Conduct Of A Perfect Murder

The recent brutal killing of a former CPM leader exposes the grisly workings of political violence in Kerala

By PAUL ZACHARIA | 1 June 2012

IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND THE STATE where TP Chandrasekharan, a dissident former Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) leader, was brutally murdered in early May, a brief introduction to Kerala may be in order.

It is a green and beautiful country, packed with some of the most desirable middle- and upper-class homes in India; towns and cities teem with state-of-the art merchandise; high-end tourism flourishes in exotic, manufactured worlds; thousands of educational institutions dot the landscape; gigantic super-hospitals appeal to you with neon hoardings; and that ubiquitous three-letter word, BAR, glows in enticing red everywhere you turn.

Three entrenched religions show off their superlative god-ware in ostentatious houses of worship, crowded with armies of followers. Money comes home to roost from non-resident Malayalis across the world, and annual remittances add up to more than five times the state’s budget. India’s most wealthy jewellers and highest per capita consumption of gold belong here.

Audis, Ferraris, BMWs and Rolls Royces flash by on every road. About 20 television channels, a few dozen newspapers and periodicals in untold numbers hold 32 million citizens in tantric thrall. Every visible nook and corner, whether rural or urban, is overrun by political junk. The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Marxist-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), along with the affiliated trade unions each has created, lord over all this with iron fists, ensuring every day that the common man cannot forget who is the master and who the slave.

Violence is the core of politics in Kerala, and more so in northern Kerala, the erstwhile Malabar district, where the CPM, the RSS and the Muslim League all train their youth cadre in martial arts to bomb making.    

Interestingly, the nature of political violence in Kerala is more anti-people than inter-party. Malayali politicians care deeply about their lives, and an unwritten commandment holds: thou shall not kill another politician. Bloodletting is reserved for those at the bottom rung, the brainwashed. When commanders meet, there is truce till next time. But just as they shy away from one type of violence, all political parties are one in inflicting upon common people an institutionalised policy of terror—whether it’s hartals and strikes that take them by the throat, arrogant trade unions who hold them ransom, nonchalant invasions of public space for party event, party fundraising through blackmail, the subjugation and humiliation of the citizen by corruption, or a thousand other diabolic means. They don’t kill people, they just enslave them. 

Murder is a particularly salient feature of Kannur-Thalasseri politics, where at one time the communists were the ones hunted and killed. After the communists came to power, anyone who got in their way were met with the same brutality that had once been inflicted upon them. The Establishment in Kerala as a whole, including the Left, is no doubt feudal in more or less obvious ways, but the Kannur-Thalasseri regions, for reasons not yet adequately examined, exhibit a type of feudal blood-thirst which the CPM and the Sangh Parivar have put to good use. Extensive training and indoctrination have even led to the cultivation of special-purpose killers. Chandrasekharan’s murder is a rare instance of a senior leader being killed.

The 51-year-old unarmed man, who knew his life was in danger ever since he rebelled against the mighty CPM and yet chose not to take police protection, was riding a motorbike when he was hit by killers in a car and then hacked to death in public view on the night of 4 May. Chandrasekharan had more than 51 wounds on his head alone. He died on the spot—which is exactly what is expected from the hired killers, known as “quotation gangs”, who operate all over Kerala. It was a perfect murder.

The “quotation gangs” are so known because if you are in the market to get someone killed, you can get quotes from the gangs and choose the cheapest and the best. They are protected by political parties, money-lobbies—powerful business interests who use violence as a means to an end—and often by the police; they can be employed by anyone with sufficient money to buy their services. The quotation gangs are one of the many invisible forces that control contemporary Kerala, empowered by a self-serving politics that accepts the terrorisation of ordinary citizens’ lives as a necessary evil. They represent a generation of young men dehumanised by politics, religion, the media and a heartless education.

TP Chandrasekharan was a prominent leader of the CPM in Onchiam, a party stronghold in Kozhikode district. He fell out with the party in 2008 over what he believed was an ideological surrender on local issues, but formed his own rival organisation, the Revolutionary Marxist Party, rather than defecting to the Congress or another established party. He began to attack the CPM leadership for its financial and ideological corruption, and took with him the base of the CPM in three to four panchayats, creating a serious dent in the party’s support in areas of Kozhikode district.

