P Jayarajan, a close confidant of Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan who leads the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) in the politically charged district of Kannur, is in serious trouble this time.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) last week chargsheeted Jayarajan for plotting the murder of local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader E Manoj, another resident of Kannur whose family deserted the CPM for BJP and who was later sentenced for an attempt on his life.
The CBI says Jayarajan decided to eliminate Manoj after some 500 workers switched over to the BJP after the 2014 parliamentary elections under his influence. He was also seeking revenge on Manoj for a 1999 attack on him.
Behind the murder, the investigators found an attempt “to create terror in public pursuance” to prevent CPM members flowing into the BJP and hence charged him under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which carries a death penalty or life imprisonment as the maximum punishment, and prevents bail during the trial. The CBI court in Kochi will consider the report at a hearing this week. The CPM leader is currently out on bail after his arrest in the case earlier.
The chargesheet says Manoj’s murder on 1 September, 2014, was “well-conspired, planned and well-organised” and that his late father Chathukutty and his family were close to Jayarajan as members or sympathisers of his party.
After the death of Chathukutty, in 1997, Manoj switched his loyalties, much to the anger of Jayarajan who asked him to return to the CPM. Jayarajan also warned Manoj’s brother and mother of dire consequence if they refused to abandon BJP and come back to CPM. However, as they refused to pay heed to Jayarajan’s threats, Manoj became his target, the CBI chargesheet states.
There were two failed attempts on Manoj’s life earlier in 1997 and 2009. However, the CPM leader reportedly decided to eliminate him once and for all after a function on 24 August, 2014, at Navaneetham Auditorium in Kannur, where 500 CPM workers entered the BJP’s fold under Manoj’s influence.
Jayarajan entrusted his close aide Vikraman with the job to mobilise lethal weapons and bombs and engage professional killers to execute his plan. After the murder, he sheltered the killers and tried to influence the investigation by the local police using his political clout. He now faces grave charges of attempt to trigger riots in his district, a hotbed of revenge killings where scores of political workers had already lost their lives, with the CPM steadily maintaining its presence on the one side of the conflict.
The CBI, which had earlier framed charges against the killers and launched a probe into the conspiracy angle, says it had strong pieces of evidence to prove his role.
Jayarajan was a high-value target for the BJP in its long-drawn blood feud with the Marxists, and he had suffered near-fatal injuries in the attempt on his life. Manoj was out on an appeal after being sentenced to ten years in jail along with five others for the attack on Jayarajan, when he was murdered. The assailants, in their characteristic style, exploded crude bombs before and after the killing in Kadirur village in broad daylight to scare away people, which the CBI says was a well-planned operation.
However, this is not the only murder under the CBI investigation against Jayarajan.
The local police had earlier in 2012 arrested him in the mob lynching of Abdul Shukkoor, a 21-year-old student leader of the Indian Union Muslim League, a key ally of the Congress party. On a plea by his mother PC Athikka, the high court early this year asked the agency to take over the case, which is now under investigation by another team.
The CPM workers detained Shukkoor and his four friends in a relative’s house for hours before killing him in a paddy field as a mob of some 100 people stood witness to the kangaroo court.
They accused the undergraduate student of being part of an IUML mob that blocked the vehicle of Jayarajan and TV Rajesh, a young party legislator. They had also allegedly sent his image to an unidentified person to identify him before the execution.
The local police on 1 August, 2012, arrested both the CPM leaders on charges of not preventing the killing despite knowing of the conspiracy hatched by some local functionaries but the investigation progressed at a slow pace.
Also last week, the high court issued a notice to the central government on a plea by KK Rema, the widow of rebel leader TP Chandrasekharan, pointing finger at Jayarajan and seeking a CBI probe in Jayarajan’s role in her husband’s brutal murder. Though the trial court had sentenced 12 people to life in prison, Rema alleged that the local police ignored leads to Jayarajan who provided one of the convicts, a local CPM leader, with his car to get around and evade arrest.
Chandrasekharan had attracted many CPM cadres into his breakaway Revolutionary Marxist Party (RMP), which even captured power in its bastion of Onchiyam grama panchayat.
A gang of seven waylaid the 52-year-old travelling alone on his motorbike on the night of 4 May, 2012, at Onchiyam, and brutally killed him mutilating his body. It took more than two hours for the doctors to stitch his body together.
Though the CPM denies any role in the killing, it is believed that the party leaders have been providing the killers with all assistance including legal aid. The police investigation had also found political vengeance as the motive behind the crime but it could not reach beyond local leaders.
Last month, one of the convicts on parole had thrown a wedding bash attended by many local leaders. A picture of local legislator AM Shamseer, visiting the bridegroom at their residence went viral on social media.
Rema had earlier alleged that Shamseer had close links with the killers and had produced telephone call details between him and one of the convicts.
Fight for justice
“I was convinced that the orders to eliminate my husband came from the top. They mobilised men and resources from two districts for this well in advance,” Rema told Firstpost.
“The trial court had, in its verdict convicting the 12 accused, suggested further investigation to bring conspirators to law if needed. But the state government ignored it. So I moved the court, which is my last resort for justice.”
She says the CPM continued to haunt her and RMP workers, and attacks on them has now become a routine. They even manhandled her during the last year’s general elections.
“After Vijayan took the reins of power, the killers reportedly attacked jail wardens who refuse to take orders from them. They get special treatment. They are active on Facebook and WhatsApp,” she says.
“For them, prison cells are not for punishment but rest and leisure, more so when their masters are in power. They would come out and engage in killings again with their patronage,” Rema adds.
In 2014, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, the CPM state secretary and a former home minister, even visited the convicts in Chandrasekharan’s murder in jail to ensure their “wellbeing” alleging that the jailers were torturing them.
Recently, Governor P Sathasivam, a former chief justice of India, rejected Vijayan’s recommendation for remission to them along with many such prisoners serving a life term.
“In no other place in Kerala does a memorial have police protection. Chandrasekharan’s bust (near her home) was vandalised four times,” she said.
“Now, to prevent further assault, the police is on 24X7 vigil. Such is the vendetta that the CPM holds against us. They don’t even let the dead lie in peace,” Rema says.
She was a candidate in the Vadakara Assembly constituency against the three dominant coalitions led by the CPM, Congress and the BJP. Though she came third, she could garner 20,504 votes.
She says the CPM tried every trick in the book to defeat her. Besides physical assault and violence, which was the norm during the electioneering, she also had to face three namesakes in the election, forcing her to suffix “TP House” before her name on the ballot machine.
Women outnumbered men among voters, and the CPM ensured that most of them cast an open vote, even those who were as young as 35 or 40.
“Women expressed their helplessness in openly supporting me because their men insisted on an open vote at the booths,” she said. “There were 139 booths, and each one saw at least 100 open votes. Many mothers in the CPM party villages told me they were willing to vote for me, but they were forcibly enrolled for open voting, putting their lives at risk. This is how the secrecy of the ballot was profaned,” Rema states.
The previous state government headed by Congress leader Oommen Chandy had in 2014 decided to hand over the conspiracy probe to the CBI, after she staged a hunger strike before the State Secretariat. But the CBI refused to take it up saying the local police had investigated and convicted the killers, and there was no scope for a further probe.
Last year, she approached the BJP to pursue the case but she says she was waiting in vain for a positive response for the past 20 months and hence decided to move the court.
“My fight will go on, and I hope we will get justice from the court like in the two other cases. The court has sent a notice to the central government on my petition seeking an independent probe into the conspiracy.”