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Kerala: Congress Workers Killed, CPM In The Dock
2019 Polls

Kerala: Congress Workers Killed, CPM In The Dock

Naveen Nair

Naveen Nair

Outcry over killing of Youth Congress workers across Kerala could hit Kerala’s ruling party hard in the Lok Sabha polls

If the alleged mishandling of the Sabarimala issue by the Pinarayi Vijayan government had already put the CPI(M)-led Left front in Kerala on the backfoot ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the political murder of two Youth Congress workers in Kasargode this week has made the slope very slippery.

Political violence is not new to Kerala. But the barbarity surrounding the killing of Sharath Lal and Kripesh aged 20 and 18 respectively, is likely to have an impact on the psyche of the neutral voters in the state.

With the police arresting one Peethambaran, a local committee member of the CPM along with his accomplice Saji George, the FIR stating ‘political rivalry’ as the motive behind the killing, the ruling party is certainly in the dock. Five others owing allegiance to the party have also been taken into custody.

But what further turns the heat on the CPM is the alleged involvement of not just one local committee member but that of the district leadership in the murder.

This, after a video went viral on social media where VPP Mustafa, a CPM strongman in the district secretariat is allegedly seen giving a ‘call to arms’ to kill the Congress workers, hardly a month before the incident. In the video Mustafa is seen citing the altercation the two Youth Congress workers had with Peethambaran before calling for their killing.

Following the arrest of Peethambaran who has confessed to lynching the boys in retaliation for an attack on him a month ago, there was an immediate claim by the accused himself that the party had no direct involvement in the killing.

But hardly had his statement come out in the public when Peethambaran’s wife and daughter told mediapersons that he was under pressure from the CPM to take sole responsibility for the crime and that he had done this only at the behest of the party leadership. They also said that CPM MLA from Uduma, K Kunhiraman, was also party to the crime.

“My husband’s differences with them were not personal. It was political rivalry. He would not do anything without the knowledge and approval of the party. He will do anything for the party. Still the party has now put all responsibility on him alone and has thrown him out,’’ Manju, Pitambaran’s wife told mediapersons on Wednesday.

Victim Kripesh’s father stated that his son’s killing was a well-planned political ‘liquidation’. “It is certainly not one man’s enmity which is behind this heinous crime. There is a deep rooted conspiracy on the part of the party leadership. Everyone knows that without the party’s knowledge they will not do this. In fact, the leadership here had been baying for my son’s blood,’’ said Krishnan, Kripesh’s father.

Kripesh’s home at Kasargode
Kripesh’s home at Kasargode

Ironically, Krishnan had been an erstwhile active CPM worker in the area but has stayed away from politics for sometime now. He is yet to come to terms with his son’s brutal killing allegedly by the same party that he once swore allegiance to.

The second victim Sharath Lal’s father has also alleged that CPM’s Uduma MLA has a hand in the killing. The family is now planning to the approach the Kerala High Court for a CBI probe since they feel they cannot trust the present investigation by the state police.

Damage Control By CPM

Within the first 48 hours of the incident the ruling party swung its damage control measures in full force.

The Chief Minister Pinararyi Vijayan rushed to AKG Centre, the party headquarters in Thiruvananthapuram to hold consultations with the state secretary and other senior leaders. Such meetings by the CM happen only under extraordinary circumstances.

The message was clear – the CPM could not afford to justify the killing nor could it remain a mute spectator. It had to build a strong defensive narrative in an election year. In a hurriedly called press briefing the state secretary made the party’s stand loud and clear.

“The CPI(M) as a party has no role to play in this dastardly killing of two Youth Congress workers. If we find anyone from the party involved in this matter we will throw him out of the party. There will be no attempt to shield anyone,’’ said Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, CPI(M) state secretary.

But the narrative hardly worked on the ground. Political analysts say that such blatant ‘washing one’s hands off’ strategy won’t help the party any longer, for the way in which the murders were committed had the telling signs of a ‘professional hand’, something which has CPM’s imprints all over when it comes to political killings in the state.

The spot where Sharathlal and Kripesh were hacked to death. The bike the duo used can also be seen.
The spot where Sharathlal and Kripesh were hacked to death. The bike the duo used can also be seen.

