Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala, India's most literate state with the best socio-economic indicators, has ironically a history of political killings in which virtually every party is involved. A recent RTI inquiry revealed that 56 people fell victim to internecine violence in Kannur in the decade from January 1997 to March 2008.
Not everyone who dies is a political activist. Often, innocent citizens die in turf wars in which they have no stake.
Police officials and political activists say the main players in this ugly game of finishing off political foes are the leftwing Marxists and rightwing Hindu groups. Many victims are killed in the most gruesome manner, using swords or homemade bombs.
A recent RTI inquiry revealed that 56 people fell victim to internecine violence in Kannur from January 1997 to March 2008.
Kannur district in Kerala's north, considered the cradle of the Communist movement in the state, leads in tit-for-tat killings. This also happens to be a state with over 95 per cent literacy.
In February this year, a 22-year-old member of the youth wing of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), Abdul Shukoor, was killed allegedly by Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) activists publicly.
As if that was not enough, the killers sent gory pictures of the victim on MMS to IUML leaders. Shukoor was targeted for ambushing a local CPI-M leader, P Jayarajan, and party legislator TV Rajesh.
IUML legislator KM Shaji warned that the "murder politics" of the CPI-M, which heads the Left Democratic Front in Kerala, had contributed to the growth of Islamists. "The need of the hour is for a probe by a central agency into all political murders. The nexus between goons and politicians and police has to be exposed," he said.
Kerala's political killings came into national focus again following the murder in May of former CPI-M firebrand TP Chandrasekharan, who had left the party.
Former Kerala chief minister VS Achuthanandan, who Chandrasekharan looked up to until he quit the CPI-M, went to the victim's house and spoke out against the widely condemned killing.
As if in response, MM Mani, another CPI-M leader who belongs to the anti-Achuthanandan faction, blurted out that the Marxists believed in tit for tat killings. He related three such killings from the 1980s.
According to Mani, the victims were Congress workers. One was stabbed to death, another shot dead, and the third was beaten to death. Their crime? They had allegedly killed a CPI-M member. Mani's audacious claim shocked Kerala.
As police slapped murder charges against Mani and the rabble rouser claimed he had been "misquoted", the CPI-M's leadership denounced him and pledged to take action against him.
Former industries minister Elamaram Kareem says the CPI-M gets damned after every killing. "A section of the media and the Congress are against us. Reports of existence of 'party villages' (where CPI-M is the last word) in Kannur is a figment of imagination," he said.
Eminent historian MGS Narayanan challenged Kareem. "I am aware that numerous 'party villages' existed in Kannur, where everything was controlled by the party.
"With the advent of communication and invasion of television, things have changed. Now the situation is that these villages exist but with a lower level of intensity and control by the party."
Former state BJP president and leading criminal lawyer PS Sreedharan Pillai recalled that in 1978 when one Chandran started a Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) unit in Kannur, the Marxists killed him.
"Since then it has been a series of killings. Roughly, 150 BJP and RSS activists have been murdered in the state, mostly in north Kerala. Around an equal number have also died on the other side.
"I handle close to a dozen political murder cases," said Pillai.
Retired superintendent of police Subash Babu said the reason why politics of murder had reached such levels in Kerawla was due to the politician-goons-police nexus.
He said the CPI-M and Bharatiya Janata Party in particular "cultivate and promote criminals".
Kerala's killing fields have also claimed other victims. In 2010, college professor TJ Joseph's right palm was chopped off in Kochi by Islamists for making a reference in a question paper to Prophet Mohammed.
Afer that shocking attack, blamed on the Popular Front of India, almost all 54 accused were arrested.