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Mainstream, VOL LX No 15, New Delhi, April 2, 2022

The Political Killings in Kerala: Is it the ’Banality of Evil’? | Jos Chathukulam and Manasi Joseph

Friday 1 April 2022, by Jos Chathukulam, Manasi Joseph

by Jos Chathukulam and Manasi Joseph

Abstract

At a time when gruesome political killings and violence are increasing at an alarming rate in Kerala, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is gearing up for the 23rd Party Congress in Kannur from April 6 — April 10, 2022. The cold-blooded murders in the name of hatred and politics should end. Similarly those who justify the murders on the lines of ‘Banality of Evil Thesis’ by Hannah Arendt should understand that when butchered human lives are reduced to numbers and denied justice, basic human rights including the right to live life to the fullest and right for a dignified death are often trampled underfoot for selfish and cruel intentions. The Party Congress is yet another opportunity for the CPI (M) in India and Kerala in particular to come up with a strong resolution to end the barbaric killings on the lines of political ideologies and party differences. It is hight time the Left intelligentsia and the CPI(M) in general should seriously come up with a panacea to end the politically motivated murders especially in Kerala, the last surviving red fortress for the Communists in India. 

Introduction

The 23rd Party Congress of Communist Party of India (Marxist) is scheduled to be held in Kannur in Kerala, from April 6, 2022 - April 10, 2022. Apart from being a political power bastion of CPI (M), Kannur in North Kerala is more famous as the epicentre of political killings. The North Kerala, especially Kannur is not new to political murders, and there have been numerous incidents in the past in which all major political parties including the CPI (M), Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), Indian National Congress (INC) and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and other religious fundamentalist organisations like Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) resorted to the murder of opponents or retaliatory serial killings (Chaturvedi, 2012). According to figures available with the state police, a total of 173 political murders happened in Kerala between 2000 and 2016. Of these, CPI (M) has lost 86 workers, BJP has lost 65, and Congress and IUML together have lost 11 activists (Paul, 2020). From 2016-2021, the first stint of the Pinarayi Vijayan government, 32 political killings were reported in Kerala, of which, 12 took place in Kannur (Babu, 2022).

One of the most brutal political killings Kerala has witnessed was that of T. P. Chandrasekaran. On May 4, 2012, T. P. Chandrashekaran was hacked to death by his political rivals (Babu, 2012). Chandrashekaran a former area committee member of CPI (M) in Onchiyam broke away from his parent party and formed a splinter party called Revolutionary Marxist Party (RMP) [1]. Chandrasekharan, formed the RMP in 2009 following differences of opinion with the state leadership. The RMP also became part of an anti-CPI (M) umbrella platform, Edathupaksha Ekopana Samiti (Left Coordination Committee). Soon after forming RMP, Chandrashekaran contested in the 2009 Lok Sabha election. Though he lost the elections, his candidacy played a significant role in the victory of the Congress candidate Mullapally Ramachandran and in the defeat of CPI (M) candidate P. Sathidevi.

Meanwhile, in the local government elections in 2010, the RMP emerged victorious at Onchiyam Gram Panchayat near Vadakara. RMP won eight seats. With that victory the popularity of Chandrasekharan began to rise. But it irked the CPI (M). Though RMP remained largely a pocket-borough phenomenon in and around Onchiyam, for the CPI (M), Chandrashekaran and RMP were posing potential local threats which could harm the party’s interests in the region in the long term and perhaps be a permanent source of strength to the forces opposing the official leadership within the State CPI (M).

Chandrasekharan had become a renegade of sort for the party and he was hacked to death on May 4, 2012 and it was clear that it was a purely politically motivated killing from the very beginning itself. As per the post-mortem report, Chandrasekharan, had received 51 hack injuries on his body, which makes the murder known as one of the most brutal political murders in the history of Kerala [2].

After the murder, it was revealed that there had been about half a dozen attempts on Chandrasekharan’s life earlier, and his wife K. K. Rema described to the media how he had been living under the constant fear of death (Chathukulam and Joseph, 2021). Though the official leadership of the CPI (M) went into aggressive denial mode, refuting allegations that the party had any role in the killing, the investigation into the murder proved otherwise. A special investigation team was formed to investigate the case.

