K Narayani is still scared of stepping out of her house in Pinarayi. Ten months ago, her only son, Remith S, was butchered, allegedly by CPM workers in front of his house and family.
“I cannot step out. Those who killed my son still roam about freely. I don’t want to see their faces,” Narayani said. Her husband, Uthaman C, a BJP worker, was killed earlier, allegedly by CPM workers on May 22, 2002, in Iritty, some 30 km away.
A bomb was thrown at the bus he was driving and he was knifed to death. Remith was barely 14 then. In October 2016, Remith was eliminated. “They were killed, both my husband and son, because of their association with the BJP,” Narayani said.
On the day he was killed, Remith had stepped out to get medicines for his pregnant sister. Barely metres away from the doorstep, he was hacked to death. “I pleaded and shouted to spare my son’s life,” Narayani recalled.
But the attackers were single-minded – to avenge the murder of fellow comrade Mohanan by killing a BJP worker. Not far from where Remith was murdered is the ancestral home of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. This is a CPM stronghold and Narayani accused that the murderers of her son were protected by Marxist leaders.
Remith had worked as a lorry driver in the Gulf for two years. As Narayani had undergo surgery in her leg, he returned to take care of his mother. Now, Narayani is devastated and all alone. Her daughter’s in-laws don’t let her visit Narayani fearing violence. As she narrated her ordeal, she broke down several times.
The BJP leadership provided financial support after Remith’s murder.
In the epicentre of the political rivalry between the RSS and the CPM – the cold-blooded murders of several Remiths stand as a blot on their combined political legacy. The Left and the Sangh Parivar may have given an aim for thousands of its cadre, they are also responsible for the havoc created over decades in Kerala’s Kannur and other violence-hit districts.
Roughly 52 km from Pinarayi is the suburb of Anoor, Payyannur. Here, 11-year-old Vivekanand parrots the names of all the accused in the murder of his father CV Dhanraj. Even his grandmother CV Madhavi, 64, fails to recall the names correctly. Dhanraj was the leader of the CPM’s youth wing, the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), and was hacked dead on July 11, 2016.
Kannur SP Shiva Vikram told Newslaundry that this was a planned political murder. “On that day, I heard the sound of his bike and then he cried in pain – Amme (Mother),” said Madhavi, recalling the horror of that night. She, Dhanraj’s wife and Vivekanand rushed to the gate. Dhanraj’s bike was lying on the ground in the courtyard, but he could not be seen.
As they heard some movement in the backyard, they rushed. “Bikes and cars had stopped near our house, turned in different directions. Dhanraj’s wife even caught hold of one of the masked attackers,” said Madhavi. This was someone whom Dhanraj had helped a few months back. Nine BJP workers were arrested.
His death brought nightmares for RSS-BJP sympathisers and several dozen houses were vandalised by CPM workers in retaliation. CK Ramachandran, a leader of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the RSS affiliated labour wing, was murdered in his house in Payyannur. CPM workers were arrested for this murder and six were made accused in the case. In May, RSS worker Biju, one of the accused in the Dhanraj case, was eliminated by CPM workers in Payyannur’s Kakkampara. He was out on bail.
“Because of Dhanraj, the CPM and DYFI cadres were able to carry out party work in RSS-dominated pockets of Payyannur. By eliminating him, they tried to stop the Marxists. Dhanraj too has had a criminal history,” a senior police officer said on condition of anonymity.
After Dhanraj’s murder, the CPM took out a grand procession to vent their anger. A smaragam (memorial) was built near his house. By the first death anniversary, Dhanraj, a construction contractor, has been transformed into a martyr and source of inspiration for several other comrades in the area.
The entire Payyannur constituency was flooded with flags and his posters; in a few, he stands alongside Che Guevara. However, for his mother, Madhavi, all of this is bereft of meaning. “Had he survived the attack, I would have asked him to leave the party.” Even though the CPM leadership stood with the family, she is disenchanted by politics. She shuns the culture of violence. “Now that my son has been killed, I will not allow my grandchild to undertake any party activity,” said Madhavi.
