Can ‘political violence’ as an election issue bring down CPM’s strong man P Jayarajan in Vadakara?
If Sabarimala has been a major election issue across a number of Lok Sabha constituencies in Kerala, Vadakara in north Kerala offers a slightly different picture.
At one of the strongest bastions of the CPM, there is only one election issue – political violence.
Not only because the constituency is located in north Kerala which has had a long history of political violence but the Left candidate, CPM’s strongman P Jayarajan is perceived by the entire opposition as the fulcrum of violent politics.
The opposition is not far off the mark. Jayarajan is currently chargesheeted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in two murder cases, for killing opponents from two different political parties.
He faces charges under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for allegedly masterminding the murder of RSS leader Kathiroor Manoj in 2014. He was also recently charged by the CBI at a special court as the principal conspirator in the killing of Muslim Youth League activist Ariyil Shukhoor in 2012.
The chargesheet states that Shukhoor was first held captive and following a ‘trial’ by a kangaroo court of CPM activists, was hacked to death in broad daylight on the orders of Jayarajan, over phone. The only crime the teenage activist had committed was to block the vehicles of the CPM leaders including Jayarajan.
The words of K Muraleedharan the high profile Congress-led UDF (United Democratic Front) candidate on the day he alighted at the Vadakara Railway station also reflects the campaign in the constituency.
“The fight here in Vadakara is against politics of violence. On one side you have the UDF that will uphold democratic principles and on the other side you have the CPM which has made this part of Kerala a laboratory for their political killings. The people are fed up and we will surely come back with a victory.”
K Muraleedharan, Congress candidate, Vadakara
History-sheeters becoming candidates and even winning elections is nothing new in India. But what sets Jayarajan apart is the label that he has carried over the years as the ‘poster boy’ of political killing in north Kerala. The CPM’s continual choice of Jayarajan as a candidate baffles political pundits.
Experts say the decision is a reflection of the ruling party’s mentality from the moment the Pinarayi Vijayan government came to power in 2016. MN Karaserry, a noted literary figure from Kozhikode sums up the reasons for the CPM to put Jayarajan as the candidate in Vadakara.
“We all recollect how the CPM state secretary gave a call to arms just a couple of months after this government came to power. We have also seen how the present power minister MM Mani has faced murder charges after openly saying that they liquidated political opponents. So for a political party that openly declares that it is in their policy to bump off political opponents, putting Jayarajan in Vadakara is no big deal. But whether the people will accept it or not is, at the moment, a difficult thing to say.’’
Karaserry to <i>The Lede</i>
In February this year two Youth Congress leaders Kripesh and Sharat Lal were hacked to death by alleged CPM workers in Periya in Kasargode district. Jayarajan might have had little to do with this killing which is two districts away from his field of operation, but this episode that had rocked Kerala even in the midst of the Sabarimala stalemate, only reinforces that political killings and the violence associated with it will certainly be the talking point in north Kerala when people vote.
But political analysts are unsure as to whether it would be enough to unsaddle a politician as powerful as Jayarajan, who claims that he himself has been a victim of political terror. To prove his point, Jayarajan holds up his deformed right hand which was hacked by alleged RSS workers in 1999.
“The murder cases against me are all done with political motives. It is me who has actually been the victim of the political violence unleashed by both the Sangh Parivar and the Congress in this area. The people know what I am.”
P Jayarajan, CPM candidate, Vadakara
Jayarajan certainly carries very heavy baggage into these elections, the baggage of ‘political violence’, which in normal circumstances should see a candidate’s defeat without much fuss. But at Vadakara such a moral question alone cannot beat Jayarajan.
Political pundits attribute this to Vadakara’s peculiar political situation and the overwhelming presence of the party in the constituency.
“If there is particular brand of politics that Jayarajan follows, then he does it because it appeals to the party cadre and its supporters in this part of Kerala. He is only a part of the eco system that leaders like him and others have created over the years. It’s an uncompromising stand that Jayarajan takes here which is in line with what his supporters want from him. So beating him will take a huge effort.’’
NM Pearson, Leftist thinker and well-known political commentator to <i>The Lede</i>
Pearson goes on to add that in many parts of Vadakara where even the minority community has a big presence, Jayarajan is still the hot favourite and that people look up to him in spite of his other drawbacks.
“See Jayarajan’s USP is his politics which is neither practical politics nor appeasement. He comes across as the simple Communist down to earth politician unlike a Kodiyeri Balakrishnan or Pinarayi Vijayan who both come from the same Kannur but do not have his clout among the people since they as perceived as practitioners of practical politics. His non corrupt image is also a hit among his supporters.”
NM Pearson, political commentator
But Pearson also has a word of caution to Jayarajan supporters. He claims that even though the red party has a tremendous presence, almost the likes of a red corridor, Vadakara could think differently if neutral votes prevail.
The role played by the neutral voter can be understood if one were to closely compare the results at the seven assembly constituencies within that of the Vadakara Lok Sabha constituency.
