Kerala CM Vijayan’s village, a communist stronghold, hopeful of his return
Pinarayi, a coconut palm tree-shaded village in north Kerala, has been a communist stronghold since the late 1930s. It is known as mini-Moscow even as the Russian capital is no longer the seat of power of the Soviet Union, the biggest communist state before its collapse in 1991. There are understandably hardly any posters of parties other than that of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), in the village, which has produced some of the top communist leaders including chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, 76. AK Gopalan, a founding CPI(M) member, also belonged to Pinarayi in the Kannur district.
Residents are hopeful about the return of Vijayattan, as the chief minister is popularly known, to power even as Kerala has had a tradition of switching parties in power every five years. The village has good roads, freshly painted government offices, a convention centre, synthetic tracks at the nearby Government Brennen College, the chief minister’s alma mater.
Pothen Balan, a CPI(M) district committee member, said Vijayan won the 2016 election by a margin of over 36,000 votes. “...this time, we are aiming for 50,000. Leading the LDF [Left Democratic Front], people asked him [Vijayan] to concentrate more on other parts of the state.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded CK Padmanabhan and Congress C Raghunath against Vijayan.
A Dalit woman, the mother of two siblings who died in mysterious circumstances, is also contesting against Vijayan. She has accused Vijayan of failing to give her justice. “I am contesting not to win the poll but to tell the world about the injustice meted out to me,” she said.
P Sarojini, a voter, said Vijayan is always there for them. “Ear to the ground; he is a good administrator. There are many attempts to vilify him. But he will remain unscathed,” said Sarojini. She added people like his tough and no nonsense approach.
Vijayan’s supporters say the gold smuggling case was orchestrated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to implicate him and say they have faith in their leader.
The case surfaced last July after 30kg gold was seized from a consignment sent in diplomatic baggage to the UAE consulate in the state capital. Later, several people, including the chief minister’s principal secretary M Sivasankar, an Indian Administrative Service officer, were arrested for helping the accused
Vijayan’s opponents accuse his party of involvement in political violence.
Pinarayi and surrounding villages are notorious for political clashes and murders. Uthaman, the husband of K Narayani, who lives 200 metres away from Vijayan’s ancestral home, was allegedly stabbed to death in 1991 by CPI(M) men. In 2016, her son, Remith, who like his father was associated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP, was also killed in political violence. Union home minister Amit Shah visited her in 2018 and called his visit to see Narayani a “pilgrimage”.
Like Pinarayi, “party villages” are common in these areas. Both RSS and CPI(M) have their villages where political opponents are unwelcome. Lotus, Om and sickle-shaped concrete structures can be seen across the Kannur district as signs of the turf war.
At least 200 workers of both CPI(M) and RSS have been killed over the last three decades in tit for tat attacks.
Over the last two years, there has been peace in the area following spiritual leader Sri M’sinitiative for rapprochement. In north Kerala, people dread elections because they fear just a spark is needed for bloodshed.
Many bus stops carry photos of those whom the two sides call martyrs.
Residents said a missing flag or a defaced poster or a nasty comment is enough to trigger a clash.
In the neighbouring assembly constituency of Koothuparambha, BJP candidate C Sadanandan lost his legs in an attack in 1994. The BJP has fielded Sadanandan again to highlight the CPI(M)’s “politics of intolerance”. Sadanandan managed over 21,000 votes in the 2016 elections. “If Kannur needs peace, the CPI(M) will have to think. Violence came down recently because the party is in power,” said Sadanandan.
To avenge the attack on Sadanandan, KV Sudeesh, the vice-president of the Students Federation of India, was stabbed to death in front of his parents.
“For everlasting peace, the party has to shed its Stalinist baggage and put daggers down,” said K Rema, the widow TP Chandrasekharan, a leader of the Marxist Revolutionary Party (RMP), who was hacked to death in 2012. Chandrasekharan’s assailants were CPI(M) workers, who were later convicted.
Rema is the RMP candidate from Vadakara and the Congress-led alliance is supporting her.
T Sasidharan, a researcher who has studied political violence in Kerala, said both sides will have to disown criminal elements who fan trouble. “Being a major force in the area, the CPI(M) will have to go an extra mile to achieve this. By highlighting violence, the BJP is trying to make it a national issue and extract political mileage. Both will have to make sincere attempts to ensure peace and heal wounds.”