By Liz Mathew, Indo-Asian News Service
Mokeri (Kerala), April 29 (IANS) Kannur, Kerala's most volatile district, goes to the polls this time round with the charged up atmosphere of earlier elections missing.
Although the sickle and hammer (Marxist symbols), martyrs' memorials and red flags still dot the roadside, the political atmosphere ahead of the May 3 poll is different in the communist bastion.
Also missing are the 'party villages' – villages that were bastions of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) or its Hindu rightwing rival, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Small villages along the Kannur-Kuthuparampu route were earlier perfect examples of the decades-long rivalry between the CPI-M and the RSS.
'Each party would adopt certain villages and turn them into their strongholds. At communist villages, public utility structures like bus stand sheds and public wells would be painted red. At RSS villages the colour would be saffron,' said Sasindran, a journalist with the Mathrubhoomi newspaper.
'Anyone who is not a party supporter is completely isolated in a village. None of the neighbours would attend any function in your house,' he said.
'An RSS supporter would never dare to wait for a bus at a red bus stand,' he said. 'The atmosphere there would force you to surrender to the politics or leave the village.'
In the last five years, some 3,500 incidents of political violence and 36 killings have been officially recorded in Kannur, located about 500 km from the state capital Thiruvananthapuram.
Unofficial reports say around 150 people have died in clashes between the 'saffron' and 'red' groups in Pampannoor, Chokli, Mokeri (all Left villages) and in Pathayakunnu and Ponkachi (RSS villages).
Several households in these villages became bomb-making units. The two groups formed special 'hit squads' to whip up violence, especially during election time.
Things are quieter now.
The political parties seem to have found their 'sponsoring' of villages an expensive affair. The 'sponsoring' also entailed providing monetary and material help to the families of the 'martyrs' of political clashes.
'While the CPI-M still has the machinery to support the families of victims, the RSS is facing a fund crunch, forcing its leadership to abandon violence to an extent,' said Bhaskaran, a shopkeeper in Pathayakunnu, where one side of the road 'belongs' to the CPI-M and other to the RSS.
'Pathayakunnu itself has more than 60 martyrs,' he said.
P.K. Harshan, a self-proclaimed Congress supporter in Pathayakunnu, said it was the anti-Left movement in his area that had helped the RSS make inroads in Kannur in recent decades.
The rivalry between the two groups made the district a hotbed of political killings. Rivals would get eliminated even in broad daylight and attempts by the government to intervene would lead to bombings, and then police firing.
While some relate the extreme rivalry to the legendary war between two warrior groups as described in 'Vadakkan Veeragatha' (a folk song of the Malabar region), others attribute it to a decades-long caste war involving Thiyas and Ezhavas – two backward community groups.
Sociologists say the landlords in Malabar were Thiyas and they brought Ezhava people from Sri Lanka as labourers.
According to another version, RSS supporters in the Malabar region were brought to Kerala in the early 1960s by the Karnataka lobby in the 'beedi' making sector to ruin a cooperative 'beedi' manufacturing unit of the communists.
However, I.V. Das, a Malayalam writer and columnist in the CPI-M magazine Chinta, rubbished the concept of party villages.
'There is no such village. The CPI-M never tried to terrorise people and this is just an allegation against us.'
Asked about the numerous red flag posts and red colour bus sheds, Das said: 'This is a CPI-M stronghold. And the paint represents the colour of our blood.'
Harshan and Bhaskaran admitted that the violence in their villages had come down in the last two to three years.
'The UDF (United Democratic Front) government used massive police force to contain the violence here,' one resident said.
But if pre-poll surveys and exit polls are true, the UDF is on its way out. If that happens, the winner will be the Left Democratic Front led by the CPI-M.
Political violence in Kannur
Kannur has witnessed more incidents of political violence than any other district in Kerala. Since 1980, Kannur has seen over 150 political murders with over 36 in the past five years.
BJP worker Prakash, who was allegedly attacked by CPI(M) workers a few years ago, is still coping with his injuries.
His party bears the expenses of his livelihood and has even built a new house for him.
"I often have excruciating pain, there is swelling also. I feel bad about losing a hand and it is depressing to be handicapped," said Prakash.
The story is almost the same for CPM workers. Forty-four-year old Sureshan was allegedly attacked by RSS and BJP workers.
He is paralysed below the waist and has countless injuries from the attack.
"We believe in our ideology and our movement. And in this struggle, the highest price you can pay is your life and your opponents will always try to annihilate you," said Sureshan.
"So as a soldier on the border, we have to stand firm despite attacks," he added.
There are hundreds of such cases in Kannur. From revenge killings, bomb blasts and attacks on policemen, the district has seen it all.
Political parties have always been blaming each other for the violence in the past. All villages in Kannur live in fear and apprehension during and after elections because of political rivalry.
But this time around, the people in Kannur expect the political leadership to exercise restraint to ensure that there is no outbreak of violence after the elections.