Political murders in Kerala: CPM faces electoral isolation amid claims of shielding accused party leaders

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) is going through its worst crisis in Kerala, the only state where the party is in power today. The recent killings of political opponents allegedly by party workers in the politically hyperactive northern districts of Kerala have been fast eroding its roots.

These political murders have isolated the CPM from a large section of society, including supporters who voted the party to power. It has also lost the support of a good chunk of them for its stance on the subject of women's entry into the Sabarimala temple.

Adding to its woes, the CPM leadership has widely deviated from the Communist ideology.

The combined​ effect of these factors is likely to make Kerala CPM's last bastion. This will come as a crippling blow to the party, which has already lost West Bengal and Tripura. The upcoming Lok Sabha election will shed light on the possible future of the CPM, the largest Left party in the country.

 Political murders in Kerala: CPM faces electoral isolation amid claims of shielding accused party leaders

File photo of Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan. PTI

In the cases of all the dastardly political murders registered by the Kerala Police or the Crime Investigation Bureau, either CPM leaders or members of its ranks and files are the accused. Both the BJP and Congress are bound to make these murders their main poll plank against the CPM.

The gruesome murder of two young Congress workers at Periya in Kasargod district a couple of weeks ago was so cruel that it shocked even the CPM leadership. Kripesh, 19, and Sarath Lal, 23, were hacked to death allegedly in retaliation for injuring local CPM leader A Peethambaran during a clash between a group of Congressmen and CPM workers. The clash was the squeal to a tiff between activists of students' unions of the two sides on a local campus. Peethambaran's fractured his right hand in the melee, and Sarath was an accused in the case. Although the police had taken Kripesh into custody in connection with the case, they let him off as they found he had not been involved in the brawl.

According to the FIR, when Kripesh and Sarth were returning home on the latter's motorcycle after attending a religious function, the assailants were following them in a car. At an isolated place in the village, the assailants drove the car into their motorcycle, they attacked the duo, who had fallen on the road along with their two-wheeler, with lethal weapons. Kripesh, whose head was split into two, died on the spot; Sarath breathed his last en route to the hospital. One of his legs was chopped off, and he was slashed from head to toe.

Peethambaran, a local CPM committee member, and his six associates, who are party activists, were arrested in the case. But the kin of the deceased and the Congress leadership claim that CPM leaders had conspired to murder the Congress workers and the party's "killer gang" from Kannur — the district neighbouring Kasargod where a CPM-BJP turf war has been simmering for decades — had executed the plan. They alleged that the CPM felt threatened by the youths who had broken into the party's boroughs with their pro-people activities. The families of the slain youths have moved court, seeking an inquiry into these allegations by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Peethambaran's mother and wife had claimed he had not committed any such a heinous crime.

"My husband's hand was fractured. How could he have killed two young boys? The party might have done it," his wife Manju had said.

However, she is believed to have retracted her statement against the party later. There has been no word from the family since.

Hardly a year ago, 30-year-old SP Shuhaib, Mattanur block secretary of the Youth Congress in Kannur district, was killed soon after he led successful election campaigns in two gram panchayat divisions held by the CPM. He had also strengthened the Kerala Students' Union — the Congress' student wing in the state — on campuses in the region where the CPM's student arm — the Students' Federation of India (SFI) — was ruling the roost.

According the chargesheet filed by the police, Shuhaib was at a tea stall in Mattanur with a few friends when a car pulled over and its occupants lobbed a few crude bombs at the eatery to create a scare. Before the others could realise what was happening, the assailants attacked him with sword and fled. The young Congress leader succumbed to his injuries the next day.

The autopsy report says he had sustained 41 hack wounds, of which 37 had been inflicted below the waist.

The police arrested 11 accused in the case — four CPM members and seven party sympathisers. In the remand report filed in court, they said CPM activists had planned and executed the murder. The four party members are believed to be close to CPM's Kannur district secretary P Jayarajan.

In the case of Muslim Youth League (MYL) worker Ariyil Shukoor's murder in 2012, the CBI, in February, charged Jayarajan and MLA TV Rajesh with murder and conspiracy. According to the agency, a group of MYL workers had attacked the vehicle of CPM leaders while they were heading to the spot where CPM-League workers had clashed a few days earlier. Shukoor, a 21-year-old member of the gang, was later abducted allegedly by a group of CPM workers, subjected to a trial by a mob of party activists and awarded the death penalty. A few among the mob executed the order. In its investigation, the CBI found that the two CPM leaders had conspired to kill him. In all, there are 33 accused in the case.

Jayarajan is also an accused in the murder of RSS worker Elamthottathil Manoj.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Furthermore, the Pinarayi government in Kerala is accused of trying to have commuted the life term awarded to CPM leader PK Kunjananthan, the 13th accused in the case of the murder of rebel party leader TP Chandrasekharan in 2012. KK Rama, Chandrasekharan's widow, has questioned the government's motives in the high court. The trial is still on.

