Kannur in north Kerala is both famous and notorious. It is famous for the thriving ancient martial art form of Kalaripayattu and notorious for political murders and bloody clashes that blight its reputation.
With some 300 people killed in the past three decades to settle political scores, the otherwise picturesque district with swathes of undulating green is Kerala’s bloodiest political arena. The unremitting violence invariably peaks around elections, and as the state heads for crucial assembly polls in May, the blood and gore is back in news here.
A group of schoolchildren was left mortified this Tuesday after witnessing the latest instance of bloodshed: their auto-rickshaw driver was hacked by his political rivals as he drove them to school. Police say K Biju is an RSS activist and his assailants belonged to the CPI(M). Biju was lucky, having survived despite multiple stab wounds. He is currently undergoing treatment at the Kozhikode medical college.
But another RSS worker, 27-year-old K Sujith, was less fortunate when he was attacked in front of his parents at his home in Pappinasserry last month. His parents, too, suffered injuries while grappling with the attackers, but Sujith could not be saved.
Similarly, another RSS activist, Kathiroor Manoj, was hacked to death in broad daylight in September 2014. A former legislator and current CPI(M) Kannur district secretary, P Jayarajan, was a suspect in the killing. Jayarajan, incidentally, is himself a survivor of an alleged RSS attempt on his life in 1999 and Manoj happened to be one of the accused.
Much of Kannur’s bloodbath is blamed on the battle for supremacy between the Communists and RSS.
Political commentators say Kannur is to CPI(M) what Nagpur is to RSS. The Marxists see it as their bastion with some of the tallest party leaders, such as former opposition leader in Lok Sabha AK Gopalan, and former CM EK Nayanar, hailing from here. Three current Politburo members of CPI(M) — state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, Pinarayi Vijayan and CITU president AK Padmanabhan — also have their roots in the district.
The RSS has also been attempting to make inroads into Kannur in the face of fierce opposition from CPI(M), unleashing the cycle of violence that has also left hundreds on both sides of the political spectrum crippled. Bed-ridden and destitute, the survivors insist those who were killed were the “lucky” ones.
Mostly comprising Muslims and Ezhavas, Kannur is a prized vote bank for both CPI(M) and RSS. “The CPI(M) rank and file is depleting fast. So they are resorting to violence to check this,” says BJP district president Sathya Prakash. The CPI(M), however, blames RSS for fanning trouble in the district. “You take the list of those killed, we lost the maximum number of comrades,” points out DFYI leader, AN Shamseer.
Locals say the enmity between the two sides goes all the way back to the 1960s, when RSS, with the blessings of the Mangalore-based business lobby, began eyeing the district. The business lobby reportedly needed RSS backing to check the influential Muslim traders, the Koyas and Keyees. Matters came to a head soon enough, with the killing of an RSS activist, Vadikkal Ramakrishnan, in 1968.
There has been no respite since. “We are simply fed up of the violence,” laments a resident, not wanting to be named for safety reasons. “Peace will return to the district if political parties take sincere efforts.” But instead of peace, it is settling political scores that keeps politicians ticking in Kannur.