Payannur/Kannur: The revenge political killings of the BJP and CPM workers, which has taken nearly 200 lives over the last two decades in Kannur, the home district of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, have spread into more areas now, forcing Governor P Sathasivam to intervene for the second time in six months and ask the Kerala chief minister to act against it.
The killing of Biju, 34, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief (Karyavahak) in Ramanthali village, barely three months since Vijayan chaired an all-party meeting that resolved to restore peace after a series of murders, has also triggered widespread violence and a shutdown in Payannur.
The revenge killings were earlier limited to party villages like Pinarayi, the hometown of Kerala chief minister, CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s Kodiyeri and Kadirur of P Jayarajan, the party satrap in the region. Jayarajan himself is a victim of an attempt on his life by alleged RSS assassins.
The murder, according to the police was meticulously planned and executed by a killer squad, similar to the one led five years ago by TP Chandrasekharan, a "renegade" who floated his Revolutionary Marxist Party (RMP) posing a threat to the parent party in Onchiyam in the nearby Kozhikode district.
They hired an Innova two weeks ago, which they used to knock down Biju’s bike and hack him to death in broad daylight. Though the police had identified all the seven assailants, they could arrest only the owner of the vehicle and the go-between so far.
It was a sequel to two earlier killings. Biju, a painting worker living near the Indian Naval Academy, was one of the accused in the murder of CPM worker CV Dhanaraj at his house in Ramanthali on 11 July last year.
The CPM retaliated within hours — they hacked a BJP worker to death. Fourty-year-old CK Ramachandran was an auto-rickshaw driver in the nearby Annur village. The BJP accuses the rivals of triggering violence to prevent the migration of its cadres into its fold.
"Both Ramachandran and Biju come from traditional CPM families, and these villages were considered unassailable Communist forts,” BJP district president P Sathyaprakash told Firstpost.
"We have been making inroads into all their strongholds in the region like Kayyur and Karivellur (fabled for Communist-inspired peasant uprising), and almost all those who joined us recently were from the CPM."
The BJP, which could corner only 5,019 votes (3.84 percent) in Payyanur Assembly constituency in 2011, polled 15,341 votes (10.77 percent) in 2016, a three-fold jump. It had garnered 12,878 votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from this segment, showing a steady upward trend.
The Kerala chief minister had won Payyanur in 1996 when he last contested an election before taking over the reins of the party in the state, which he continued for more than 16 years and kept off from elections.
BJP’s vote share was 3.84 percent then as well, which remained static or even dwindled during elections that followed till 2014.
"We haven't provoked them since the peace meet where we assured the chief minister of our full cooperation,” said Sathyaprakash. "The only thing that we demanded from him was freedom to propagate our political ideology like anyone else. We believed him. We thought he would act like the state’s chief minister, not an apparatchik."
Sathyaprakash asserted that his party would abide by the assurance it made at the peace meeting and hoped the other side reciprocated.
He hastened to add: “We had informed the police and the district administration of suspected movements of the vehicle near his house. But they did nothing to prevent the killing and the killers are still at large.”
Gandhian activist PV Rajagopal, who visited the home of the victim on Sunday on a peace mission, said he had got an assurance from RSS leader Govindacharya that there would be no retaliation. "It was a body blow to our efforts to bring peace in the district,” said the founder of Ekta Parishad.
“I am also in talks with the chief minister (Vijayan) and CPM leader Brinda Karat and others. I hope all are not lost.”
But writer CV Balakrishnan, who belongs to the Annur village where the second killing in the present bout of violence happened, does not share that optimism.
"There are trained assassins of political parties with an instinct to kill, and they have arrived here," he said. "It’s a ticking time bomb, and they would continue to kill as long as they get protection from their political masters. The peace meetings and condemnation by leaders follow every killing as a ritual."
Vengeance does not stop with the retaliatory killing. On the night when Dhanaraj and Ramachandran were killed in a gap of a few hours, violence erupted in 30 places during which 19 houses, a school, three shops and 35 vehicles were torched.
Following the arrests, CPM men led by Jayarajan laid a siege to the police station and got the officer transferred and the cases were allegedly diluted.
Inaugurating the protest, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, also a former home minister, warned that his party would become a fireball if his cadres were touched. In the Assembly, the chief minister described it as a “retaliatory killing.”
“The cadres receive such rhetorics as a licence to kill,” said Balakrishnan. "Those in power have more responsibility to call it a day." On 13 May, the Governor, a former chief justice of India, forwarded a BJP petition to the chief minister demanding Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) clamped on the district.
A Raj Bhavan communique quoted the petition as saying “ever since the present government came to power, the Sangh Parivar has lost 14 of its core workers in nearly 500 attacks.”
He asked the chief minister to take “immediate necessary action to put a curb on such disturbing incidents so as to send a positive signal to peace-loving citizens of the State.”
In October, the governor had summoned top officials after another brutal killing of a 25-year-old BJP worker near the chief minister’s house in Pinarayi.
Additional chief secretary (home) Nalini Netto, now the state’s chief secretary, and state police chief Loknath Behera then met him and assured “earnest efforts to apprehend the culprits irrespective of their party affiliation.”
At the peace meeting held after a series of killings, the chief minister offered extensive raids on the armouries of the parties where they stockpile swords and crude bombs and tighten security in vulnerable areas.
Observers believe Vijayan was forced to swing into action to end the political blood feud after he started facing protests outside the state.
He had to cancel his scheduled meetings in the national capital in January after a massive demonstration by BJP alleging their workers were selectively targeted.
He witnessed similar protests in Bhopal in December.
Back in Kerala, he started confabulations with senior BJP leaders who offered to extend their cooperation if he allowed the police to function impartially and ensure the rule of law.
While the two sides were waiting for the final meeting, keeping their communication channels open, another local BJP leader, in Vijayan’s Dharmadam constituency, fell to the knife of the killers at night.
Soon, perhaps for the first time in the district’s gory past, CPM leaders visited the victim’s home and consoled his wife and his school going child, where the lady disarmed its senior leader P Jayarajan asking what wrong did her husband do to him.
But Vijayan prevailed upon the rivals. On the eve of the all-party meeting, he held another meeting with them, in a hotel in the state capital, which was also attended by top CPM leaders, including Balakrishnan, and fine-tuned the agenda.
It ensured there's no retaliatory killing. Though there had been such meetings convened by chief ministers even in the past, violence resumes after a lull. But analysts thought the two sides were serious this time.
This fragile peace brokered at the top level, reportedly at the instance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, was broken Friday evening.
"I have only one prayer," says Purushothaman, father of Biju, also an RSS man who works as a mason. "Let this not happen to anyone else." The assassins usually attack the victim at their homes, usually in front of their family. A school teacher was killed while teaching in front of primary schoolchildren.
"Vijayan has now lost control over his party," said O Rajagopal, the BJP’s lone legislator in the state. "This is not an isolated incident. Of the 14 political murders under his rule, 13 victims were our workers. People are living in fear there."
The BJP also released a video claimed to be of CPM workers celebrating after the killing. The video shot at night shows people difficult to figure out beating drums and dancing. However, the CPM dismissed it as an old one and instead released a “CCTV footage of the RSS workers ransacking” the party-controlled Pariyaram Cooperative Medical College and Hospital.
“None else than CPM can put an end to the violence here since they are in power,” said Vijayan's Congress predecessor Oommen Chandy. “Unfortunately, they are on either side of all the violence and killings here.”
Updated Date: May 15, 2017 08:15 AM