The fear of death squads on the prowl becomes palpable in Kerala as the state witnessed two gruesome political killings within a fortnight. The relative pause prevailed in political killing for the past many months in the state was broken on 15 November, when the 27-year old S Sanjith, an RSS Pramukh in Palakkad district, was hacked to death by a group of assailants allegedly belonging to the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI).
A fortnight later, it was the turn of a death squad comprising suspected BJP-RSS activists/supporters to kill PB Sandeep Kumar, a 32-year old CPM leader in Pathanamthitta district in Central Kerala. Kumar, the Peringara local committee secretary of the CPM, was killed on the night of 2 December. The killings have taken place in the backdrop of a high-pitched political hate campaign by various shades of fundamentalist outfits showing unbearable viciousness on social media platforms.
In the latest incident, two state-level leaders, one from the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) and another from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have been killed in Kerala's Alappuzha, with the two murders occurring within hours of each other.
Meticulous Planning & Execution
The striking similarity in meticulous planning and perfect execution of every targeted political murder in Kerala would make one wonder whether the members of the killer squads, though loyal to different political dispensations, were trained under the same master. Apart from brutal efficiency, the squad members also appear to follow the same template in their modus operandi. The assailants of the RSS leader waylaid him while he was riding along with his wife on a bike on the Thrissur-Palakkad Highway. A car was used to knock him down before the killers got out of the vehicle and hacked the victim to death in front of his wife, Harshitha. The killer squad then vanished from the scene after making sure that the victim would not have any chance for survival. According to the police, the body of Sanjith had more than 15 deep wounds apart from other injuries.
The same method was also on display in the Pathanamthitta killing. Instead of using a car, the six-member hit squad came on two separate motorbikes and waylaid Kumar, who was sitting on a culvert. The killers chased him to a paddy field before stabbing and hacking him to death.
Political Violence Isn't New to State
Both killings have all the hallmarks of premeditated murders executed with brutal precision. Nobody could trace any spur-of-the-moment upheaval on account of heated political exchanges linked to both the killings. An audio clip claiming to be a purposed mobile telephone conversation of an accused in the Pathanamthitta killing reveals the cold-blooded mindset of those involved in the act. The person nonchalantly gives a graphic description of the attack and legal remedies sought by the culprits after the killing.
Although the police have arrested the suspects involved in both cases, the fear of retaliatory violence pushing the state into a fresh bout of political killings remains a matter of concern.
The possibility of retaliatory violence remained high as political parties in the state are known to have perfected the art of shielding the actual culprits involved in targeted killings and presenting dummy candidates as the accused before the police.
The idea of targeted killings to settle political vendetta remains an essential ingredient of the mainstream political landscape in Kerala for long. The complicity of the parties belonging to the ruling Left Democratic Front led by the CPM and the opposition United Democratic Front headed by Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party in perpetuating the culture of political killings is a known unknown. The difference, if any, is only in the number and scale. The CPM and BJP, of course, share the honour of passing the maximum number of death sentences on cadres and supporters of each other.
BJP-RSS Harping On 'Jihadi' Angle
Although the state had a long history of political killings starting from the late 1960s, the exact number of people killed in such incidents is not known. A wide gap exists in the martyr's list flaunted by each party. Newslaundry in May 2021 quoted a report from NDTV, saying that “Kerala saw 173 political killings from 2000 to 2017.”
It added, “Of those killed, 85 were from CPM and 65 were RSS or BJP workers. The Congress and Indian Union Muslim League each had 11 workers killed either by the CPM or the Sangh Parivar.”
The CPM mouthpiece Deshabhimani in a report on 4 December 2021 claimed that 16 workers either belonging to CPM, or its youth and student outfits such as the DYFI and SFI, were killed in the state during the last five-and-a-half years. The report alleged that the RSS was involved in 11 of these killings, while Congress accounted for three. The SDPI and the IUML were involved in the remaining.
The SDPI, considered as the political arm of the Popular Front of India (PFI), is the latest entrant to the political killing fields of Kerala. The Popular Front of India is already facing charges of being an Islamic fundamentalist outfit. The SDPI, known as the political offshoot of the PFI, getting tangled in political killings, brings a religious dimension to such murders in the state.
Although the SDPI and PFI activists were also accused of being involved in the killing of CPM workers in the past, the BJP-RSS leadership in the state has been harping on the spread of 'Jihadi' forces in Kerala in the wake of the killing of the RSS activist in Palakkad by suspected SDPI activists. The state BJP president, K Surendran, met Governor Arif Mohammad Khan and demanded that the probe should be entrusted with the National Investigation Agency (NIA). He had also stated that "specially trained" people were involved in the killing of Sanjith to buttress his claim of a ‘Jihadi’ conspiracy behind the incident.
'Bid to Destabilise LDF'
The CPM state leadership alleged that the RSS-BJP combine has been trying to create a terror-like situation in the state to destabilise the LDF government following the Pathanamthitta incident. That the CPM leadership is keeping party cadres on tight control is evident from the fact that the party was not facing any major charges of being involved in murderous attacks against political rivals after the Periya murders in 2019, in which two Youth Congress activists were killed by local CPM workers.
The restraint on the part of the CPM is mainly on two counts. The party can't afford to allow a collapse in the law and order situation when the CPM is heading the state government. Secondly, the party leadership is also aware of the consequences of getting on the wrong side of the saffron brigade in the state when the BJP is leading the Union government. But political rivals of the CPM, such as the BJP-RSS combine, the SDPI, and the Congress are not bound by such compulsions. And that does not augur well for the peace prospects.
(KP Sethunath is Executive Editor, The Malabar Journal. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)