Shuhaib murder case: Kerala govt's opposition to CBI probe exposes CPM's double game; Left must end culture of political killings

If there had been one murder case in the recent memory that has shaken the conscience of the average citizen in Kerala, it’s that of Indian Youth Congress worker SV Shuhaib in Kannur. It is not as if Kannur or the state of Kerala at large is not familiar with such well-orchestrated killings of political opponents by CPM or even BJP, but when a hapless 29-year-old Congress worker is at the receiving end, in undoubtedly the strongest bastion of CPM, the one-sidedness of the crime only amplifies the outcry.

This very outcry took Shuhaib's family to the doors of the Kerala High Court pleading for a CBI probe which the family succeeded in getting, but the state government seemed to have made up its mind that it would not let a CBI probe happen whatever be the odds.

The government first opposed the petition in front of the single bench which (heard the plea) only to earn terrible criticism from the court, which saw merit in allowing the plea of the family.

But what has now baffled political pundits across the state is the obstinacy with which the state appealed against the decision before a division bench of the same high Court and earned a stay order until this weekend.

File image of Akash Thillankeri (circled) with Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Naveen Nair/Firstpost

File image of Akash Thillankeri (circled) with Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Naveen Nair/Firstpost

And, in doing so, the Left government has not only turned its face away from the pleas of the father and the two sisters of the victim but has also exposed itself to ridicule. Many feel that the government is acting like an extension of the ruling party, which perhaps has a lot to hide in this murder case.

"Why should the government interfere in this? Why should the government or the party oppose a CBI probe demanded by the father of the victim if it has nothing to hide in this case? That is the cardinal question. As long as the government is not able to answer it convincingly, you cannot fault anyone who thinks that the state is doing this to protect someone," senior journalist and noted political commentator Sunnykutty Abraham told Firstpost.

Although Congress has been going to town with similar allegations of a cover-up by the ruling Left, it is the high court’s observation while allowing the CBI probe that has literally shamed the government.

Justice Kamal Pasha was particularly miffed with the Kerala Police for its inability to recover the weapons used for the killing in spite of the accused being in custody and for its reluctance to use Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in spite of the case fitting the requirements, according to the court.

"Either they could not do it out of inefficiency or their hands are fettered as pointed out by the learned counsel for the petitioners. It cannot be believed that the investigating agency could not gather any information regarding the weapons from A1 and A2 even though for days and days they were in the custody. It cannot be said that the investigation of this case was expeditious or fair. It lacks transparency," wrote Justice Pasha in the judgment.

The Court also went on to uphold the contention of Shuhaib’s father that there was a larger conspiracy at play allegedly involving some of the top leadership of CPM because the accused neither had any personal association nor any animosity with Shuhaib nor they were from the same locality.

That the 11-member gang looked more like a hired team of party workers from another area, puts Shuhaib's father's conspiracy argument on a sound wicket.

It is the same crucial point which many feel could rattle CPM and the state, if exposed by a CBI probe.

Already, three political killings which took place in Kannur are under CBI investigation. The CPM and its Kannur district secretary P Jayarajan, a party strongman and key aide of chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, is under the scanner for all the three deaths. Another CBI probe is something the party can ill afford with hardly a year left for the Lok Sabha polls.

“At the all-party meeting called following Shuhaib’s murder, the state had agreed that it is ready to involve any agency for investigation. But then when his father when to the court, they backed out. Why did that happen? The state could have said that it has no opposition to a CBI probe but the single bench’s harsh observations which sounded more like a no-confidence motion against the executive should be removed. This would have helped CPM score a political point as well as earn the people’s trust. But people now feel that the opposition to the probe is to protect someone big in the party," says Joseph C Mathew, former advisor to VS Achuthananthan and a political analyst.

There are others who have faced this double game of CPM up-close. KK Rema, widow of TP Chandrasekharan, who was hacked to death by a CPM gang in 2012 for starting a new party after defecting from CPM, feels the present script is too similar to Chandrasekharan’s murder.

"See even in our case too, the murderers were from two different districts and had no personal reasons to kill Chandrasekharan. But these are highly motivated killers who are doing the killing for the party leadership to ensure that CPM continues its stranglehold locally. Shuhaib was a headache for the party just like Chandrasekharan. That is why CPM is now worried that a CBI probe could bring out the larger conspiracy," said Rema.

