April 19, 2006, The Rediff Special/ George Iype in Kannur
Kannur, Kerala’s most violence-ridden district, is strangely calm these days, even as electioneering gets into top gear. But is this calm a precursor to the storm that is brewing in the most politically sensitive district in the state?
As Kannur goes to the polls on May 3 under heavy security cover, everyone hopes that there will not be a repeat of the political violence, murders and reprisals during or after the assembly elections.
For years now, the sickle and hammer, the Marxists’ proletarian symbols, have, in fact, had literal meanings only in Kannur.
Why? Because they are the two of the most common weapons that the Marxist and Sangh Parivar cadres use against one another in this volatile northern district of Kerala.
All these years, vengeful political killings, bomb blasts and attacks on police patrol teams used to be the order of the day in Kannur’s villages.
These days, since the Election Commission has deployed dozens of companies of paramilitary forces across the district, the political mayhem is in control, at least for now.
Kannur residents are happy and relieved that their towns and villages are not engulfed in violence and killings.
"This is the first time during an election that Kannur is peaceful. In all other elections, there used to be killings and bomb attacks on candidates and political leaders," says P K Raveendran, a textile shop owner in Kuthuparamba, one of the most violence-prone towns in the district. However, he is well aware of the tragic fact that in Kannur, mayhem can be unleashed at any time, anywhere.
The decades-long rivalry between the cadres of the Communist Party of India-Marxist and the Sangh Parivar has made Kannur a hotbed of politically-motivated killings.
Thus rivals get butchered in broad daylight and crude bombs are hurled at police teams. The result of this vicious political rivalry is that village after village in Kannur lives in fear and anxiety during each election.
The district administration, which has requested the Election Commission to send additional paramilitary forces to be deployed in Kannur’s strife-torn villages, seems to have lost the count of the dead over the last two decades. But officials point out that the number of political murders could certainly be more than 200 over the years.
K J Joseph, a Congress leader in Kannur, says the district has been a killing field for the Marxists and the Sangh Parivar. "Their cadres make weapons and bombs here. They use the sickle and hammer to murder political opponents," Joseph points out.
But Venu Sudhakaran, a local Marxist who has escaped attempts on his life allegedly by Sangh Parivar activists, says it is the Bharatiya Janata Party, Muslim League and Congress leaders who have been unleashing violence across Kannur.
"Kannur has been a CPI-M bastion for decades. And our political opponents have always engaged in violence to defeat us. But the people of Kannur are always with the Marxists," Sudhakaran says.
Historically, Kannur has remained the hotbed of communism. Many villages in the sprawling district are better known as ‘party villages’, some aligned with the CPI-M and some with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
Thus, a large number of crude bombs are manufactured in houses of village party activists; crude weapons are specially made in forlorn areas; parties have also created special ‘hit squads’ to whip up violence and frenzy on election day.
Kannur has been limping from murder to murder since the 1970s. It all began when the RSS’s influence began to rise in the area. Communal clashes followed. The worst was in 1981, when RSS and CPI-M workers spent two weeks engaged in a bloodbath that claimed 24 people: 12 RSS workers and 12 from the CPI-M.
Since then the cycle of violence has continued unabated, despite innumerable peace initiatives. In the last five years, some 3,500 incidents of political violence and 36 killings have been officially recorded from Kannur.
These elections, so far so peaceful, offer a faint glimmer of hope that the orgy of violence may finally be ending in Kannur.