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.