After Dhanraj’s death, the party deposited Rs 5 lakh for his family and is constructing a house on one bigha land. His wife was given a permanent job in a co-operative bank run by the CPM’s trust.
In Kerala, the CPM is also called the second-largest employer after the state public service commission. “The party offers jobs to family members of those martyred in cooperatives it manages,” advocate and CPM member Robert George told this reporter in Mallapattam.
“A regular stipend of Rs 5,000 or more is provided to the family of those jailed for serious cases,” he said.
Most of these cadres used to do odd jobs. For instance, Remith was a driver. Another planned political murder was that of K Mohanan, CPM’s branch secretary in Kuthuparamba Assembly constituency. He worked in a toddy shop in the Valankichal street of Paduvillayi village.
In October 2016, 54-year-old Mohanan was hacked to death by RSS workers in the same shop. “They (attackers) were regulars at the toddy shop. They chopped Mohanan in front of me,” 48-year-old Dinesh K told Newslaundry. At the entrance to the shop, there’s a poster hailing Mohanan’s martyrdom and inside a small portrait of him.
“His wife is still in a state of shock. She faints if someone talks about his death. Please do not discuss this with her,” pleaded Dinesh and others in the shop. For them, Mohanan was a beloved comrade, a true social worker and a man with an open heart who would even help those from the RSS-BJP. The party workers collected Rs 10 lakh for Mohanan’s family.
“When he was alive, not even a kid from this village would join the RSS. The attackers wanted to threaten others,” PK Prasad, a customer at the toddy shop, said.
Around 30 km away, in Pappinisseri - another CPM pocket - PV Sujith, 27, used to campaign for the BJP and the RSS. A resident of Aroli village, he was thrashed by CPM workers on February 15 and he succumbed to his injuries. Sujith belonged to the Ezhava community and was a painter.
His 53-year-old mother Sulochana M said: “He was the only active BJP worker in the area and was the booth agent (in the 2015 local body poll)…Aroli is a CPM village and they had warned Sujith of joining the BJP.” Many of the accused were their neighbours – including CPM branch secretary M Sathayan’s son Prasanth M.
The RSS has listed Sujith’s murder in the long list of balidanis in Kannur. With Sujith’s picture, a portrait of Bharata Mata holding the saffron flag, was hanging in the common room of the house. His family was provided Rs 10 lakh by the organisation. “They (RSS) gave money for building the house and deposited money in the bank. They are ready to help us for anything we ask,” Sujith’s elder brother PV Jayesh, 30, told Newslaundry. Now, Jayesh is a member of the BJP.
Like CPM families of martyrs, RSS families too don’t have any legal documents regarding the murder of their loved ones or those jailed. “The party takes care of the case and raises funds. Hence, we have given all documents to them,” said Jayesh. When asked what if the party abandons them or loses interest, Jayesh and his mother responded, “We trust the party.”
Both the RSS and the CPM take care of their martyrs’ families as well as those caught in legal cases. Through their internal mechanism, the parties also cross-check the motives behind the murders. In the case of Prasanth, the CPM didn’t provide any legal aid to Prasanth.
“It was not a political fight. Had it been one, the party would have taken care of his expenses,” KP Valsan, local area secretary of Pappinisseri told Newslaundry.
Even the devastating personal tragedies are dwarfed in front of the seemingly mammoth issues of ideology. Sujith’s family firmly supports the RSS-BJP. So does Biju’s father PV Purushottam, “Since my childhood, I have been going to RSS shakha.”
When asked what keeps him glued to the ideology, he responded: “For Hindutva. We want to promote Hindu culture. The CPM has a different ideology.” Hate for CPM comes naturally to him. “I have seen the violence perpetrated by the CPM. That’s why I hate them,” said the 65-year-old.
While Biju, 33, was a painter, his elder son works in the Gulf countries. In the hall of a small bungalow, Purushottam denied the allegation against his son, “He was out on bail in the Dhanraj murder case, but he was innocent. We were attacked for working for RSS-BJP.” He had asked the party not to put up the posters and banners of his “martyred” son in and around the area in Payyannur. However, using his tragedy in “Delhi is fine, as it exposes the real face of the CPM.”