But more significantly, this is where the party’s double game comes to the fore. From the day Shuhaib was mercilessly hacked to death with 37 cuts to the lower part of his body, the district and state leadership of the party distanced itself from the killing saying no party member was involved.

A few days later when the killers were identified as party workers, four including Akash Thillankeri and Rajin Raj, were thrown out. Thillankeri’s selfie pictures with Jayarajan and even Pinarayi Vijayan had been circulating over the social media causing great embarrassment for the party.

File image of Akash Thillankeri with CPM leader P Jayarajan. Naveen Nair/Firstpost

File image of Akash Thillankeri (left) with CPM leader P Jayarajan. Naveen Nair/Firstpost

But very strangely, CPM refused to say that the action taken against them was for killing Shuhaib. Rather, the party called the reason as 'anti-party activities' which many say is a perfect hoodwink to keep supporting the perpetrators legally and otherwise in the future.

"This is CPM's usual game plan. Throwing them out of the party is just a face-saving attempt. Later on, the party not only protects them, it runs their cases and even looks after their families. Even during Chandrasekharan’s murder, KC Ramachandran was thrown out of the party. But all help was provided by the party later. For all the accused, the case was run by the party with highly paid lawyers. It's never the family of the accused that runs the case. Here also it will be same. All this is just CPM’s double game," added Rema.

Rema's words are gathering more significance under the latest turn of events. PK Kunhanandan, a convict in Chandrasekharan's murder case and is serving a life term. But he continues to be the party’s Panur area committee member and even attends official meetings by arranging parole from prison.

That the state has recently suggested his name on the jail term remission list of prisoners has also come as a shock to many. Support for the convict runs so deep that the government has also been trying to by-pass the normal course of actions followed to release him.

Congress, in the meanwhile, is crying hoarse over the government’s decision and it puts forth two arguments for the same. One, any investigation by the state police under the ruling party would substantially weaken the case helping the culprits get off the hook with a lesser sentence or even an acquittal citing lack of evidence. Second, the Congress calls this stay order gained from the court as a dilly-dallying tactic to buy time for the accused to get normal bail which they are entitled to if a chargesheet is not filed in 90 days time.

But CPM calls it baseless and says it has full confidence in the state police’s investigation.

"There is nothing for CPM to hide in the Shuhaib (murder) case and so we are not afraid of a CBI probe. The government always wants every case to be probed by the state police and only if it can’t be cracked by them then it goes to CBI. Here the state police have nabbed the culprits and neither the government nor the party is doing anything to protect them," CPM State Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan told media persons.

But not everyone is ready to buy this claim of CPM. History has exposed the party’s double game in a number of cases in the recent past.

"I think we should understand how this cadre-based party works. Openly, they might condemn violence but ultimately a party that had been following the path of violent politics cannot simply one day ask its cadres to drop the knife. It does not work like that. It has not happened in West Bengal or Tripura. CPM will be finished if it does that even if it means that it is getting alienated from the people at large," says CR Neelakandan, convenor of Aam Admi Party (AAP) in Kerala.

With CBI coming into the scene, the party is also said to be worried about how BJP at the Centre would use it to hunt down senior CPM leaders in the state for the saffron party to work out its larger game plan of capturing power in Kerala.

There are political analysts close to the party think-tank who feel that CPM is wary of the changing scenario post the Tripura debacle and the need to send out a message to the electorate that the party doesn’t stand with violent politics, at least in Kerala.

"In the recently concluded state conference of the party in Thrissur, there had been bitter opposition against the kind of politics followed by the Kannur district leadership. A huge section of CPM is fed up with this. This may be one of the reasons why the party wants to ensure credibility is regained by a transparent investigation under the state police itself rather than it going to CBI. That is the reason the state is showing confidence in the state police," says NM Pearson, CPM ideologue, and political commentator.

Meanwhile, the single bench of the Kerala High Court while giving the case to the CBI has said that that it is only the individuals who die and their families that are pushed to the streets but political parties never die. Hence such meaningless political killings should end.

Now it remains to be seen whether the ruling party in Kerala will show the political maturity to end such meaningless killings.


Updated Date: Mar 19, 2018 12:57 PM

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