It is a romantic notion to paint Kannur a Red Citadel. The constituency, like a tempestuous lover, has swung both ways. Its embrace of the CPI(M) or the Congress, especially in Lok Sabha polls, was mostly dictated by the candidates and their popular image. Kannur has been loyal neither to the Congress nor the CPI(M), and it is this unpredictability factor that has made the constituency alluring for political analysts.
This time, the Congress feels that the political murders of Muslim youth allegedly by CPI(M) cadres would turn the tide in its favour. The first death anniversary of S.P. Shuhaib, the Youth Congress leader who was hacked to death allegedly by CPI(M) workers, falls on February 12. The United Democratic Front (UDF) has lined up
various programmes in the district to mark Shuhaib's death anniversary. The strategy is to aggressively project the CPI(M) as a party that wields murder as a political weapon.
And now, with the CBI charging CPI(M) Kannur district secretary P. Jayarajan with the murder of Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) activist Abdul Shukoor in 2012, they have more fodder. Both these deaths have put the CPI(M) on the back foot. The Congress now wants old wounds reopened.
Shuhaib, who was a Youth Congress block secretary, was killed when he was sitting with his friends at a roadside eatery in Theroor, near Mattannur. The accused first hurled crude bombs to create panic, before attacking Shuhaib with swords. According to his friends, Shuhaib sustained more than two dozen wounds.
Though he was rushed to a hospital in Kozhikode, he died due to profuse bleeding. Shuhaib's friends, P.P. Noushad and Riyas, were also injured in the attack. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala had termed the murder "red terrorism".
According to police, the murder was followed by a clash between the Students' Federation of India (SFI) and Kerala Students Union (KSU), the student outfits of the CPI(M) and the Congress, respectively, at a higher secondary school in Edayannur, a Congress stronghold in CPI(M)-ruled Keezhallur panchayat almost a month ago. The school fight was taken up by their parent organisations and clashes errupted between the workers of CITU, (CPI(M)'s trade union wing) and Congress, of which Shuhaib was a leader.
The killing of IUML's Shukoor was equally gruesome. It was alleged to be an instance of CPI(M)-engineered mob lynching. Shukoor was killed in 2012 in Keezhara, Cherukunnu.
Shuhaib's killing has already seen the resurrection of Congress leader K. Sudhakaran who had been politically humbled in the last two elections. After Shuhaib's death, Sudhakaran had reacted with a vehemence alien to the Congress. He went on a hunger-strike seeking impartial probe in the murder. The series of protests that he led in Kannur were, in fact, giving him a new lease of political life after his loss in Kannur Lok Sabha polls in 2014 and the assembly election from Uduma in 2016. Sudhakaran had won from Kannur in 2009, beating CPI(M)'s K.K. Ragesh by a margin of 43,151 votes. The Congress leader gained 4,32,878 votes, whereas Ragesh could garner only 3,89,727 votes. However, in 2014, Sudhakaran lost to CPI(M)'s P.K. Sreemathy for a margin of 6,566 votes. In the assembly elections that followed, Sudhakaran lost yet again, conceding the Uduma seat to CPI(M)'s K. Kunhiraman by a margin of 3,832 votes.
By fighting for the dead, Sudhakaran seems to have pumped life back into his deflated political life. In Sudhakaran, the youngsters in the party see a leader who can stand up to the might of CPI(M) leaders. He is also seen as someone around whom the youth can rally as he had aggressively supported the victims of political violence inside the party, during his tenure as District Congress Committee chief and later.
Now, the UDF as a whole is going to crank things up. Already for the past one week, various programmes were being conducted in Shuhaib's native Mattannur and nearby areas, ahead of his first death anniversary. The KSU and the Youth Congress have held painting competitions and rallies, and the YC is organising memorial meetings in all the assembly constituencies in the district.
On February 12, a torchlight rally would be undertaken from Theroor (where Shuhaib was attacked) to Mattannur. On February 13, a public gathering would be held at Mattannur, to be attended by Karnataka irrigation minister D.K. Shivakumar. State and district leaders of Congress, YC and KSU are expected to attend the event.
KPCC president Mullappally Ramachandran said he was already reaping the gains. Mullappally said the big gain of the 'Jana Maha Yathra' he was leading was the warm reception accorded to it by the minority communities. In his speeches from Kasaragod to Malappuram, he did not forget to repeat the "atrocities committed by the CPI(M) towards the minority communities" by listing the names of Shukoor, Shuhaib and Muhammed Fasal (a National Democratic Front worker allegedly killed by CPI(M) workers in Thalassery in 2006).
Looks like it will be up to two CPI(M) women to counter the onslaught. According to sources inside the CPI(M), P. Sathi Devi, who won from Vadakara in 2004, will be considered again for the Vadakara seat, a constituency bordering Kannur and showing similar political characteristics. Though Sathi Devi's brother P. Jayarajan is
being considered for Kannur, the CBI chargesheet might have thwarted his chances. This will make the way clear for sitting MP P.K. Sreemathy, who is said to be more accessible to voters than Jayarajan. However, her chances may suffer if the party is not keen on having more than one woman candidate from a constituency
with a high win probability. If Sathi Devi is placed in Vadakara, as it is almost certain, the party may have second thoughts on fielding Sreemathy again in Kannur, a neighbouring constituency.