“For CPM it is impossible to run away from the responsibility. See this is not like hardcore political goons of either side killing each other. Right from Shuhaib’s murder last year, there is a pattern developing where young boys who are politically opposed to the CPM are done away with. They may have opposed you, may have even got into verbal or physical fights with you, but to bump them off in a well planned manner is something literate Kerala will find hard to accept,’’ political commentator Sunnykutty Abraham told The Lede.

Abraham says CPM will feel the brunt of these killings in at least three districts of north Kerala in the upcoming polls. Kasargode, Kannur & Kozhikode together has four Lok Sabha constituencies out of which two have sitting MPs from CPI(M).

The twin murder could have a direct impact on all these four seats and with things not looking great in south and central Kerala thanks to the Sabarimala issue, a poor show in north Kerala could mean a total disaster for the Left front.

CPM’s best bet had been to send out a perception that a thorough investigation was on. But even that has been nipped in the bud after the family members of both the victims have come out openly to say that they do not trust the present police investigation.

The CPM Modus Operandi

Developments over the past two days also stand testimony to the fears of the victims’ families that since the ruling party is involved, no proper investigation would take place.

Even when Peethambaran claimed to have committed the murder alone under the influence of drugs, top police officers find it hard to believe him. This is because Peethambaran’s family claims that he has a broken hand with a steel implant which is not conducive for any hard labour, let alone murder. But at the moment the cops do not seem to have any evidence to prove Peethambaran’s ‘confession’ wrong.

Secondly, the weapons recovered from a well with Peethambaran’s help do not correspond to the grievous injuries caused on the two victims. While Sharath Lal had more than twenty cuts below his knee and one deep wound on his neck, Kripesh had one very deep wound measuring close to ten centimetres on his head, breaking his skull open as per the inquest report.

How such injuries could be caused by just one rusted, blunt sword and a few iron pipes is still unclear. While forensic experts say that more deadly weapons were used by a highly trained gang, the investigation team is tightlipped about it.

The remand report in the case claims that while Sharath Lal was being hacked to death, a fleeing Kripesh was also lynched. Questions still remain as to how both murders could take place at the same time with one weapon which is the recovered sword.

Senior Congress leaders meeting Sharathlal’s father
Senior Congress leaders meeting Sharathlal’s father

Meanwhile the Congress party in Kerala is also echoing the sentiments of the victim’s family and is pulling out all stops to put the CPM on a sticky wicket.

“There are many instances in this case which show that the police are doing a shoddy investigation. We do not have any trust in the present investigation. Police is helping the party get away by putting the entire onus on one person. Hence we call for a CBI probe because the state police will never have the freedom to investigate this properly with Pinarayi Vijayan at the helm of affairs,’’ said Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala.

Thirdly, a week before the killing took place at least two sitting MLAs of the CPM in the area had called for the death of the two boys for having a quarrel with Peethambaran and Sathyanarayanan. Sharath Lal’s father says there is nothing else needed to nail the party’s involvement in his son’s murder and charges the police with overlooking this evidence.

Finally, the political argument of the CPM appears to be falling flat. From the day the murder took place, party leaders had been saying that the CPM is not so politically naïve as to take part in murder with the elections staring it in the face.

But history does not agree. Many say that CPM’s local leadership is very much capable of such brazenness and cites the gruesome murder of RMP (Revolutionary Marxist Party) founder TP Chandrasekharan in Vadakara in 2012 on the eve of a very important assembly by-election in Neyyatinkara constituency.

“Such arguments might find takers among the party workers for whom whatever the party says is the final call. But for neutral voters and majority of people in Kerala, such excuses won’t buy the party any merit. People know very well that such murder involving CPM workers won’t take place unless the party is involved. This will have serious repercussions for the party in the upcoming polls,” political activist NM Pearson told The Lede.

The outcry over the killing of the two young men has no doubt touched a crescendo across Kerala over the past few days. Former Chief Minister and CPM nonagenarian VS Achuthananthan called it “one of the most heinous” crimes ever.

What has also struck a chord with the people is that both the victims’ families have very poor backgrounds and to snatch away their earning members has certainly invoked a lot of sympathy which is now translating into anger towards the ruling party.

Revenue Minister E Chandrashekharan of the CPI did call upon the families on Thursday. But all eyes will be on Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan who will be touring Kasargode on Friday. If the CM decides to visit the families it will then perhaps help them regain some trust in the system and also send out a political message that the CPIM would not support political killings anymore.