'RSS hacked my husband, Comrade Kodiyeri brought him back to life'

Kodiyeri Balakrishnan
Kodiyeri Balakrishnan

Thalassery: At 7.40 pm on Sunday, Thalassery Town Hall was packed with bereaved people streaming in to pay their last respects to senior CPM leader Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. The stage, where the body was kept, was crowded, and Remya A K (39) was ushering out a frail man in his late 80s through the throng.

Remya, a 'Red Volunteer' with two stars on her shoulder strap, was managing the mourners on the stage since 3.30 pm when the mortal remains of Kodiyeri (68) were brought in from Chennai, where he died battling cancer Saturday night.

In 1980, 42 years ago, Thalassery had converged at the same Town Hall to witness their future leader's wedding to S R Vinodini, daughter of the former MLA M V Rajagopalan. Two years later at the age of 28 years, he became the MLA of Thalassery for the first time. He went on to represent the Assembly constituency for four more terms, winning elections in 1987, 2001, 2006, and 2011.

"Almost everyone in Thalassery had a connect with comrade Kodiyeri," said Remya, a two-time president of Eranholi grama panchayat. She knew Kodiyeri Balakrishnan since her days in the Students Federation of India (SFI), the students' wing of the CPM. "My relationship with comrade Kodiyeri became 'aathma bandham' (soul bond) when my husband was hacked and left to die by RSS workers in 2017," she said.

On July 3, 2017, Remya's husband Sreejan Babu, an autorickshaw driver, was attacked by suspected RSS workers near Eranholi bridge, 3km from Thalassery town. Sreejan was slashed with swords 34 times, his skull was cut open, arms and thighs hacked, knee caps shattered, Achilles tendons slit, his chest was stabbed, and the index finger of his left hand was severed. "I thought I lost him," said Remya. But Kodiyeri, who was then the state secretary of the CPM, ensured Sreejan got the best medical care, she said.

Comrade Remya AK (second from left) is seen with other CPM volunteers helping an old man down the stage who had come to bid adieu to Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. Photo: George P/Manorama
Comrade Remya AK (second from left) is seen with other CPM volunteers helping an old man down the stage who had come to bid adieu to Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. Photo: George P/Manorama

Sreejan was admitted to Kozhikode's Baby Memorial Hospital for 64 days and underwent multiple microvascular surgeries. The hospital bills ran up to around Rs 25 lakh. The party footed it. "During those days, comrade Kodiyeri was the intermediary between my family and the hospital. Later, too, he used to often enquire about Sreejan's health," said Remya.

Today, Sreejan manages to walk and runs a cement and paint dealership in Thalassery.

Remya says Kodiyeri played a role in her political career, too. At 26, she was first elected the president of Eranholi grama panchayat in 2010. Then the president's post was reserved for women. But in 2015, when the president's post was unreserved, she was again made the president. "Unreserved posts are given to men. But I was made the president of the panchayat again. In a patriarchal society, it is a big thing. And rare in 2015," she said. "I believe it was comrade Kodiyeri's decision," she said.

People have come from near and far to bid adieu to their leader Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. Photo: George P/Manorama
People have come from near and far to bid adieu to their leader Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. Photo: George P/Manorama

But grassroots workers who know Remya said she was an able panchayat president who deserved to continue in the post. "Kodiyeri did not do her a favour but just recognised her leadership qualities," said P V Vijayan (71), who taught English and Economics at Government Brennen Higher Secondary School in Thalassery and knew the CPM leader since he was a 14-year-old boy. "And like Sreejan, Kodiyeri was also attacked by the RSS when he was just 16 years old," he said. 

After the final exam of class X, Kodiyeri had gone to Thalassery town when he was attacked with blunt rods and dumped in a drain. "They thought he was dead. But he pulled through after two weeks in hospital," he said. 

Kodiyeri Balakrishnan funeral
Thousands pay homage to CPM leader Kodiyeri Balakrishnan in Thalassery. Photo: Manorama

The attack steeled him but had never made him vengeful, said Vijayan 'mash' (a Malayalam version for master), who was preparing Kodiyeri's house at Eengayil Peedika to receive the body late Tuesday night.

Vijayan said the RSS allegedly attacked Kodiyeri because "the boy had already made his mark as a fiery orator" as an activist of Kerala Students Federation (KSF), the predecessor of SFI. "There will be scores of children participating in speech competitions in our neighbourhood temples but Kodiyeri would trump them all, always. We knew then itself he has a (bright) future," he says.

Kodiyeri Balakrishnan
Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. File photo: Manorama

Kodiyeri was born to Narayani Amma and primary school teacher Kunhunni Kurup on November 16, 1953, after the couple's older daughters were married. He lost his father, a Congressman, when he was in class V. His maternal uncle Nanu Nambiar steered him to communism. Every day, he would spend hours in the library at Eengayil Peedika reading up everything he could lay his hands on.

After his schooling at Oniyan High School, he would go around the small beedi factories in Eengayil Peedika reading aloud newspapers to the workers. He would read to them Deshabhimani, Mathrubhumi, Malayala Manorama, and Chintha Weekly. At the end of the day, each worker would give him one bundle of beedi they rolled as the wage for reading. 

The beedi factories were a 'pathshala' and all the reading made Kodiyeri lethal with words in his later days as one of CPM's tallest leaders, said P P Gangadharan, the secretary of the CPM's Thalassery local committee. In 1973, Kodiyeri was holding the same post and Gangadharan was a delegate from Thalassery to SFI's state conference in Kollam. "In that conference, we elected Kodiyeri as the state secretary of the SFI," he recalled.

Kodiyeri Balakrishnan
Kodiyeri Balakrishnan speaking at the 23rd Party Congress in Kannur.

Kodiyeri went on to become the party's politburo member, state secretary three times, minister for home and tourism, and deputy leader of the opposition. Irrespective of the positions he held, Kodiyeri always found time to listen to those who came to him, whether they were political leaders, common people, or bureaucrats, said Vijayan. "I call it the Kodiyeri model of listening. Every leader, irrespective of their party, should follow it," he said.

In 2015, the Oommen Chandy-led government asked all the MLAs to conduct development seminars in their constituencies and prepare a blueprint for development. "Kodiyeri was the second MLA in Kannur district to conduct the seminar and submit the plan for the development of Thalassery. UDF MLAs did not even wake up to the initiative then," said Vijayan. 

When the government proposed a 'mother and child hospital' (now Women and Children Hospital) in Thalassery, Kodiyeri launched a fund-raising drive for the project in 2012. "Rs 25 crore was raised in one day. My panchayat with just 30,000 people raised Rs 19 lakh. That was his influence among people," said Remya. The Mother and Child Hospital could be the first government hospital directly financed by people, she said. 

When Kodiyeri's health worsened, local committee secretary Gangadharan said he called on Moozhikkara Balakrishnan, the person who gave the name Kodiyeri to the CPM leader. Moozhikkara Balakrishnan is ailing and suffers from memory loss.

Moozhikkara Balakrishnan was the original Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, known after their place, said Gangadharan.

And the CPM leader was known as 'Mottammal' Balakrishnan, because his house sits atop a mound. 

But when the SFI's undivided Kannur district conference was held in Kanhangad (now in Kasaragod district), Moozhikkara asked his mate to register his name as 'Kodiyeri' Balakrishnan. "Maybe Moozhikkara knew who was going to make our place famous," said Gangadharan.

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