Horror stories

Published : Jun 29, 2012 00:00 IST

The murder of RMP leader T.P. Chandrasekharan in early May continues to be the dominant theme in Kerala politics.

in Thiruvananthapuram

A tiring wait for answers to at least three critical political questions, all with grave import for the main opposition party, the faction-ridden Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), has snatched the spotlight away from the week-long first anniversary observance of the Congress -led United Democratic Front (UDF) government in Kerala which began on June 4.

The questions are as follows: (1) Although initial investigations have led to the arrest of several members of the CPI(M) in the case of the murder of former CPI(M) rebel and Revolutionary Marxist Party (RMP) leader T.P. Chandrasekharan near Vadakara on May 4, will the police eventually be able to prove their involvement before a court of law or identify the kingpins responsible for the murder?; (2) On May 27, while asserting that the CPI(M) had no role in Chandrasekharan's murder, why did the Idukki district secretary of the party, M.M. Mani, make an untimely, rustic boast at a public meeting that his was a party which will, if it so wishes, kill its political opponents and that in the 1980s, for example, it had prepared a hit list of 13 Congress opponents in the district and killed at least three of them?; and (3) What will be the eventual consequence within the State CPI(M) of the controversial visit of Leader of the Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan to Chandrasekharan's residence the only top CPI(M) leader to do so and to offer condolences on the very day of polling in the byelection at Neyyattinkara in which the RMP leader's murder was, arguably, the most important electoral issue?

The byelection to the State Assembly from the Neyyattinkara constituency, held on June 2, turned out to be the toughest three-cornered political battle in recent times in the State and defies easy predictions. The votes are to be counted only on June 15, and the result hinges mainly on the impact of the above questions on the electorate, among several other factors that have had a bearing on the recent murky trends in Kerala politics ( Frontline, June 1 and June 15, 2012). The uncertainty rests on how many votes former Union Minister O. Rajagopal, the candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party, who personally had a clear edge over the candidates of both the ruling UDF and the opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF), will gather in this byelection because of the above considerations even if this, perhaps, only spoils the chances of the candidate of one or the other Front.

The disturbing issues raised by these questions also saw the central leadership of the CPI(M) being forced to issue unlikely statements asserting that the party did not subscribe to individual killings of political opponents or those opposed to it and its politics, that it condemns and disapproves of the remarks of Mani which have sought to justify the retaliatory killing of political opponents and that the remarks have nothing whatsoever to do with the party's approach and politics.

Mani's shockingly proud boast came soon after the CPI(M) general secretary condemned the heinous killing [of Chandrasekharan] unreservedly and told an audience in Kannur district on May 19 that utilising this murder, the Congress and the UDF and a section of the media have launched a vicious campaign to defame the CPI(M) and to portray the party as a party of killers' and those who indulge in the politics of murder. There has to be a fair and impartial investigation by the police of the crime committed. If there is any truth in the allegations about the involvement of any member of our party in this crime, we shall take it seriously. If any person belonging to our party is associated with this murder, then that is an act that goes against the interests of our party and the movement. Such an act would not be tolerated by the party and firm action will be taken. If there is any wrong trend, it will be stopped and corrected.

But Mani's controversial statement achieved notoriety status through widespread television coverage, which the CPI(M) could not wish away. Mani had said at a meeting in Thodupuzha, held mainly to deny any role of the party in the recent murder: At Santhanpara and Rajakkad [in Idukki district in the 1980s], the Congress went to the estates with guns and the help of the police and goondas to force people to resign from the union [CITU, or Centre of Indian Trade Unions] and organise the INTUC [Indian National Trade Union Congress]. Hundreds of cases were registered against us [by the local Sub-Inspector, Superintendent of Police and the then Home Minister Vayalar Ravi]. We issued a statement, [a list of] about 13 people. One, Two, Three, Four. The first three were killed first. Yes. One was shot dead. One was stabbed to death. One was beaten to death. Do you understand? The person mentioned first was shot dead. The second one was beaten to death. The third one, he was stabbed to death. The Congressmen discarded their khaddar and ran away. Since then, they would [always] ask [our permission] whether they could continue to wear khaddar. Because they were afraid of being beaten up.

Although Mani later sought to wish it all away as part of the history of party building against heavy odds in Kerala in which the CPI(M) too had lost several comrades, the police have filed several cases (including one for murder) and constituted a special investigation team to check the veracity of his statement and go into the circumstances of the death of the Congressmen who were killed as Mani had described.

In the ongoing factional war ( Frontline, June 15) within the State CPI(M), however, it seemed that Mani's statement had already served its purpose. By bringing up the issue of the murders in the 1980s when, significantly, Achuthanandan was the party's State secretary and Mani a member of the Idukki district committee, Mani's statement knowingly or unknowingly tried to shield the current State party secretary, Pinarayi Vijayan (Achuthanandan's party rival), from any future blame game in the Chandrasekharan murder case.

If the unprecedented media focus on Mani's statement and the widespread condemnation it got from leaders of all major political parties tended briefly to divert attention from the inquiry into Chandrasekharan's murder, Achuthanandan's subsequent visit to the RMP leader's house at Onchium, to meet a widow who had lost her husband and a mother who had lost her son, barely two hours after polling began at Neyyattinkara on June 2, brought the issue squarely back into public focus. In fact, throughout the day, the emotionally charged scenes inside Chandrasekharan's residence during the visit, with a huge crowd, which included ordinary workers of the RMP and the CPI(M), witnessing them with empathy, hogged television screens instead of scenes from the polling booths in the southern end of the State.

With the result of the byelection yet to be announced, the CPI(M) State secretariat on June 6 clearly distanced itself from Mani's statement, declaring that the party had no role in the murders in Idukki and that it had decided to remove Mani, who was serving his fifth consecutive term as the Idukki district secretary, from his post. The meeting also reportedly decided to remove three aides of the Leader of the Opposition from the party, on the basis of an earlier inquiry report, for allegedly leaking party documents to the media.

Within a month of Chandrasekharan's murder, the State police arrested 22 people with alleged links to the CPI(M), including six important leaders of the party belonging to three CPI(M) area committees. A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court was set to hear a contempt of court petition filed by the CPI(M)'s Kozhikode district committee, uncharacteristically questioning the police giving out details of the investigation to the media every day a move condemned by Achuthanandan and defended by Pinarayi Vijayan. The police have also registered criminal cases against some CPI(M) leaders for allegedly threatening police officers investigating the murder. And the CPI(M)'s local units had announced they would oppose moves to falsely implicate party workers in the case.

It could be a while before the rest of this politically significant story unfolds.

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