While six constituencies namely Thalaserry, Kuthuparambu, Vadakara, Nadapuram, Koyilandi and Perambra had been sending a Left candidate to the state legislative assembly, the sole exception had been Kuttiyadi which had elected a Muslim League MLA in 2016.
While all this happened, the Vadakara Lok Sabha seat was won twice in 2009 and 2014 by former Minister of State and the present KPCC president Mullappally Ramachandran. Experts put this deviation to the neutral voters’ shifting loyalties in state and general elections.
The big question they ask now is whether the same neutral voters of Kerala will opt for a person not only facing murder charges but also has no qualms about it. But the victim card by Jayarajan might not work in Vadakara this time round.
“Kerala has a big neutral vote base which is why state governments change every year. These voters do not have party loyalty. One big factor that affects their voting pattern has always been anti-incumbency. For them Jayarajan’s credentials as a murder accused will be a big deal. I don’t think they would prefer to vote for such a person.’’
He also adds that while the party votes of the CPM will go as one big block to Jayarajan without any sort of leak in it, the final outcome will certainly be decided by the neutral voters.
“Neutral voters will be as small as 1%. But that will be enough to cause a swing in the outcome, for or against you. Especially when you have a powerful candidate on the other side even a small swing itself will be costly. In fact it is these neutral voters who have felled many such candidates like Jayarajan in Kerala.”
In 2012, a political murder rocked Kerala like never before. It was the gruesome hacking of TP Chandrasekharan, a voice of dissent inside the CPM who went on to form the Revolutionary Marxist Party (RMP) at Onchiyam in Vadakara and paid the ultimate price with his own life.
TP’s wife KK Rema today heads the RMP and leads the fight against Jayarajan who she believes was the mastermind behind his murder. A demand for a CBI probe into the larger conspiracy that led to her husband’s death did not take shape which meant Jayarajan’s role was never probed.
That the killer gang which hacked TP to death in Vadakara in Kozhikode district had come all the way from Kannur had also hinted at Jayarajan’s role. Jayarajan had been the all-powerful Kannur district secretary of the party which again gives credibility to the argument that such a high profile murder could not have happened in the region without Jayarajan’s knowledge.
“Undoubtedly Jayarajan is the symbol of violent politics and the people of Vadakara also know it very well. He has given leadership to a lot of murders in north Kerala. In TP’s murder, he was the brain behind it. Who doesn’t know that? His defeat is certain in Vadakara.”
KK Rema to <i>The Lede</i>
Rema also adds that it will not be the neutral voters alone that will vote against Jayarajan. Rather she says that there are enough signs on the ground that suggests which way the wind is blowing.
Like Rema there are many in Vadakara who thinks that a section of the CPM itself is fed up of the violent politics that Jayarajan and his associates allegedly propagate to hold on to power.
“There are CPM supporters too in Vadakara who genuinely feel angry that Jayarajan whom they hold responsible for TP’s death has been fielded in the constituency. Even their votes will be crucial.’’
RMP claims it can muster a sizeable vote share at least in a few Panchayats and is openly backing the Congress candidate K Muraleedharan.
But political pundits doubt RMP’s present strength and express doubt about their ability to swing votes in a manner that could seriously hurt Jayarajan.
Amidst all this, the Congress is banking on the minority vote bank and there are reasons enough to believe that the Muslims of Vadakara might back Muraleedharan in this election.
The primary reason is the alleged involvement of Jayarajan in the murder of Shukhoor. The barbarity of the teenager’s killing has shaken the conscience of not just the Muslim League workers but that of the ordinary Muslim too who doesn’t necessarily have a political allegiance.
“The murder of Ariyil Shukhoor has seriously affected the community in the area and that is not restricted to just Muslim League supporters. Ordinary people in Vadakara are also angry and want an end to this. Another interesting factor is that even the RSS and the BJP which have been victims of CPM violence want to see Jayarajan losing. So I will not be surprised even if the BJP decides to unofficially do a cross voting to ensure that Muraleedharan wins since the BJP candidates stands no chance.”
Veteran journalist Sunnykutty Abraham told <i>The Lede</i>
The Muslim League has meanwhile alleged that CPM is resorting to violence in Vadakara and if Sunday’s incidents during the last hours of campaigning are taken into account then the League’s fears are credible enough.
“CPM has imported political goons from Kannur to Vadakara to ensure that free and fair polling does not take place. So you can expect a lot of violence. But we are determined to ensure that people come out and vote in large numbers so that Jayarajan loses.”
IUML state general secretary KPA Majeed told <i>The Lede</i>
Finally the Rahul Gandhi factor could have a say in Vadakara too and analysts feel that it will help to an extent in consolidating the non-League Muslim votes in favour of the Congress candidate.
But whether all this will be enough to bring down a powerful and hardcore Communist leader like Jayarajan in his own bastion is a question that can only be answered when the ballot boxes are opened for counting.