There were many attempts to scuttle the case and the investigating officers were under tremendous pressure. Following a state-wide investigation, 36 people including many CPI (M) leaders were charge sheeted by the Kerala Police. However, the Special Additional Sessions Court at Eranhipalam, Kozhikode, convicted 12 accused, including three leaders of the CPI (M) in connection with the murder of RMP leader Chandrasekharan at Onchiyam on May 4, 2012 (Govind, 2014). The three CPI(M) leaders found guilty were P.K. Kunjananthan, member of Panoor area committee; K.C. Ramachandran, member of Kunnummakkara local committee, and Trouser Manoj, branch secretary of Kadanganpoyil. CPI (M) leader P Mohanan, a member of the Kozhikode District Secretariat was the 14th accused in the case but was acquitted by the Court. The prosecution case was that a section of CPI (M) leaders in Kozhikode and Kannur districts allegedly hatched a conspiracy and hired a seven-member gang to kill Chandrasekharan, who had walked out of the Party and floated a dissident outfit at Onchiyam. The judgment indicated that it was a politically motivated murder.

On February 17, 2019, two Youth Congress workers were brutally killed in Periya, in Kasargod district by three motorcycle-borne men. In the charge sheet submitted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), a total of 24 persons including CPI (M) district leaders and K V Kunjiraman, former M L A were listed as accused in the twin murders (Smitha, 2021).

Though the political violence and killings in North Kerala and Kannur appeared to have ebbed to an extent for a short period of time, the recent murder of a CPI (M) worker K Haridasan in New Mahe in Kannur on February 21, 2022 shows that the never-ending saga of cold-blooded political killings are here to stay. Haridasan was allegedly murdered by the BJP and RSS due to political enmity. Haridasan was hacked to death in his house and the assailants not only chopped off his left leg but also inflicted more than 20 wounds below his waist. Then on April 7, 2021, in the midst of the second wave of Covid 19, a 22-year-old Youth league worker Paral Manzoor at Pullukkara in Koothuparamba, Kannur district was hacked to death by a gang, who allegedly belonged to the CPI (M). The attack was followed by an argument between the IUML and CPI (M) workers in the area in connection with the election polling which took place on April 6, 2021. Meanwhile political killings are not limited to Kannur and North Kerala alone.

On December 18, 2021, and December 19, 2021, two political murders took place in Alappuzha in Kerala that too within a span of 12 hours. On December 18, 2021, K.S. Shan, the state secretary of SDPI, was on his way home when a group of assailants who came in a car rammed into his two-wheeler. When Shan fell to ground, the assailants attacked him leading to his death (Oommen, 2021). According to police, the murder of Shan was an act of revenge committed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). It has been reported that the murder was to avenge the killing of an RSS activist in Vayalar, in Alappuzha, Kerala which took place in February 2021 (Philip, 2021). Within a span of 12 hours, BJP’s OBC Morcha state secretary Ranjeet Sreenivas was hacked to death in his home by some assailants who barged into his house on December 19, 2021, early morning. According to police, the fatal attack on Sreenivas, also a member of the BJP state committee, was in retaliation to the killing of Shan. Then on November 15, 2021, in Palakkad district in Kerala, an RSS worker named A Sanjith was hacked to death in broad daylight by SDPI activists (Phillip, 2021).

Why Political Killings in College and University Campuses in Kerala? 

