention centre he had built. The 28-member Anthoor municipality has no Opposition members and its chairperson P K Shyamala, wife of M V Govindan, a member of the CPI(M) central committee, was blamed for denying Parayil the certificate. Parayil’s wife Beena alleged that Shyamala denied him the clearance since he was close to Jayarajan and had approached him for help.
While the party and the government rallied behind Shyamala, Jayarajan treaded a different path. Four days after the businessman’s suicide, at a CPI(M) meeting in Anthoor to explain the party’s stand on the issue, with Shyamala on stage, Jayarajan said, “What is the role of councillors in a CPI(M)-ruled municipality? People’s representatives have a responsibility towards the public. They have to make officials work for the people… As a Communist leader as well as the municipal chairperson, Shyamala failed to do that.’’
That his stand met with the CM’s disapproval was apparent when Vijayan, while replying to an adjournment motion in the Assembly on the investor’s suicide, said, “It has been apparent that in order to insult the CPI(M), party leader Jayarajan himself is being used. There have been such attempts in the past to insult the party using such idols, but those haven’t affected the CPI(M).”
In Vijayan’s message was an acknowledgment and a sense of unease over Jayarajan’s growing stature. In the crowded pantheon of CPI(M) stalwarts from Kannur, Jayarajan has not only managed to find a space for himself but also left some of them rattled.
Kannur is the home ground of party stalwarts such as former CM E K Nayanar and A K Gopalan. CM Vijayan himself and party state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, both Politburo members, are from here. Four members of the central committee, E P Jayarajan, M V Govindan, K K Shailaja and P K Sreemathi, also belong to Kannur.
Over the last two decades, as Kannur witnessed some of worst political murders, three Kannur CPM leaders — P Jayarajan, E P Jayarajan and M V Jayarajan — kept the cadre morale high, flexing their muscles to take on the Sangh Parivar. However, when Vijayan became the CM in 2016 and E P Jayarajan his second-in-command in the Cabinet as Industries Minister, the politics of the Kannur lobby underwent a tangible change.
In 2016, when Jayarajan, then district secretary of the CPI(M), addressed a protest march at a police station in Kannur over an action against a party worker, Kodiyeri reprimanded him since the party thought it was unbecoming of a CPI(M) leader to be protesting at a police station when the Left Democratic Front was in power, with the party holding the Home portfolio.
The CPI(M), mindful of its role as the party in power, has softened its attack on rivals, but Jayarajan has stuck to his style of functioning, using militant ways to take on rivals. Over the last decade, the CBI has chargesheeted him in two cases of political murders, one of an Indian Union Muslim League leader and another related to the killing of an RSS district leader.
Lumpen elements in the party jostled to take selfies with Jayarajan and his loyalists created social media fan pages such as “P J Army”. To them, he was the only man who could take on Sangh Parivar cadres, an aura that was cemented by the story of how he had “miraculously returned to life” after being grievously injured in an attack by RSS cadres in August 1999. Last year, a local club in Kannur brought out a video on Jayarajan, extolling him as the “crimson son of Kannur”.
Jayarajan, who became district secretary in 2010 after then incumbent P Sasi was removed on charges of sexual misconduct, was also lauded for the social initiatives he launched in Kannur, among them the Initiative for Rehabilitation and Palliative Care (IRPC) that he started in 2015, as part of which hundreds of trained personnel take medical care to homes of terminally ill patients. In 2015, Jayarjan took the lead in organising the party-sponsored Sree Krishna Jayanthi celebrations in response to the BJP’s.
Political observer Chandran Churia, who used to be with the Kerala State Youth Federation, (as the CPM youth wing was then called), says Jayarajan is undoubtedly the most popular leader among party workers in Kannur. “He enjoys the support of the youth, including militant elements within the party. The cadre isn’t bothered about his alleged involvement in political killings since they believe it’s for the greater good of stopping the BJP.’’
Chandran says Jayarajan’s clean image has helped too. “He is not involved in corruption cases and scandals. Unlike other leaders, he hasn’t been accused of promoting his children either,” he says.
But as Jayarajan’s popularity grew, the party leadership got increasingly wary until it decided to crack the whip on the former school dropout. He was censured for glorifying himself and trying to grow beyond the party — a charge Jayarajan had raised against party veteran V S Achuthanandan during the latter’s run-ins with
The party moved to clip Jayarajan’s wings even before the elections. He was one of the three district secretaries who were made to quit their posts after they were given tickets to contest the Lok Sabha elections. But while the other two district secretaries — K N Balagopal, who contested from Kollam, and V N Vasavan, who contested from Kottayam — got back their posts, they too, like Jayarajan, lost the elections. In his place, the party brought in Vijayan’s private secretary M V Jayarajan. Now, P Jayarajan remains only a member of the party-state.
CPI(M) sources in Kannur say there could be more reasons for the party to clip his wings. Pointing to the groundswell of sentiments against political violence, they say Jayarajan’s militant ways were a liability for the party.
A source in the party said, “For the first time, the CPI(M) central committee review on the 2019 election identified political killings in Kannur as a factor that worked against party candidates in North Kerala. The party will no longer take responsibility for crimes committed by lumpen elements.’’
But K S Hariharan, a central committee member of the Revolutionary Marxist Party of India, a party of CPI(M) rebels, says there’s more to the party distancing itself from the Jayarajan brand of politics. “With Amit Shah running the Union Home Ministry and controlling Central investigating agencies, the party doesn’t want to take chances. Besides, the government doesn’t want any violence to mar its development plans and the business interest of its leaders,’’ he said.
When contacted by The Sunday Express, Jayarajan said he did not want to comment and that he had already aired his opinion in public.
Years ago, at the height of the feud between Vijayan and Achuthanandan, Jayarajan had compared the veteran to the donkey in Aesop’s Fables, which, while carrying a religious image, mistakenly assumes people’s reverence is directed towards it. Now, it remains to be seen whether the party in Kannur will remind him of the parable.
The other Jayarajans
A CPI(M) central committee member, the 69-year-old is Industries Minister and second-in-command in the Vijayan Cabinet. In 2016, a few months after the CPI(M) came to power, Jayarajan had to quit over alleged nepotism in public sector appointments. Later, he returned to the Cabinet after the court cleared him of charges. The first all-India president of the CPM youth wing DYFI, Jayarajan, a diploma holder in electrical engineering, had been groomed by the late M V Raghavan, who was ousted from the party in 1986. Jayarajan had escaped an attempt on life in 1995 when he was shot at while on a train.
M V Jayarajan
After P Jayarajan was deputed to contest the 2019 election, M V Jayarajan, 59, was made district secretary of the CPI(M) in Kannur. Known for his provocative speeches, he was sentenced to six months in jail in 2011 after he abused High Court judges for a decision on banning roadside meetings. Now out on bail, he has stuck to his controversial ways, and has often publicly abused policemen for taking partymen into custody. In 2016, when Vijayan took over as CM, Jayarajan had been made his private secretary, a post he held until becoming party district secretary in Kannur.