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Kerala political murders: Why Kannur continues to bleed

Political patronage to criminals and a growing culture of political extremism has made Kannur the hotbed of political murders and revenge killings

By Amit Sengupta
New Update


In a grotesque history replete with bloody feuds and revenge murders, the killing fields of Kannur, relatively peaceful for a while in recent times, is yet again simmering with the blood of political opponents, bitterly fighting over contesting terrain.

In this recent case of murder, it is yet again the ancient rivalry between the RSS and the CPM, the latter, a ruling and powerful force; the former, still desperately trying to regain a stronghold, which never belonged to them in the first instance - despite decades of violence and bitter hostilities on the ground.

On February 21, at Thalassery, near the picturesque sea with its old fort in Kannur, K Haridasan, a fisherman and a CPM activist was killed in cold blood in what was yet another instance of a gang killing. Some RSS and BJP activists were soon picked up by the state police following the murder of Haridasan. The Kannur police was quick to admit in a press conference that evidence pointed towards the involvement of the RSS and BJP activists in the murder.

In what could be seen as a predictable pattern - a method to the madness in the region - Haridasan was hacked in his house, and one of his legs was chopped off, and he bled to death. This may seem very shocking to a non-Keralite, but Kannur is not new to such acts of butchery.

In the aftermath of the murder, as the Kerala Chief Minister faced heat over the rising number of political murders in his own backyard, the CM appealed for peace and calm. He said in the state assembly that there were concerted efforts to create violence in Kannur. But his partymen were fuming with rage over Haridasan's murder.

The CM's party, CPM, has in the past been accused of carrying out political murders. The district of Kannur is known for such tit-for-tat murders, counter murders, revenge killings, and then a phase of peace and calm. But peacetime in Kannur is only a temporary phase. It is only about time that another incident takes place. Sometimes over a simple argument between the sparring LDF, UDF and the BJP-RSS activists.

There have been several instances of such murders in Kerala in recent times. A bomb blast not so long ago had led to the death of a young man during a wedding ceremony.

Earlier, Kannur police confiscated country-made bombs in Thalessary. Six people have died in the area in the last three months. In December last year alone, three activists of the CPM, SDPI and BJP were murdered in what is believed to be revenge killings.

Since the last five decades, the killing fields of Kannur have witnessed a rising graph of revenge murders, a spiral that seems to be rising unabated. Over 300 political killings and as many as 170 people were murdered between 2000 and 2017. Of those killed, 65 activists reportedly belonged to the RSS and BJP, and 85 belonged to the CPM. Eleven workers of the IUML and Congress too were killed – the murders were usually attributed to the RSS or the CPM.

Political observers believe that the bloodbath in Kannur should not be seen merely as a state law and order problem through a blinkered lens of political gang rivalry alone. “These gruesome incidents prove that we have lost the real substance of democracy. In the name of democracy, what remains is essentially the ritualisation of periodic elections. If this situation must improve, there must be a larger civil society movement that can counter this kind of violent, aggressive politics,” said Dr Avijit Pathak, Professor, The Centre for the Study of Social Systems.

Political observers say a localised war is always at play in Kannur that reaches a tipping point and leads to a bloody end, like we saw in the case of Haridasan.

Kannur was once a citadel of Buddhism. Located on the western ghats, the district is famous for its picturesque sea towns and tourist landscapes. Buddhism, temple art, the global spice trade, and artistic performances marked its fame. The repeated violence has taken the sheen from its laid-back beauty and aesthetic inheritance.

Tied with trade and cultural ties with the Romans and the Dutch, Kannur was occupied once by the Portuguese and the British. Its name, historically, is derived from an ancient local village called Kanathur. It was called Cannanore during the British times, and the Portuguese called it Kannanore.

Ullekh NP, author of 'Kannur' and the Executive Editor of Open Magazine, told The Probe that the murders in Kannur have been taking place in waves and phases. “Kannur is a hotbed of political murders. The violence had risen to such an extent that the Kerala Chief Minister at one point had taken help from one of the spiritual gurus Sri M - who is very close to the RSS and the CPM - to broker peace and to bring to the table both the teams. Sri M took the initiative, and this was a step in the right direction.”

The competitive, aggressive politics in Kerala involving the Congress, the CPM, the RSS, IUML, and the rise of many radical Islamic organisations like the Popular Front of India only gave further impetus to Kannur's violent politics.

“In other parts of Kerala, especially in the South, there were a lot of reform movements. There were many communities and caste-based institutions, and reformers who played a very positive role to unite people to march towards progressive reforms. But in North Kerala, especially in Kannur and Kasargod, there weren't such movements that you saw in the South. Muscular, aggressive politics influenced the political landscape of Kannur; the foundation stone was laid through combative peasant movements,” said Ullekh.

The political murders in Kerala, such as the Haridasan case, is a blot on the state's progressive image that it acquired following its accomplishments in getting a 100 per cent literacy rate. Many social observers say that this kind of violence can be contained only if the police are given the freedom to investigate such brutal killings without seeing the political leanings of the perpetrators.

“In Kerala, whenever such cases of political violence take place, the political parties assure the people involved complete support, which includes compensation to families, payment of legal fees and bearing the complete expense of the families of those who go to jail. This culture of political patronisation and offering of perks to criminals must stop,” asserted Ullekh.

Peace in Kannur can be accomplished only when the local politicians along with their party bosses sit across the table with the warring factions. Discussions and deliberations are only the way forward to bring peace in Kannur. Cult of killings in Kannur must come to an end. As someone rightly said, peace is the only battle worth waging. This holds true for Kannur.