It is not the mainstream political parties that are involved in political killings, the student unions of major and minor political parties are also turning the college campuses into ‘killing fields’ and have become the torchbearers of anti- democratic culture and violence. For example, in July 2018, a student in Maharajas College named Abhimanyu, who was also a Student Federation of India (SFI) activist was brutally killed by a 16 member assailants belonging to Campus Front of India, Popular Front of India (PFI) and SDPI (Ramachandran, 2018). In July 2019, a group of SFI students stabbed a student in his chest that too within the premises of University College, Thiruvanthapuram, Kerala (Times of India, July 13, 2019). On January 10, 2022, following a clash between SFI and Kerala Students Union (KSU), a 21-year-old engineering student -activist was stabbed to death in Government Engineering College, Idukki. All these suggests that it is high time the political parties and the advocates of peace and solidarity to come together under one umbrella to find a solution to these endless and unjustifiable butchering of human lives in the name of politics and hatred. Kerala is the top among the Indian states in turning the college campuses into the ‘killing fields’ as per the statistics [3]. The crucial question here is why so much violence and killings in the name of campus politics in Kerala. Student politics is an integral part of campuses across India and though there might be strikes and occasional protests but remains mostly peaceful. At times the protests have taken violent form. For instance, in January 2020, around 40 students and staff of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) were admitted to hospital with injuries. At that time the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) alleged that Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the BJP was behind the attack but ABVP stated that JNUSU itself carried out the violence (Singh, 2020). Meanwhile, JNU, a left bastion over the years has often been described as a role model when it comes to student politics. The JNU itself is one of the most diverse yet inclusive campus that gives ample space to radical voices not only from Left movement but across political spectrum. JNU also fosters and promotes free thinking and gives platform to debate, discuss and contest in a healthy manner. As a result, the student politics in JNU is different from that of other university and college campuses in the country. It is also interesting to note that the SFI had a formidable influence in JNU that launched the political careers of top Left leaders including Prakash Karat, the former general secretary of CPI (M) and Sitaram Yechury, the present general secretary. Why are they silent on the political violence and murders committed by the SFI in the campuses of Kerala in the name of student politics? Why are they mute spectators when their party men are busy sponsoring cold-blooded murders? Why can’t they suggest to the state CPI (M) leadership and SFI in Kerala to adopt a JNU model in which students of opposite ideologies fight against each other on the basis of debates and intellectual deliberation and not through muscle — power and violence. The KSU and ABVP, the other major student outfits and their parent parties can also seriously think of debating and protesting in a healthy and intellectual manner.

Stalin Still Alive in Kerala 

Some say Stalin Worship and popularity of Stalin Cult in Kerala also directly and indirectly inspires the youth to take up violence. For instance, during the SFI election victory rallies in the campuses of Kerala including the students in professional college celebrate their electoral victory conducts procession by carrying the placards of Joseph Stalin. The students and youth in general worship him as an idol and icon. The Communist Party in Kerala and India also encourage Stalin Worship and in Kerala it is common to find the portrait of Joseph Stalin in their party offices. It is seen that during the recently concluded party conferences from the branch level to the state level, the portrait of Stalin was installed in public places for giving heroic salute to him. Again, the huge portraits of Stalin are installed in public places for the coming 23rd Party Congress of the CPI (M) in Kannur. Perhaps, the CPI (M) is the only Communist Party in the world which still keeps a ‘Cult of Stalin worship’. However, it is not the Communist alone that are in awe of Stalin, who allegedly massacred more than 15 lakh people. For instance, some describe Jawaharlal Nehru as a “Soviet Addict” (Goel, 1993 and Swaroop 1951) who failed to see the cruelty unleashed by Stalin. Then in 1953, when Stalin died Nehru passed a resolution in the Indian Parliament to mourn the death of one of the cruellest mass murderer in the history of humanity. Nehru described Stalin as follows “He was, I believe, technically not the head of the Soviet State — we make reference to the passing of high dignitaries and especially heads of State — but Marshal Stalin was something much more than the head of a State. He was great in his own right way, whether he occupied the office or not. I believe that his influence was exercised generally in favour of peace (emphasis added by the authors). When war come, he proved himself a very great warrior, but from all the information that we have had his influence had been in favour of peace (emphasis added by the authors). Even in these present days of trouble and conflict, I earnestly hope that his passing away will not mean that influence which was exercised in favour of peace(emphasis added by the authors) is no longer to be availed of. Perhaps, if I may express the hope, this event may loosen all our minds a little from their rigidity in all countries, and that we may view the present problems of the world, not in that rigid way which develops, when people are continually in conflict and argument with each other, but in a somewhat more responsive and understanding way, so that his death may serve to bring us more to think of this troubled world, and to endeavour even more than before to secure peace(emphasis added by the authors) in this world and to prevent any further disasters and catastrophes from occurring”. (Parliamentary Debates, House of the People’, Official Report — Volume 1, No. 18, Friday, 6th March 1953).

