Kerala

A murder case verdict

Print edition : February 21, 2014

CPI(M) leader P. Mohanan (centre) and others who were acquitted in the T.P. Chandrasekharan murder case, at the Additional Sessions Court in Kozhikode on January 22. Photo: PTI

A TRIAL court verdict in the sensational T.P. Chandrasekharan murder case setting free a key district leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) among others has come as a respite for the main opposition party in Kerala. However, the court found three area and local committee functionaries of the party guilty along with a gang of seven members that did the deed.

The CPI(M) had been finding it hard to remove the stain of suspicion about its alleged role in the May 4, 2012, murder of Chandrasekharan, a party dissenter who later formed the Revolutionary Marxist Party (RMP), which soon gained pockets of influence in a few traditional strongholds of the CPI(M) in Kozhikode and Kannur districts.

The brutality of the killers had few parallels in recent history in Kerala and the prosecution’s case was that a section of CPI(M) leaders had hatched a conspiracy and hired a seven-member gang to kill Chandrasekharan because of political enmity.

Following the arrest of some local leaders of the CPI(M) from two districts immediately after the murder, Chandrasekharan’s widow, K.K. Rema, and other leaders of the RMP and the ruling Congress-led coalition alleged that the murder would not have taken place without the concurrence of the top leaders of the CPI(M).

The CPI(M) continued to deny it and claimed that it was a slanderous campaign to defame it and “to portray it as a party of killers”; that it “did not subscribe to individual killings of political opponents or those opposed to the party and its policies”; and that the ruling Congress was trying brazenly “to influence the police investigation in order to reap political benefit out of the tragic incident”.

However, Chandrasekharan’s murder continued to haunt the CPI(M) and it was not able to explain away the hostility of its leaders towards him, especially after his party became part of a larger anti-CPI(M) umbrella body, the Edathupaksha Ekopana Samiti, which worked against the CPI(M) in some elections.

The murder had also been a major campaign issue that led to the opposition Left Democratic Front’s (LDF) defeat in a crucial byelection, in Neyyattinkara, in which a disgruntled CPI(M) MLA resigned from the party and won the seat back as a Congress candidate and strengthened the ruling coalition’s precarious seat position in the State Assembly (“Credibility muddle”, Frontline, June 15, 2012).

Chandrasekharan, whom the CPI(M) State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan had called a “traitor” but whom the opposition leader, V.S. Achuthanandan, described as a “true communist who would one day even return to the party”, was known as a “VS camp follower” during the height of the factional war within the CPI(M).

Achuthanadan’s visit to Chandrasekharan’s residence on the day of his funeral coincided with the day of the Neyyattinkara byelection and became a factor in the victory of the United Democratic Front (UDF) candidate and therefore a lingering issue in the factional war within the State CPI(M).

On January 22, the Special Additional Sessions Court (Marad Cases) in Kozhikode convicted 12 persons, including the three local leaders of the CPI(M), and awarded life imprisonment to 11 of them and imposed fines ranging from Rs.50,000 to Rs.1 lakh on them.

The court acquitted 24 persons, including P. Mohanan, a district secretariat member of the party (whom the prosecution claimed was a key conspirator and whose wife, K.K. Lathika, is a CPI(M) MLA), for want of legally admissible evidence. Five other party members were also let off by the court, all of them lower-level functionaries at area or local committees of the CPI(M).

The CPI(M) has cited the acquittal of Mohanan and some other party members as proof of its consistent position that it had no role or motive in the murder. Allegations of involvement of higher-rung leaders of the CPI(M) remained unsubstantiated. But, leaders of the RMP and the UDF said that the conviction of the three local CPI(M) leaders for conspiracy and murder exposed the party’s role and that the motive was clearly “political hostility, not personal enmity”.

The biggest quantum of punishment (life imprisonment and a fine of Rs.1 lakh) was awarded to the three CPI(M) local leaders, K.C. Ramachandran, Manojan and P.K. Kunjanandan, who were found guilty under Section 120 B (for criminal conspiracy) read together with Section 302 (for murder) under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Special Additional Sessions Judge, P. Narayana Pisharody, said in his order that Chandrasekharan was a victim of political animosity and that the first seven accused (the members of the gang that killed Chandrasekharan)“were tools in the hands of the persons who entertained political enmity towards the deceased”.

The court described the murder as “cold-blooded, pre-planned, and brutal” and said that “the motive of the crime was not personal enmity. The manner in which the murder was committed reveals extreme depravity. The action of the accused was inhuman, ruthless and barbaric. It shocks not only the judicial conscience but the collective conscience of society.”

The order also quoted Mahatma Gandhi at the outset, saying that “intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit”. It said that “if the right to dissent guaranteed in a republic governed by democracy is met with brutal force and dissenter is annihilated… it will sound the death knell of democracy.”

Of the 76 persons originally named in the charge sheet (two were excluded by the prosecution and two others are still absconding), the trial court exonerated 20 persons initially, and 15 others (including K.K. Ragesh, former national president of the Students Federation of India and State committee member) obtained a stay on their trial from the Kerala High Court. Another prominent CPI(M) member, a former leader of the party’s Non-Gazetted Officers (NGO) Union, who was among the accused, died during the pendency of the trial. Eventually, only 36 people faced trial in the case in which 56 of the 284 people in the original list of prosecution witnesses had turned “hostile”.

R. Krishnakumar

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