The murder of yet another Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh mandal karyavahak in Kannur, ninth since the Left Democratic Front came to power in Kerala in May 2016, has put the Pinarayi Vijayan government in another tight spot days before its completion of one year in office. It has once again brought the CPM in direct confrontation with the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is trying to consolidate its position in the state. The beheading of 34-yer-old Biju, who is one of the accused in the murder of Marxist worker Dhanaraj in July last, has come at a time when there was a semblance of truce in the area, following all-party peace meetings convened by the Chief Minister in Kannur, as well as the state capital Thiruvananthapuram. But that confidence-building effort is in tatters with the Chief Minister’s party itself going back to vendetta politics. It is an open secret that some cadre were preparing for Biju’s murder well in advance. Party workers had been flooding social media with calls for revenge and a vow to kill Biju within a year. True to their words, the mission was accomplished before the deadline. The timing of the murder is also under a cloud. Following death threats, the victim was given police protection. However, two days before the murder, the security cover was allegedly withdrawn. Also, the assailants had prior information that the victim would be reaching Payyanur that day. The BJP alleges that the murder had taken place with the connivance of the state machinery and hence the party terms it “state-sponsored” cold-blooded murder. One cannot blame the BJP if there are several takers in the state for such a theory.
The immediate reactions of the CPM leadership too did not help much in clearing doubts in the minds of the public. CM Pinarayi Vijayan’s contention that the murder was most “unfortunate” and an “isolated” one, has been seen as an inadequate to those who have been crying foul. The murder was anything but an isolated case. In fact, within two hours of the murder of Dhanaraj on 11 July 2016, a Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh worker, who had nothing to do with the killing, was hacked to death in front of his two sons. The Chief Minister’s comments were seen as more that of a party leader trying to shield his men, rather than that of a Chief Minister who is also in charge of the home ministry and so is bound to safeguard the lives of ordinary citizens.
The reaction of the CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, too, was not too convincing. Even when the police identified two of the arrested assailants as party workers with previous charges of murder and arson against them and a CPM lawyer appeared for them in court, Balakrishnan went on parroting that the party would take action against its workers “if they were found to be involved in the murder”.
Ironically, it is the very same Balakrishnan who had exhorted his party men to take revenge at a public meeting in Payyannur in the aftermath of the killings last July. “Those coming to attack us in our areas should not return in one piece. This should be ensured by increasing our strength in all areas,” he had said on that day and went scot free despite the Opposition demanding his arrest. The CPM’s Kannur district secretary, P. Jayarajan, who himself faces murder charges, said at the time, “Party workers should always be equipped to face such attack. Those who come with the intention to attack should not return happily.” This time too, the party is in no mood to admit its direct involvement in the murder and instead has trained its guns against the BJP leadership, which had, for reasons of their own, launched a frontal attack on state Governor P. Sathasivam.
The state BJP, under the leadership of its lone MLA O. Rajagopal, had met the Governor and had requested him to seek Army intervention in Kannur district. However, the party demand to arm the forces with the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) did not find any takers among the Opposition. More than the demand to invoke AFSPA, it is the attack on the Governor by the younger BJP leadership that has come for all-round criticism. BJP general secretary M.T. Ramesh and firebrand woman leader Shobha Surendran took a confrontationist attitude, accusing the Governor of complicity with the government. This has come as a blessing in disguise for CPM. The party, which had in the past held the view that the Governor is a Sangh Parivar man, did not lose much time to cash in by saying the BJP is trying to browbeat the Governor by forcing him to resort to unconstitutional measures. It took saner elements like O. Rajagopal to blunt the CPM attack. “BJP’s policy is not criticism of the Governor. Kerala has a way of stamping all our sincere members as RSS,” Rajagopal explained in the Assembly. Union minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy, who visited the bereaved family in Kannur, also reminded the hot-headed younger leadership about the need to respect Constitutional heads. However, BJP president Amit Shah warned that if the government fails to check political violence, “BJP along with Sangh Parivar will lead a very big agitation with people of Kerala”.
But the most revealing of all reactions was that of Muslim League member and Deputy Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, M.K. Muneer, who raised a direct question to the Chief Minister. “Is the government trying to create one widow in every house in Kannur?” he asked. The CPM had no answer. Wounds of 48 years are not going to heal that easily.