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2 killed in Kannur: Why the CPI(M)-BJP war in Kerala will get bloodier

Aditya Menon | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:48 IST

The over four decade long political vendetta between the CPI(M) and the BJP-RSS in Kerala's Kannur district consumed two more lives on Monday night. Two more wives were widowed, four more children left fatherless.

At around 10 pm on Monday, CPI(M) worker CV Dhanaraj was hacked to death outside his home in Payyannur. The attackers came in three bikes. The CPI(M) alleges that they belonged to the BJP.

In less than a couple of hours, autorickshaw driver EK Ramachandran, a member of the RSS affiliate Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, was stabbed to death in the same area.

The police claims that this was in retaliation to Dhanaraj's murder.

Even the chief minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan has admitted that the killings were driven by political vendetta.

"As many as 10 BJP workers were involved in Dhanaraj's murder. The killing of the BMS worker was an act of retaliation," he said in the Kerala Assembly.

Both Dhanaraj and Ramachandran are survived by their respective wives and two children.

Both the CPI(M) and RSS have hailed their deceased as martyrs. And it won't be surprising if this sets in motion a vicious cycle of revenge killings in Kannur.

Startling numbers

  • Political violence has claimed over 180 lives in Kannur since 1980.

  • According to estimates, as of this February, 41 people had been killed in political violence in Kannur in the past one decade. Out of these, 19 were from CPI(M), 17 from RSS and 3 from Indian Union Muslim League. Two were from the a rival Muslim organisation NDF, which later merged into the Popular Front of India in 2006.

  • Violence peaked during the Assembly polls in May this year. There were 1,253 cases of poll related violence across Kerala. Kannur reported the highest number of cases: 222.

  • Since the late 1970s, more than 4000 workers of the Left and RSS have been tried for acts ranging from criminal intimidation, attempt to murder and murder of members of the opposing party.

A culture of violence

Though startling in themselves, these numbers don't reveal the entire picture of how political violence has become a way of life Kannur. The violent clashes between the CPI(M) and the RSS are a throwback to the Kuddipaka or blood feuds of medieval North Kerala. Every murder of a comrade or a Swayamsevak has to be avenged by shedding more blood from the other side.

It's not just the murders, the cadres try to make a political statement through the sheer brutality of their acts. For instance, when "renegade" Communist leader TP Chandrasekharan was hacked to death, by CPI(M) workers on 4 May 2012, his face was mutilated beyond recognition. There were 51 cuts on his body, 49 of which were just on his face alone.

Cadres use brutality to make a statement. Chandrasekharan's face was mutilated by 49 cuts

Renegades are to Communists what apostates are to religious fundamentalists and the CPI(M) cadres reserve the most brutal treatment to those who leave their ranks. Take another example. On 15 February this year, CPI(M) workers allegedly hacked 27-year old PV Sujith in front of his parents. His crime was that he left the DYFI to join the RSS.

Both the CPI(M) and the RSS indulge in elaborate rituals of violence. For instance, there is said to be a practice of burying a blood stained koduval, knife or axe in the soil for a few days so that it rusts and becomes more lethal when used against the next victim.

Also, both sides supposedly hone their hacking skills by killing stray animals late at night when the roads are empty.

Why Kannur?

Kannur was the first place in Kerala where the Communist movement took root. Then part of the Madras Presidency and deeply feudal in nature, Kannur witnessed the rise of the Communist movement in the 1930s. Even after independence as well as the split in the Communist Party, the party retained its hold over Kannur. There are certain Assembly seats in Kannur district such as Payyanur and Taliparamba, that the CPI(M) hasn't lost since 1965.

Some trace the violence in Kannur to its feudal past and relative backwardness. Most CPI(M) and RSS cadres in Kannur belong to the OBC Thiyya community and are from lower middle class backgrounds. The loyalty and obedience that the two organisations command in the region is almost tribal in nature.

It is like belonging to a mafia family, with fierce codes of loyalty and revenge.

The competition for the same Thiyya (Ezhava) support base further adds to the intensity of the rivalry between the CPI(M) and RSS.

Rise of the BJP

Even though the RSS has always been a formidable force in Kannur, it has become increasingly beligerent after Narendra Modi's ascent to power at the Centre.

Modi's emergence emboldened BJP-RSS cadres on the ground and also added to the CPI(M)'s anger.

The BJP's rise was evident in last year's Panchayat elections. The Left won over two-thirds of the Panchayats in Kannur district but the BJP increased its vote share threefold and won 13 Panchayats.

After the Congress' dismal show in the Assembly elections, the BJP wants to emerge as the primary anti-Left choice for Kerala's Hindu voters. This explains the party's periodic run-ins with the LDF.

One of the ways the BJP is doing this is by glorifying the victims of CPI(M) violence within its ranks.

The party is now celebrating deceased Swayamsevaks like Sujith and Ramachandran as "martyrs" and it is also showcasing workers who were injured fighting the Left.

In the Assembly elections, it fielded C Sadanandan Master whose legs were allegedly chopped of by CPI(M) workers, from Kuthuparamba in Kannur district. During his rally, PM Modi hailed Master and other BJP/RSS workers who have been fighting the CPI(M).

Violence has increased after Modi's ascent as PM and the rise of Pinarayi Vijayan in Kerala

This process has also reinforced the political vendetta narrative in Kannur. Cadres who earlier acted on their own initiative, now feel that the party will not only back them but also reward them if they take on the Left on the streets.

A lot will now depend on how the new chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan handles the violence. As a Thiyya from Kannur district and a communist for over half a century, no one understands the area's political violence better than Vijayan.

His past isn't encouraging given how he took a hardline stand against CPI(M) renegades - TP Chandrasekharan's son blamed Pinarayi for his father's murder. As the CPI(M) Kerala state secretary between 1998 and 2015, Vijayan exhorted party cadres to take on the saffron outfit with full force and became a hate figure for the RSS.

If his past and the Modi-led BJP's aggression is anything to go by, Kannur must brace itself for more bloodshed in the months to come

More in Catch

RSS man hacked to death: is Kannur heading for another cycle of violence?

The killing fields of Kannur: where bloodthirsty CPI(M) and RSS collide

First published: 14 July 2016, 11:29 IST
Aditya Menon @AdityaMenon22

An incurable addiction to politics made Aditya try his luck as a political researcher as well as wannabe neta. Having failed at both, he settled for the only realistic option left: journalism. Before joining Catch as associate editor, he wrote and reported on politics and policy for the India Today group for five years. He can travel great distances for a good meal or a good chat, preferably both.