Around 56 km from here, in a CPM-run cooperative hospital in Thalassery, Sreejan Babu is admitted. He was attacked by RSS workers armed with swords and knives on July 3. The 22 serious wounds on his entire body are enough to make anyone disenchanted with the Kannur model of politics. But for him, these are minor losses. This correspondent met Babu on August 26. This was his 52nd day in the hospital. Babu has no regrets whatsoever.
“I am fighting for secular India. It’s not about CPM. I am ready to sacrifice my life for secular India,” emphasised Babu in English. The 42-year-old Marxist switched to Malayalam to add: “Communal forces like the RSS are a threat to the country.” Babu is an auto driver and started his political journey with the CPM’s children wing – Bal Sangam. He later joined SFI and DYFI and eventually became a CPM member.
His marriage too was a union brought about by ideology. His wife was an SFI leader and is now an elected member of the gram panchayat. While his leaders include Mahatma Gandhi, Karl Marx, Che Guevara and Bhagat Singh, he has named his only son Bhagat. His 13-year-old son has already started working for the CPM – through Bal Sangam.
“No one is allowed to take revenge for what was done to me. Not even my son should think like that. If he does, I will disown him,” said Babu.
Babu was not ready to even imagine that there could be an end to the “rise of the red sun” in Kerala. However, he acknowledges that, like any other party, the CPM too has its flaws. “We sit and point out these problems to the leadership. They accept, and correct it,” said Babu.
There are hundreds of human losses. CPM’s Kannur district secretary P Jayarajan is a living legend for his comrades. Jayarajan was attacked by RSS workers in his early days of party activism. The attackers left him thinking that he was dead. He survived and turned into an avenging angel against the RSS. His left thumb is missing. His right hand, which was become dysfunctional after the deadly attack, is a badge of pride for him.
According to a former DIG, “Back then, the CPM, through its spying mechanism, came to a conclusion that KT Jayakrishnan Master – an RSS leader – was the main conspirator of the attack on Jayarajan. Master was killed in the classroom in front of his students.” It was December 31, 1999, when he was killed by CPM workers. The students, also witnesses in the case, had to go through several rounds of counselling.
In August 2003, five of the seven accused were sentenced to death. Later, in 2006, the Supreme Court acquitted four and the remaining man’s sentence was commuted to life.
“Families that lose their sons and brothers to political violence will never be able to cope with those losses. See, this was also the key feature of the centuries-old practice of mercenary fights involving chekavars, who died without any good reason to satisfy the egos of the kings and princes of yore. Now, political parties zealously use these killings to drum up political fervour within the family and the neighbourhood. I get this feeling that, very often, there in Kannur, centuries coexist, " said Ullekh NP, a journalist and author of the book, The Untold Vajpayee.
While the RSS claims that it has lost 296 cadre ever since its formation in Kerala, the CPM maintains that over 650 of its workers have been “martyred” so far. Notably, according to official police data, Kannur alone has witnessed 121 political killings in the last three decades. Both – RSS and CPM – have legitimised these mindless killings by releasing booklets in praise of their ‘martyr’ cadre. They have institutionalised hatred against each other by protecting its criminal cadre and legally helping when they get killed.
According to Ullekh, these violent political clashes are only going to damage the CPM's position in the state as the RSS has already started propaganda that the Marxists are hand in gloves with the Islamist groups though that is a blatant and colourful lie.
"Nationally, religious polarisation is only getting deeper. Communal polarisation will definitely have a greater impact than any kind of class polarisation. So naturally, the RSS will stand to benefit if its misinformation campaign clicks. If the CPM is smart enough they should move heaven and earth to end this violence and rein in their cadres. Otherwise traditional Hindu voters of the CPM will switch their loyalties to the RSS. Thalassery riots of 1971-72 is proof of that. Many CPM sympathisers got carried away following the incident and joined the ranks of the RSS,” he added.
Now as Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has initiated peace talks, both the CPM and the RSS leadership is hopeful that this spree of political violence would stop. However, the nature of the politics on the ground suggests that the peace here will be short-lived.
Artwork: Anish Daolagupu
Animation: Venkateshwaran Selvaraj
Picture Credit: Amit Bhardwaj
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