Villages are dotted with weather-worn memorials of political workers, killed in political violence over the decades in this politically and communally sensitive constituency, spread over parts of Kozhikode and Kannur districts. In many villages, walls sport images of wailing mothers, who lost their sons to such violence.
And political violence has become a big issue ahead of April 23 polling here, with the CPI(M) fielding senior leader P Jayarajan, a controversial leader whose name evokes different sentiments in this region. For CPI(M) supporters, Jayarajan is a living legend, a man who nearly came back from the death, escaping an attempt on his life, allegedly by RSS/BJP workers, in Kannur nearly 20 years ago. He has a large following in the party, and fans had even brought out videos depicting him as Kannur’s “crimson son”.
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For rival Congress and BJP, Jayarajan, accused in two political murder cases, represents the politics of violence of Kannur.
Adding to the narrative is the campaign by K K Rama, whose husband, CPI(M) rebel T P Chandrasekharan, was killed in 2012 — allegedly by a gang at the behest of CPI(M) leaders. Rama, who heads Chandrasekharan’s rebel outfit — the Revolutionary Marxist Party (RMP) — is determined to “ensure Jayarajan’s defeat” this time.
The Congress has fielded senior leader K Muraleedharan, a sitting MLA, while the BJP candidate is V K Sajeevan, who had amassed 7.95 per cent of the votes polled in 2014.
Fertile ground for Socialist and Communist movements, Vatakara had elected Left MPs for years, before Congress’s Mullappally Ramachandran halted the Communist juggernaut in 2009.
He retained the seat in 2014, winning against CPI(M)’s A M Shamseer by just over 3,000 votes. One of the reasons for Congress’s victory was the Janata Dal’s exit from LDF in 2009 following a split. But the party recently returned to LDF, rekindling CPI(M)’s hopes to wrest back the seat. The constituency has seven Assembly segments, six of them represented by Left legislators.
But Jayarajan’s candidature has changed the poll-scape, with political violence being the debate in most villages. Chandana Vinod, 20, a first-time voter, highlighted recent killings of two Youth Congress workers in Kasaragod, allegedly CPI(M) men, said the local youth are looking for peace. “We are not interested in a situation where there is no guarantee for life of (political) workers,’’ Chandana said.
Jayarajan, while touring the constituency, said, “I am myself a victim of political violence. The BJP/RSS had unleashed violence in the region — bringing political violence to the poll debate is a Congress tactic to woo RSS/BJP voters.’’
Playing up the issue of political violence, Congress’s Muraleedharan said: “I haven’t orphaned any mother. I haven’t widowed any woman. People of Vatakara will prove that ballot is mightier than the sword.’’
The constituency has a significant presence of Muslims, who have a love-hate relationship with CPI(M). As a party known for taking on the Sangh Parivar, CPI(M) has managed to win over people from the minority community in Thalassery region of Kannur district, which comes under Vatakara seat.
But in neighbouring Nadapuram Assembly segment (in Kozhikode district), the party has over the years engaged in political violence with supporters of Indian Union Muslim League, a constituent of Congress-led UDF. In 2015, many Muslim houses were looted, by men allegedly belonging to CPI(M), following the killing of a young CPI(M) worker.
Congress activist Mohanan Parakkadavu said, “There is fear among people that CPI(M) will bring the culture of political violence from Kannur to Kozhikode.”
Churia Chandran, a former CPI(M) leader and political observer in Thalassery, said: “Muslims in Thalassery were earlier with CPI(M) but the (recent) killings of Ariyil Shukoor (of IUML), Shuhaib (Congress) and Fazal (of right-wing PFI) have exposed CPI(M)’s stand that it would protect the minorities in Kannur.’’
The CPI(M) is banking on its strong party machinery and huge cadre base. Jayarajan remains popular, particularly in Thalassery and Koothuparamba segments of Kannur district.
RMP leader K K Rama said her party has 20,000 voters and “we want to see the defeat of Jayarajan” — and in a constituency that saw a narrow victory margin in 2014, those votes could swing the contest.
The BJP is not a major force in Vatakara but the Jayarajan factor may impact voting behaviour of a section of Sangh Parivar supporters.