Cong leaders drag govt to HC, accuse CPM of unleashing violence to capture coop bank

Congress workers urge Irikkur MLA Sajeev Joseph to clear the road to the polling station blocked allegedly by CPM workers at Eruvessy panchayat on November 13. Photo: Special Arrangement

Kannur: The Congress leaders of Eruvessy grama panchayat in Kannur district are dragging the CPM-led government to the High Court, accusing the Marxist party of resorting to large-scale violence to take over Eruvessy Service Cooperative Bank.

This is the third time the CPM unleashed violence on the bank election day, they said. "The party did it in 2007, 2017 and now in 2022," alleged Joseph Parathanal (53), a Congress leader in Eruvessy. A government headed by the LDF is the common factor in all three years, said Parathanal, who wants the high court to declare the bank election invalid. "We have video and documentary evidence of the CPM's violence. We will be submitting it in court today. This time, the CPM cannot evade justice after slaughtering democracy," said Parathanal.

The election to the board of directors of Eruvessy Service Cooperative Bank was held on November 13.

Congress leader and panchayat president Tessy Emmanuel said she was slapped when she confronted a few people who rejoined the queue to vote after voting once.

They also accused the CPM workers of blocking the roads to the polling station.

Kuiyanmala police have registered three FIRs based on complaints filed by Tessy and two other Congress leaders.

Kuiyanmala police have also charged 50 unidentified persons and eight CPM leaders and workers for attempting to assault police officers on election duty.

Those charged by the police include CPM local secretary K P Dileepan, branch secretary M S Binu, local committee member Ratheesh Babu, and SFI leader Joel.

The CPM has rejected the allegations against it and accused the Congress of unleashing the violence, sensing defeat in the bank election.

"The police charged CPM workers just to create an impression that they did some work on election day," said CPM Chemperi branch secretary Anil George, who was elected the president of Eruvessy Service Cooperative Bank this time.

Eruvessy near Sreekandapuram municipality and 45 km from Kannur city is overwhelmingly a Congress panchayat. Ten of the 14 wards of the panchayat are with the Congress. The remaining four are with the CPM. During Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, the Congress has a lead of 2000 votes to 3,300 votes in the panchayat.

Also, the majority of the 8,935 members of the cooperative bank are Congress sympathisers or workers, said Joseph Parathanal. "There cannot be more than 1,700 CPM supporters in the bank. All the others are Congress people," he said.

The CPM took over the bank for the first time in 2007 when the party did not even have 400 votes, he said. "That was the first time we saw violence during a bank election," said K T Joseph Kottukapalli, who was the president of the bank in the 1990s and a director of the board from 2012 to 2017.

Amid the violence in 2007, only 780 to 800 votes were polled and the Congress got 40 votes, he said. "The CPM workers created a terror bursting crackers, harassing and assaulting people, and blocking roads," he alleged.

But the election was upheld and the bank fell into the hands of the CPM for the first time, said Kottukapalli.

Eruvessy Service Cooperative Bank was initially started as a primary credit society in 1957. It became a service cooperative bank in 1965. "Those days, the contest was between the Congress and the Kerala Congress. The CPM was not a player," he said.

In 2012, there was no violence and around 3,500 votes were polled, he said. The Congress panel got around 2,700 votes, and wrested the bank from the CPM, he said.

In 2017, the intensity of the violence was much more than in 2007 or this year, said inspector Melbin Jose, station house officer of Kudiyanmala police station. A rubber tapper was thrashed and his leg broken in the early hours of election day. Stones were thrown at the houses of UDF supporters. "All these things were done to terrorise the voters and stop them from coming to the booth," said Kottukapalli. Kudiyanmala police registered six cases related to violence in 2017.

This year, when the bank decided to conduct the election at KKNM Aided Upper Primary School at Eruvessy, Congress leader Parathanal moved the high court to change the venue of the polling station. "The area around KKNMAUP School is a 'Moscow' and we feared the election will not be fair," said Parathanal.