Political Killings in Kerala Through the Lens of “Banality of Evil”

German-American philosopher Hannah Arendt in 1963 coined a phrase “the banality of evil”. In her book titled Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Arendt offers her account of the trial of Adolf Eichmann [4], a Nazi military officer and one of the key figures of the Holocaust. Arendt argues that “grotesque crimes like Holocaust or genocide are not necessarily committed by psychopaths and sadists, but often by normal and sane ordinary human beings as part of their bureaucratic diligence”. That is in other words Arendt was arguing that people like Eichmann was simply carrying out his duties without evil intentions. Meanwhile, Arendt never tried to downplay the guilt of Eichmann and repeatedly described him as a war criminal and concurred with his death sentence (White, 2018).

Now moving on to the cold-blooded political killings in Kerala, anyone can cast a doubt that whether the political parties and their ardent supporters in Kerala, directly or indirectly have found an inspiration in Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” thesis to justify the murders and killers. Going by the political patronage and protection offered by political elite and leaders to the culprits involved in the political killings it looks like that. For instance, the CPI (M) in Kerala has shown no reluctance in openly supporting and protecting its members who have executed political killings on behalf of the party.

Take the case of P K Kunjananthan, who was the 13th accused in the T P Chandrasekharan Murder case. For many party workers and ardent party supporters, Kunjananthan was a loyal lieutenant of the CPI (M) leadership and when his Party ordered him to carry out the political killing of a person whom they considered as a renegade, Kunjananthan just executed it. The justification was that he did it for protecting the interest of his mighty Party and nothing else. There are also some sections who view him as a scapegoat for protecting the top party leadership. For the Party and its people, what Kunjananthan committed was an evil that was banal and not necessarily a crime though no one openly dubbed it as “banality of evil”. Though he was charged with conspiracy and convicted along with the others, the CPI (M) and party leadership maintained the stance that it had no role in the murder and continued to defend Kunjananthan and support him. For example, Kunjananthan, who remained in the Panoor Area Committee of the CPI (M) for many decades was still part and parcel of the Panoor area committee even while he was undergoing life imprisonment in Kannur Central Jail as one of the conspirators in the murder of T P Chandrashekharan. There were also complaints that he was actively attending party functions during the parole period. When Kunjananthan passed way, the Party gave him a heroic farewell and the CPI (M) installed a memorial column for Kunjananthan (Kumar, 2021).

In Kerala, whenever such cases of political violence take place, the political parties assure the people involved gets 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 (Ullekh, 2018). Take the case of Karayi brothers in CPI (M) - Karayi Chandrashekharan and Karayi Rajan. Both of the Karayi brothers are accused in the murder of a PFI activist named Muhammed Fazal and were arrested by the CBI in 2012. 

The CPI (M) fielded them in 2015 local government elections and Karayi Rajan got elected and became the Kannur District Panchayat President and Karayi Chandrashekaran also won and became the Chairperson of Thalassery Municipality. The Kerala High Court granted permission to the brothers to file nominations but asked them so seek permission to campaign as they are not allowed to enter their native district Kannur. Though there were criticisms against fielding them in elections, the CPI (M) state leadership stated that there is nothing wrong as they have not been convicted by the Court. However, both of them had to resign from their positions as the High Court had banned them from leaving Ernakulam district. Such political patronisation and offering financial and material perks to the convicts, culprits and their families also suggest that the Party and its supporters are indirectly viewing politically sponsored killings as a “banal evil and not pure evil”. Those who commit crimes and gruesome murders are portrayed as heroes and not as villains be it in the CPI (M) or any other political party. It is the number and intensity of the wrong and cruel deeds that you did to protect the interests of your political party that make you a star and survivor. In party conferences and meeting, the credential score of a party member depends on his aggressiveness, his willingness to do anything for the party be it killing someone or becoming a selfless martyr.

