Killing fields of Kerala's Keshpur

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By JOHN MARY in Thiruvananthapuram
  • Published 10.03.08

Thiruvananthapuram, March 9: Kannur, the northern Kerala district that sent shockwaves all the way to Delhi today, is to the CPM what Nagpur is to the RSS.

Kannur can also be called Kerala’s Keshpur, a place synonymous with political vendetta and bloodshed in Bengal.

Once known for stirring legends whose overriding theme was vendetta and clan rivalry, Kannur was the cradle of Marxism in Kerala, where the world’s first elected communist government came to power in 1957.

Feudalism, poverty and a complex caste system helped Left leaders make easy inroads and, by the fifties, the district had turned into a Red fort.

In the early sixties, the Nagpur-headquartered RSS, backed by a Mangalore business lobby, started sneaking into the communist bastion. Things took a bloody turn in 1968 when Left cadres killed an RSS activist.

Since then, it has been a battle for supremacy as the two outfits focused on forming party villages where opponents were unwelcome.

Both nurtured “killing squads” and, after every round, they would tally the “goal” — the term used to settle scores.

The recent history of killings started in Kannur in 1977, after the countrywide Emergency was lifted. The Marxists, many of whom suffered at the hands of police, targeted Congress workers who, they alleged, had betrayed them.

However, once the CPM-Congress clashes subsided, violence broke out between the CPM and the RSS.

In the latest round of clashes, seven political workers have died. Five of the dead were BJP workers and two were from the ruling CPM, while several others were injured in the retaliatory strikes that started after a local RSS leader was attacked by a group of alleged Left activists last Wednesday.

A seriously injured M.P. Sumesh is battling for life at a hospital in Kozhikode.

The RSS hit back within half an hour by killing a CPM worker, triggering more violence that spread to other areas as seething cadres sought out rival activists and attacked their homes.

The cycle of violence is similar to the bloodletting in West Midnapore’s Keshpur between 1998 and 2001 when the CPM and the Trinamul Congress were locked in a turf war. But unlike in Keshpur, where the violence has ended, Kannur has been smouldering for nearly half a century, accounting for over 250 murders.

The epicentre of the trouble — Thalassery — happens to be the constituency of state home minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.

The bloodletting had become so frequent in the seventies that ground-zero Thalassery was often referred to as Thalachchedi, which means “behead” in Malayalam.

Many maimed victims, still seen on the streets of Thalassery and Panoor, are walking reminders of the culture of political intolerance.

The eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth battle between the CPM and the RSS caught national attention when K.T. Jayakrishnan, a schoolteacher, was stabbed to death before his students in 1999.

The fresh clashes have come at a time two efficient officers, A. Hemachandran, who was inspector-general (northern range), and Kochi commissioner Manoj Abraham, who was given additional charge of Kannur, have been shunted out.

Abraham, who made a name for himself by cracking down on New Year hooliganism in Kochi, was specially brought in to clean up Kannur but lasted less than five days in his new job.