The state government argues that Kunjananthan's sentence shall be frozen as he suffers from multiple ailments that need expert treatment that cannot be ensured in jail. The irony is that the "ailing" party leader attends all CPM functions whenever he is out on bail.

CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan maintains that Kunjanathan had nothing to do with Chandrasekharan's murder and also accuses the Congress of framing him in the case.

Chandrasekharan, killed when he was 51, used to be a hardcore CPM worker, but he had a falling out with the party on ideological grounds and launched a new political outfit. His party had wrested control from the CPM of the panchayat division of his home village, Onchiyam near Kozhikode, as well as the panchayats of a few surrounding villages.

The CPM's "Kannur lobby" is accused of butchering him to death. He was hacked 51 times in his face alone.

There were 36 accused in the case, of whom 24 were acquitted for want of conclusive evidence and 12 — three CPM leaders and nine members of "killer gang" — were convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Among those acquitted, seven were CPM leaders, including P Mohan, presently CPM Kozhikode district secretary.

There have been several other less sensationalised political murders in Kerala. A recent report says that 20 cases of political murder have been registered in the state since the Pinarayi Vijayan government assumed office in 2016; CPM men are accused in 16 of these 20 cases.

"In Kerala, the situation is very tricky this time. The state will witness a ferocious triangular fight. As the CPM is the biggest rival for the Congress and BJP in all the 20 Lok Sabha seats, both will attack the ruling party by raising the issue of political murders, which the red squad will find difficult to effectively defend," said NP Chekkutty, a leading social commentator and a former SFI leader.

"They will also expose how CPM protects its leaders and workers when they land in murder cases. For the past few years, a strong campaign has been going on against the murder politics in Kerala. Not only that. People have now realised that the CPM annihilates not its class enemies but the poor young men who propagate different political ideologies. This has created a strong feeling against murder politics in people, particularly among the educated young generation, cutting across all political hues across the state. Naturally, this will reflect in the voting, and undoubtedly, the CPM will be the worst loser followed by the BJP, whose track record in murder politics is as bad," Chekkutty said.

Whenever political enemies are killed, the CPM washes its hands off the cases and announces that it has nothing to do with the killings. If the accused are ordinary party workers, they are "suspended" from the party, whereas if leaders are booked, the party alleges that they were framed in the case to settle political scores. All eyewash. The CPM allegedly gives its leaders and workers all the financial and legal aid they need and takes care of their families. The leaders are also fielded in the next election in the safest seats.

"This brings twin benefits to the tainted leaders. The law-enforcing authorities goes soft on them as they have to follow protocol while taking action against an elected representative. Second, the 'people's representative' tag can confuse the court. It may create an impression that though he is accused in a murder case, he still enjoys the people's support. The accused may benefit here when the case is finally disposed of," a senior CPM leader claimed.

He also pointed out that the CPM has fielded Jayarajan — accused in two murder cases — in the Vadakara constituency this time. A few years ago, CPM leaders Karayi Rajan and Karayi Chandrasekharan — accused in the Mohammad Fasal murder case— were made candidates in a local body election; the former was appointed the Kannur district panchayat president and latter, the Thalassery municipal corporation chairman. The Karayis eventually resigned as the conditions for bail do not permit them to move out of Ernakulam district.

Fasal was killed allegedly after he switched loyalties from the CPM to the Muslim League. The CBI, which is investigating the case, had arrested the CPM leaders. They are now out on bail.

Murders apart, the CPM drew flak for fielding tainted businessman PV Anwar, a sitting MLA, in the Ponnani Lok Sabha constituency and giving a second chance to Idukki sitting MP Joice George.

Anwar built a water theme park at Kakkadampoyil in Kozhikode district violating all norms. The check-dam at the park atop a hillock poses a threat to the entire area. The water park has remained closed since the Kerala High Court ordered its demolition. Anwar faces legal action for fraud in more than one case, and several cases are pending against him for cheating investors.

The CPM is accused of supporting half a dozen such tainted businessmen in the last Assembly election. A few of them had even won.

Joice George is facing a case for encroaching on tribal land in Idukki district. So far, he has not been able to produce documents proving that the land belongs to him. The Pinarayi Vijayan government is believed to have unceremoniously transferred at least three young, upright IAS officers for taking a strong stand in the case.

The CPM is also criticised for its leaders hobnobbing with the billionaire NRI businessmen.

"Unlike in the past, the CPM, this time, has to fight at two warfronts, and both enemies are equally strong. Problems are aplenty for the party," observed IV Babu, a Left journalist.

Undoubtedly, this election will make or break the CPM.

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Updated Date: Mar 19, 2019 10:27:46 IST