Peace Initiatives

Political parties should understand that the culture of political violence will not be tolerated by the public in the coming years. So, it’s the right time to come up with effective solutions to end the political violence and it is not mandatory that it should only be done on political lines. May be one can seek the advice of enlightened thinkers and visionaries. For instance, since 2016 under the guidance of Spiritual leader Sri M, the leaders of CPI (M), BJP and RSS initiated many peace talks and dialogues. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the top brass of CPI (M) also actively supported and participated in the peace meetings. On February 25, 2019, Sri M along with the top and local leadership of major political parties and religious and community leaders conducted a ‘Walk of Hope’ in Kannur to convey the importance of peace and harmony. Even Gandhian activist and Ekta Parishad founder P V Rajagopal has conducted many peace keeping meetings with the political leadership and the locals in Kannur. However, it looks like, such peace keeping meetings needs to be strengthened further in the backdrop of rising political killings in the state.

Conclusion 

Be it political or apolitical killings, the concept of “Banality of Evil” can never be justified on any grounds. Even Hannah Arendt who coined the term “Banality of Evil” never downplayed Eichmann’s guilt and described him as a war criminal, and concurred with his death sentence. However, political parties in Kerala and India are treating political killings and violence as some objective to fulfil their best interests as banal evil and support the preparators and murders as innocent lambs slaughtered for a better good. They are downplaying the guilt and repeatedly branding them as heroes and makes a mockery of judiciary and rule of law. When murdered human lives are reduced to numbers and denied justice, basic human rights including the right to live life to the fullest and right for a dignified death are often trampled underfoot for selfish and cruel intentions, then that denotes the death of humanity in general. Public will no longer tolerate such cold-blooded killings in the name of politics, religion or hatred. People are struggling to make their ends meet in the post-pandemic period and they don’t want to be killed nor want others to be butchered. If the political parties in the state realizes this truth then it would hold key to their survival. India has rich tradition and literature on peace and social harmony, right from the Non Violence preached by Mahatma Gandhi to the core tenets of Buddhism and in the recent times we have Apostles of Peace like Dalai Lama who constantly preaches that “only through compassion and inner peace, can one spread peace in the world”. Then there is Archbishop Desmond Tutu who in his Gospel of Peace states “when there is injustice, invariably peace becomes a casualty”. When the delegates all over the country meet in Kannur in Kerala which decides policy resolutions for the coming three years [5], they should conduct a separate brainstorming session at the 23rd Party Congress to propose a “peace pact” by imbibing the principles available in vast literature on the peace and peace keeping missions.

(Authors: Jos Chathukulam is former Professor, Ramakrishna Hegde Chair on Decentralisation, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru and currently the Director of Centre for Rural Management (CRM), Kottayam, Kerala. ; Manasi Joseph, Researcher, Centre for Rural Management (CRM), Kottayam, Kerala )