In 2009, Chandrasekharan contested Lok Sabha elections under his new party banner from Vadakara, where he had a strong political base; he did not win, but his participation ensured the defeat of the CPM candidate, and the Congress recaptured the Vadakara seat for the first time in 32 years. Ever since, Chandrasekharan has been the target of the party’s immense and unforgiving anger. At the time, the CPM general secretary in Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan, called Chandrasekharan “kulam kuthi”—literally, the traitor of one’s own clan—an insult that Vijayan repeated once again last month after Chandrasekharan was murdered.

In the attenuating decade-long war between Vijayan and the former CPM Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, Chandrasekharan was on Achuthanandan’s side.

With Vijayan suggesting even after Chandrasekharan’s murder that he was a traitor—an utterance perceived by informed Malayalis as the height of insensitivity—along with the arrogance of the CPM, and the overzealous Malayalam media covering the murder nonstop, the deceased rebel has evidently put the CPM on the defensive in Kerala.

North of Kozhikode lie the towns of Thalasseri and Kannur and the Marxist-dominated areas surrounding them, where the CPM’s hold is such that they are virtually autonomous territories where only the party’s writ runs. It is a writ infamously dipped in blood. It is a no-escape situation where the entire public machinery, including the police, is subservient to the party. And the lesson that if you disobey the party something terrible will befall you or those near and dear to you has been meticulously administered. The party functions as a feudal thug and bloodshed is child’s play. The notorious ‘party gramams’ or party-villages provide chilling examples of CPM’s fascist stranglehold in these districts. For example, if your next-door neighbour is not a party man, it is taboo to invite him or his family to a function at your house.

On 20 February 2012, in Keezhara, one such ‘party-village’ in Kannur district, CPM comrades ‘took into custody’ a 21-year old named Shukoor. His “crime” was that he and other workers of the Muslim Student Federation (the student wing of the Muslim League, a partner in the Congress-led UDF) had blocked the motorcade of the CPM’s Kannur warlord P Jayarajan and thrown stones.

For more than two hours, a ‘trial’ was conducted and ‘evidence examined’ as hundreds of people looked on. Then the young man was led to an adjacent field and swiftly hacked to death like you butcher a chicken. No one stirred. All the viewers went home quietly, and the police did not arrive for another 30 minutes, even though they knew exactly what was happening. It is also useful to remember here the other two dreaded supremos of Kannur, MV Jayarajan and EP Jayarajan, without whose inviolable imprimatur no major party action can take place in the area.

Does the urbane world of the party’s leaders in Delhi, Marxists in the corridors of power like Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury, begin to look absurd when confronted with these killing fields? Who knows? A few drops of blood do not matter much when the stakes are sky-high. Profound jargon washes all.

Many of the ‘quotation gangs’ running amok in Kannur-Thalasseri consist of CPM-trained goondas looking to expand their territory. They are protected so well by the party that it even maintains a massive special fund for their legal aid, right up to the Supreme Court; in the Kannur central jail, notoriously, party criminals are kings.

It appears that Chandrasekharan has been murdered by goondas close to the inner core of the CPM in Kannur. And it is a fact that the Kannur CPM runs the Kerala CPM. Achuthanandan, the arch-enemy of the Kannur lobby, has made some noises, using the murder plank to attack his enemy Pinarayi Vijayan, who heads the Kannur lobby. But Achthanandan is an opportunistic demagogue and may drop the issue once his purpose has been served. It also appears that leaders of the ruling UDF are concurrently negotiating a deal with the CPM bosses linked to the murder, keeping in view the imminent by-election in Neyyattinkara where a CPM defector is the UDF candidate. TP Chandrasekharan’s murder will soon be a closed chapter, once its utility expires. However, for the first time it seems to have awakened in the subjugated minds of Malayalis a sense of horror, of doom, and a fearful questioning as to what a monstrosity politics has turned Kerala into. Perhaps therein hides the ray of hope in TP Chandrasekharan’s tragic death.   



Paul Zacharia is a Kerala-based short story writer, novelist and essayist. 


