Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan (Image: PTI)
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan took to Facebook on June 11 to condole with the death of a fellow party leader, PK Kunjananthan, who passed away that evening at a hospital in the state capital Thiruvananthapuram. Prima facie there’s nothing wrong in it — except that Kunjananthan was a convict serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of TP Chandrasekharan, the leader of the breakaway Revolutionary Marxist Party (RMP).
The Chief Minister hailing a murder convict has become a talking point in the state. On cue, several ministers representing the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), including Health Minister KK Shailaja, put up similar Facebook posts lionising the murder convict.
TP Chandrasekharan’s murder in 2012 was chilling by even the bloody standards of Kerala’s political killings and is an indelible blot over the CPI(M)’s image, and further strengthens allegations that the CPI(M) is a law unto itself. Recently, Kerala Women’s Commission Chairperson MC Josephine made a stunning statement that the ruling CPI(M) acts as a “court and a police station” with its internal mechanisms to investigate sexual abuse and murder charges against party leaders.
The CPI(M) State Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, a former home minister, was perhaps alluding to this when he claimed Kunjananthan was a victim of “state terrorism during the United Democratic Front (UDF) rule”. After all, the CPI(M)’s internal commission had given a clean chit to Kunjananthan in the TP murder case, making a mockery of the criminal justice system.
Even if Balakrishnan’s statements could have been ignored, the way the Chief Minister went out of his way to extol the virtues of the murder convict has once again brought CPI(M)’s Kannur brand of political killings back in focus. This is in stark contrast to the image-building exercise around the Chief Minister, even as the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government sniffs at a possibility of beating anti-incumbency at the assembly polls scheduled for 2021.
Vijayan has been fashioning his welfarist government in Kerala as the ‘alternative’ to the Narendra Modi-led central government. Vijayan’s ‘Kerala model’ is based on a robust health and educational infrastructure, the foundations of which go back decades, if not centuries. However, even as Vijayan reiterates in his speeches that “this [model] is the alternative”, his identity as the ringleader of the Kannur faction of the CPI(M) came to the fore yet again with his public exaltation of a murder convict.
Before becoming the Chief Minister in 2016, Vijayan was the CPI(M) state secretary for 17 long years, at the height of which the Left party saw a protracted power struggle between two factions within the party — one led by former Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and the other led by Vijayan. In this struggle many small leaders became collateral damage, and Chandrasekharan was one such leader. He was aligned to the Achuthanandan faction and once he felt stymied in a party that was coming under the iron grip of Vijayan, he broke away and formed the RMP. Chandrasekharan also took with him a majority of party cadre and sympathisers in his local area.
As Chandrasekharan became a threat to the established order, even if it was limited to a pocket borough, Vijayan dubbed him a ‘kulamkuthi’ or traitor. On May 4, 2012, Chandrasekharan was brutally hacked to death, with 51 cuts to his face, and his murder prompted many of the traditionally pro-Left commentators to speak out. Curiously, even after this, Vijayan continued to dub Chandrasekharan a ‘kulamkuthi’, in an extremely insensitive fashion.
Vijayan’s kind words towards murder convict must be seen in this backdrop and it resurrects many ghosts of a nearly-forgotten past. That is why, despite all the propaganda campaigns likening Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to a social democrat, it somehow doesn’t cut ice. After all, the democratic deficit in the Kannur scheme of things is all too apparent.
In fact, Vijayan’s government is a departure from the previous Left governments in Kerala in that it is on a ‘pragmatic’ approach when it comes to finance, capital, industrialisation and environmental clearances. Here the people-centric governance has moved to party-centric governance. While many older leaders see this as a ‘Right-wing deviancy’, there is no liberal approach to civil rights or democratic norms, with increasing centralisation of power in the government.
In fact, with this single act of glorification of a murder convict, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan might have rendered all the efforts to cast him in a new image to a nought, reminding the people of Kerala CPI(M)’s not-so-democratic ways and the ‘Kannur Model’ of politics.Anand Kochukudy is a political commentator and editor, The Kochi Post. Views are personal.