The Congress wrested the Eruvessy ward (no. 8) from the CPM for the first time in the 2020 election. Congress member Madhu Thottiyil, who is now the panchayat's vice president, won the seat by four votes.

On November 10, three days before the election day, justice Anu Sivaraman ruled that the venue of the election need not be changed. However, the judge directed the government to give sufficient police protection to the voters, candidates, and their agents in the election to the director board of the bank.

The court tasked Jayarajan P, unit inspector at the Assistant Registrar's General office, Taliparamba, to "take appropriate steps to see that the election was conducted in a fair and transparent manner and strictly in accordance with law".

On election day, police officers from Taliparamba, Sreekandapuram, Mayyil, and Kudiyanmala stations were deployed in and around Erussey ward and near the booth.

"But the CPM workers and leaders blocked the road to the school, denying Congress supporters from casting their votes. Six Congress workers, including the panchayat president Tess Emmamunel, were allegedly assaulted.

The government clearly could not protect the voters, said Kottukapalli.

Of the 9,835 voters of the bank, 6,656 persons took the voting ID cards before the election.

Usually, around 3,000 to 3,500 members cast their votes. "This time, only around 1,400 votes were cast and 1,200 of them were for the CPM panel. How can it be called a fair election?" said Kottukapalli, a former president of Congress Erussey mandalam (panchayat) committee.

Congress workers urge Irikkur MLA Sajeev Joseph to clear the road to the polling station blocked allegedly by CPM workers at Eruvessy panchayat on November 13. Photo: Special Arrangement

On Thursday, Parathanal apprised the high court of the violence on election day. The court directed him to submit details and documentary evidence before another bench that hears matters related to cooperative societies. "We will be before that bench today," said Parathanal.

Anil George, who was elected the president of the bank, said if there was violence in the polling station, the unit inspector at the Assistant Registrar's General office would have reported it. "How can violence in another place be linked to the bank election?" he said.

Unit inspector Jayarajan did not attend calls made to his phone.

Bank president Anil George also dismissed the police case against CPM leaders and members and 50 unidentified persons for allegedly trying to assault police. "I read the FIR, it says someone pulled out the chest nameplate of an officer. If there was widespread violence, would that be the biggest crime to be lodged in an FIR?" he said.

To be sure, the suo-moto FIR of the police also said that the LDF workers assembled on the Eruvessy-Kuttakkalam road with the intention to assault UDF workers in connection with the bank election. When the police intervened, the LDF supporters shoved the officers.

On the low turnout on election day, Anil George said the panel of Congress candidates for the board of directors might not have inspired Congress supporters to come out and vote. "Also, people can have a change of mind and vote for another party," he said.

Fighting voting fraud since 2014

Congress leader Kottukapalli said he did not have much hope from the judiciary in getting justice in the bank election case. "Not because I'm a pessimist. But because I have been fighting a similar case since 2014 and there is no end in sight," he said.

In the 2014 parliamentary election, Congress booth agents identified 58 fraudulent votes cast by impersonators in the panchayat.

Though the Kudiyanmala police registered a case in 2014, Kottukapalli had to approach the high court in January 2016 to get the (voter attendance) marked copy and (voter) signature copy from the collectorate.

"The police used the documents I got through the high court to file the charge sheet in June 2017. But it named only five persons, including four government employees, as accused in the case," he said.

Kottukapalli said he proved before the Taliparamba First Class Magistrate Court that 57 of the 58 votes cast were cases of voter impersonation because they were either abroad or out of the state on election day. Three of them were Army soldiers and were not on leave.

In 2020, the Taliparamba court directed the police to file a supplementary charge sheet with the original voters as witnesses and the impersonators as accused, he said. "Till now, the police have not done it," he said.

So Kottukapalli moved the high court again in May 2022 seeking direction from the police to expedite the case. The next hearing is on December 20.

"I am a poor newspaper agent. How can I keep fighting a case for eight years? I am still at it because my son recently got a job in Malaysia," he said.

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