11 thoughts on “Conduct Of A Perfect Murder”

The problem with Kerala and keralites in general is that they have politics and nothing else ingrained in them.This is a rather unique scenario where everyone seems to know :how many votes has been polled in each booth;who will win each segment;absolute details.Only state where people with no day jobs aka politicians of obscure parties address press meets and the media laps it up….who bloody cares what jayarajan or mukundan or johnny thinks…..why doesnt the keralite think of where he makes his meal…his kids education..his quality of life.the society is so absorbed and awed by the militant labour…they almost deify them….think of it they step outside the state and work like slaves…….kerala society is a million light years away from civilized thinking and behaviour…a girl walking on the street will be subject to catcalls and verbal abuse and taunts….never seen a woman eh……and this is ur everyday johnny stalking the future and no hope…..every keralite has only one thing on his much is my 10 cents on inheritance worth… do i con the next man…..state beyond redemption….think of it….people who crowd in their thousands tom listen to goons like pinarayi talk trash….joker like achuthanandan held in high esteem…….do we have others we can idolise and follow??besides mohanlal..mamoooty and yesudas??its simply a sad state of affairs… wonder everyone looks down upon the breed called malayali…be it muslim hindu or christian…..can someone nuke the state…..mass lobotomy maybe…..

one sided bashing of CPIM without any substantial evidence !! The day after the gruesome murder of TP, every newspaper printed in Kerala carried the news in front page in the boldest letters. Every one of them- except Deshabhimani, the news paper published by CPIM.Not in the front page, not in any other page.. I saw a color photograph of a newborn baby abandoned by somebody in that newspaper on that day, but not a single word on the most foul murder about which the whole of Kerala was talking!! That was just the first eye opener for the innocent.A mountain of evidence now lies in broad daylight for all to see …

I had gone to Wayanad on 5th May was greeted with a total strike. They said a senior politico had been killed but I had no idea of the back story. Having lived in Karnataka and T Nadu, where even the biggest bandhs were not as total as this one, I was taken aback. What was even more disturbing was the number of young men in their lungis actively participating. I learnt later from a friend that the extent to which politics has penetrated college going youth is unlike anything in S. India. I only wish this menace of students getting involved in such hartals go down otherwise it is a collossal waste of human resources. As for criminalization being endemic to Indian politics, it can only be stopped with a combination of high employment and strong police. The latter has always been suspect and the former is also decreasing, so testing times ahead!

Thank you for the excellent piece. Kerala has had a fairly long history of political killings, with all parties being responsible, especially the CPI(M). One could also state that Keralites have become rather immune to these. TP’s killing, however, has shaken the conscience of the common man. For many overt and silent supporters of the Left, it is an overwhelming sense of revulsion and sadness at the kind of politics being practiced, along with the acute realisation that the CPI(M) in its current avatar has almost lost moral legitimacy as the leader of the Left movement. Whether or not it translates into electoral results is immaterial, but the Party has a herculean task ahead of it if it is to regain popularity in the hearts and minds of people.
A couple of letter writers have pilloried Zacharia for accusing the CPI(M) of engineering the killing, without evidence. That is taking a far too technical view of things. Although we’ll know (or not) the details of this case only after a while, that TP was facing threats was a well-known fact. Given the fact that the northern region was known for political killings, the CPI(M) top brass could have made it sternly clear that no attempt on the life of TP would be tolerated. In the hierarchical set-up of the Party, it is almost not possible that this instruction would not have been followed. That the top men did not do so was a failure on their part, and in that sense responsibility for the killing lies at their door too.
Although Paul Zacharia has written this as an emotional outburst against TP’s killing, and not mentioned the violence engineered by the Congress, almost all of what he says is true. Kerala, despite its universal literacy and physical health of its citizens, is a society that has practically lost its moral compass and is in much need of healing. As someone who has spent more than thirty years in other Indian states and currently reside in Kerala (for personal reasons), i’ve been unable to come to grips with the destructively competitive spirit that many Keralites have, whether it be the amount of money spent on religious ceremonies, ostentatious constructions, the extremely patriarchal mentality, the passive violence of everyday encounters, etc., and above all, the acceptance of this state of affairs as normal.