References

  • Arendt, Hannah (1964). Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, New York: Viking Press.
  • Babu, Ramesh (2012, May 5). Ex-CPM leader’s Murder Rocks Kerala. Hindustan Times.
  • Babu, Ramesh. (2021, February 24). Political Killings Rise Again in Kerala, Hindustan Times. 
  • Bandyopadhayay, D. (2010, August 22). Census of Political Murders in West Bengal during CPI-M Rule—1977-2009, Mainstream Weekly, Vol. XLVIII, No. 34.
  • Chathukulam, Jos and Joseph, Manasi (2021, May 8). The Tale of Three Women Candidates in Kerala: What It Means for Gender and Politics in the State, Mainstream Weekly, VOL LIX No. 21.
  • Chaturvedi, Ruchi.North Kerala and Democracy’s Violent Needs. Economic and Political Weekly (EPW). 2012,47 (31).
  • Goel, Ram Sita (1993). Genesis and Growth of Nehruism, New Delhi: Voice of India. 
  • Govind, Biju. (2014, January 22). 12 held guilty of T.P. Chandrasekharan Murder. The Hindu.
  • Kumar, Rajeev A M. (2021, June 12). CPM unveils memorial for TP Chandrasekharan murder convict PK Kunjananthan, The New Indian Express.
  • Oommen, Rickson (2021, December 21). 4 Kerala SDPI workers held for murder of BJP leader Renjith Sreenivasan, India Today.
  • Parliamentary Debates, House of the People’, Official Report — Volume 1, No. 18, Friday, 6th March 1953, Parliamentary Secretariat, New Delhi [Cols. 1567-1570].
  • Paul, Cithara. (2020, October 5). Political Killings Continue in Kerala; 4 killed in 45 days. The Week.
  • Philip, Shaju. (2021, November 15). RSS man hacked to death in Kerala’s Palakkad, The Indian Express.
  • Singh, Divyesh. (2020, January 6). Mumbai: ABVP protests against JNU violence, claims JNUSU members staged attack, India Today. 
  • Smitha, K T (2021, December 3). Periya Twin Murders Explained: CBI Files Charge sheet Implicating CPI(M) Leaders, The Quint.
  • Swarup, Ram (1950). Russian Imperialism: How to Stop it (1920-1998), Prachi Prakashan
  • Ullekh, P. N. (2018). Kannur: Inside India’s Bloodiest Revenge Politics. Penguin Random House India.
  • White, Thomas. (2018, April 30). Hannah Arendt famously spoke of the ‘banality of evil’. But did she miss a deeper meaning? Scroll.in

[1RMP claims to uphold real communist ideologies and strives to maintain internal democracy. In 2019, RMP became Revolutionary Marxist Party of India (RMPI) by merging with ten minor leftist parties like CPM Punjab, CPM Haryana, Chandigarh Marxist Party, Himachal Marxist Party, Chhattisgarh Marxist Party, Tamil Nadu Marxist Party, Andhra Marxist Party, West Bengal Marxist Party, and Delhi Marxist Party.

[2T. P. Chandrasekharan’s murder threw the party into a deep crisis and the party members had to face a huge backlash. At that time, a senior Central Committee member of CPI (M) from Kerala told the CPI (M) Central Committee that the murder will have serious repercussions and it would eventually affect the political prospects of the CPI (M) in general. This senior party member had to face the brunt for raising his valid concerns in the Central Committee.

[3In West Bengal, where the CPI (M) and Left Front remained in power for around 34 years was a hotbed of brutal political killings. D. Bandyopadhyay in his article titled Census of Political Murders in West Bengal during CPI-M Rule—1977-2009, states that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, in a reply to an Assembly question, stated that between 1977 (when they came to power) and 1996, 28,000 political murders were committed. According to Bandyopadhyay, it meant that an average 125.7 murders were affected in a month. “It meant that the daily rate of murder was four. That is to say that one political murder took place every six hours for the entire period of 19 years between 1977 and 1996,” (See Bandyopadhyay, 2010). Bandyopadhyay also offers an estimate on the number of political killings in West Bengal between 1977 -2009. According to Bandyopadhyay, “Anyway to come to a reliable figure of murders between 1997 and 2009, we have taken the annual average of 2284 to come to a total figure of 27,408. Thus between 1977 and 2009 the total number of murders was 28,000 + 27,408 = 55,408. It means a yearly average of 1787, a monthly average of 149 and a daily average of five. In other words, in every four hours and 50 minutes one person was being killed for political reasons in West Bengal. The CPI-M can claim credit that instead of a murder an hour they could limit it to four hour and 50 minutes per murder,” (See Bandyopadhyay, 2010).  However, when it comes to political killings within college and university campuses the educational institutions in West Bengal are relatively less violent compared to Kerala. Meanwhile, there have been a blanket ban on student unions following violence on campuses across West Bengal ahead of the 2016 Assembly Elections in the state.

[4Eichmann was hanged to death for war crimes

[5Party Congress is one of the highest decision-making body of the Communist Party and it is convened once in three years.

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