Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Why Monday's murder of an RSS worker is unlikely to be the last political killing in Kannur

NB: This brutal act must be condemned by all democrats, no matter what their political beliefs. It is not possible to wage a struggle for preserving democratic norms against hateful politics of the Sangh by condoning murderous behaviour by self-styled revolutionaries. In 1999 the schoolteacher Jayakrishnan was murdered in front of his students; and in 2012 the dissident CPI (M) leader, TP Chandrashekharan was killed. These cases were traced to killer gangs linked to the CPI (M). It is equally true that such actions have been undertaken by the Sangh (see the ban order of February 4, 1948 in the aftermath of Gandhi's assassination; and Maoists. Violence by private armies and vigilante groups will destroy democracy and must be opposed, regardless of the ideological affiliations of such groups. DS

Monday's murder of RSS worker unlikely to be the last political killing in Kannur
The murder of a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh activist in Kannur district of poll-bound Kerala late on Monday seems the latest of several politically motivated killings that have plagued the district for over 30 years.

About 10 people attacked PV Sujith, 27, at his home on Monday night. His aged parents and brother suffered injuries when they tried to stop the assault. Sujith, who was hacked with a sword, died before reaching hospital. The police has taken seven persons, alleged to be Communist Party of India (Marxist) workers, into custody.
The Bharatiya Janata Party blamed the CPI(M) for the assault. Its Kannur district president, P Sathyaprakash, said the “unprovoked” attack was part of the violence the CPI(M) planned following the arrest of its district secretary P Jayarajan in the 2014 Kathiroor Manoj murder case. BJP state president Kummanam Rajashekharan said that Sujith was a victim of political violence, adding that the incident indicated that the CPI(M) was unwilling to abandon violence. “When the CPI(M) leadership rejected our initiative for talks to end the spectre of violence in Kannur, I knew they did not want peace to prevail,” he said. “The murder of our worker on Monday has proved my fears.”

The CPI(M) state secretary, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, however, denied that politics was behind the RSS functionary’s murder. It was the result of a local dispute over the alleged harassment of a girl, he said. His colleague in Kannur, EP Jayarajan, accused the BJP of trying to attribute political motives to the crime for political gain.

Muscle power rules
Though it is unclear whether political rivalry was to blame for the crime, killings in Kannur tend to get political overtones more often than not because politics in the district – the cradle of the Communist movement in Kerala – is driven by muscle power across political parties. The emergence of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in the 1980s, and its attempts to penetrate the CPI(M)’s pocket boroughs or party villages, made brutal murders a routine affair in the district. Though the CPI(M) resisted the Hindutva outfit’s attempts to make inroads into its villages, it could not stop the RSS from creating new ones. 

Both outfits now have several villages in the district where they enforce their writ. Dissenters are physically manhandled or killed. About 200 people have been killed in the crossfire between the two groups in the last three decades. The parties protect the killers and, if they are convicted, their families too.
A senior police officer in north Kerala said that the police seldom get to nab the actual culprits in most cases as the political parties themselves produce the accused and witnesses. Most cases, therefore, fail judicial scrutiny. It is common to see mass acquittals in such cases. Just on Tuesday, the Kerala High Court acquitted 26 CPI(M) activists who were sentenced to life imprisonment by trial courts in two political murder cases. The prosecution had apparently failed to prove their direct involvement in the crimes. Then, in the sensational Jayakrishnan Master murder case, the Supreme Court acquitted four of the five accused who had been sentenced to death by a lower court, and commuted the death sentence of the fifth accused to life term. Jayakrishnan was lynched to death inside a classroom as his students watched in December 1999.

The police officer, who did not want to be identified, said there were several cases where the police has blindly believed the “accused” and “witnesses” produced by parties responsible for the crime. He said that police officers, who defy the political parties, are intimidated and even attacked by musclemen. The state director general of prosecution, T Asif Ali, said the police had decided not to charge the CPI(M)’s Kannur district secretary P Jayarajan with conspiracy in the 2012 Shukoor murder case as his arrest that year had led to widespread violence across the district.

But Jayarajan recently saw two setbacks in court. On February 8, the High Court ordered a CBI probe into the Shukoor murder saying that the court can’t allow “self-declared kings to control the law and order system.” And on February 11, the high court rejected his petition for anticipatory bail in the Kathiroor murder case. Jayarajan surrendered before court a day later and was remanded in judicial custody. The BJP believes that the murder of PV Sujith was a reaction to his arrest.

Serious accusations
Apart from Jayarajan, several other senior CPI(M) leaders are believed to have a hand in several politically motivated murders that the state police has failed to investigate. This includes the 2012 murder of TP Chandrashekharan, a Marxist rebel, who questioned the ideological deviations in the party. The police stopped its investigation in the case after filing a chargesheet against those directly involved in the crime. 

Three CPI(M) leaders are among eight people sentenced to life imprisonment in connection with the murder. Chandrashekharan’s wife believes that the murder – the victim was hacked to death – was conceived at the highest level in the party, and is continuing a lonely battle for a CBI probe to bring them to book. If she succeeds, this will be the fourth murder case where the CBI would have been brought in to investigate the conspiracy angle.

Kerala’s Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala believes that attempts to identify and track those who order killings, and not just the killers themselves, will help bring an end to the political violence in Kannur. Whatever the case, the Congress is gearing up to make political violence a major poll issue in the forthcoming Assembly elections due in April or May. Jayarajan’s recent arrest , and Sujith's murder has given a breather to the ruling United Democratic Front, which is grappling with corruption cases against seven-odd ministers. The party believes that the government can use the murder and arrest to put the CPI(M) and the BJP on the defensive in the run up to the polls.

Also see:
A Hard Rain Falling (on private armies and political violence-EPW, July 2012
The law of killing - a brief history of Indian fascism