This writer is a sheer opportunist. It seems he was waiting for the moment to bash CPIM. He has already pronounced the verdict that it is CPIM and CPIM only which is responsible for all violence in Kerala.

This article is a good example of how story telling cannot substitute journalism. The biased and one sided bashing of CPIM without any substantial evidence quoted shows how desperate media in general and Paul Zacharia is particular is to announce the verdict on CPIM. Its rather shameful. Its no body’s case that political murders are justified but neither this kind of political campaigns.

An emotional outburst from Mr.Zacharia who always reserves his scathing comments for his own state and its political parties. Good one Sir!! But criminalisation is the basic of Indian politics for past three decades. Without linkups with rowdies, quotation gangs, henchmen and local war lords no one can run a political party in India. Whether it is a national party or a regional party which has the base among the mass to come to power, it uses these linkups to keep the base tight and to intimidate and eliminate who try to erode it. CPI and CPIM had been the target of such murderous attacks in other states like Tamil Nadu where they dont have mass base. We can often see them protesting against such murders committed by bigger regional parties against their cadre. Hopeless is what we can say about the state of Indian politics. These people are hardly trying to prove the Maoists who say ‘Democracy is a failed concept’. It is being failed at an alarming pace!!!

I was a resident of Trivandrum for some years . I immensely liked my work place, a research institute in Development Studies. I liked the cityas well and Kerala state in general. In short, I liked God’s Own Country so much that when an attractive academic offer came along my way from Hyderabad, I refused to stir out of Trivandrum. I was and still am in love with Keralam. This article has saddened me. These violent murders in Northern Kerala have been taking place for long.They remind you of the factional fights which are notoriously frequent in the Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh. It always baffled me as to why in one linguistic and culturally cohesive state, one region has this unfortunate tradition of violence and others are free from it. The commonality between N.Kerala and Rayalaseema has been that both have been economically more backward as compared to the other regions within their respective states. But the vital difference between the two cases is that violence in Rayalaseema is a historical hangover of the Semi-Feudal fights between powerful and most often Reddy and a few Kamma landlord families. No political ideology is involved in this violence. It is a different matter that if one factional leader belongs to one political party his opponent invariably joins the other. But at the core, it is a clash egos and revenges. But the violence in N.Kerala often appears to be essentially ideological—between RSS ,CPM and Muslm League . One can only ardently hope and pray that both Rayalaseema and N.Kerala would come out of this nasty tradition soon and peace prevails in the regions.

really sad that people like paul zachariah are portraying CPM as a feudal stalinist party….. i have been to the so called party villages…… they are party villages because of their strong belief in communism and the admiration party has in such pockets…. Its the paradise of cooperatives and library movements …….. TP death was unfortunate…..if CPM leaders are behind that then write articles against those, rather than attacking a party that made a the most equal society in India…….Portraying leaders like jayarajan,who himself was a victim of political clashes, as warlords is not good for someone of Zacharia’s standard…throughout the article you didnt mention the name of the godfather of kannur violence( Sudhakaran)……When people like you say that they are warlords, it is rayalseema factionists and bihari dacoits that come to mind for an ordinary indian….then it has been a fashion for the fake intellegentsia to flray pinarayi vijayan…….Please dont play to their tune, because you dont know the unknown masters for which a larger drama is played…….

It is sad to see that the RSS has been painted with the same brush as the Muslim League and the LDF or the UDF. First and foremost, the RSS is not a political party but a nationalist organisation with even Christians and Muslims who are concerned about their country attending shakhas in Kerala. In Kannur, several RSS Swayamsevaks have been brutally murdered over the decades by the CPI(M) and the jehadi organisations. RSS has always faced the brunt of attacks, and having no political support have been unable to hit back.

Actually, element of blood feud is present in North Kerala killings also. Rival clans join rival parties to settle their scores. Earlier they did it as supporters of chiefs and landlord and now under label or parties. This clannish angle is rarely know to people outside the killing zone.
North Kerala is more prone to violence because warrior tradition is stronger than rest of Kerala. Greatest number of heroic folk songs come from North Kerala and Pazhassi Raja who fought Brits also come from North Kerala. Vendetta associated with warrior ethos is deeply entrenched in people. Rarely do they forget or forgive (be it a favor or harm).

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