Kasaragod: On May 25, 2016, Communist Party of India (CPI) leader and Kanhangad MLA-elect E Chandrasekharan turned up with his left arm in a shoulder sling for the swearing-in ceremony in Thiruvananthapuram.
The day after, the headline in Deshabhimani, the newspaper of Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPM], read: 'E Chandrasekharan arrives with his arm broken by RSS'.
Chandrasekharan broke his arm when his victory procession was attacked allegedly by RSS-BJP workers at Mavungal on May 19, the day the assembly poll results were declared.
Twelve RSS-BJP workers were chargesheeted on 10 criminal counts, including one of an attempt to murder and one of causing grievous injuries.
Chandrasekharan went on to become the Minister for Revenue and Housing in chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan's first government.
Six-and-a-half years after the assault, the Kasaragod Additional Sessions Court (II) on January 25 acquitted all 12 BJP-RSS workers for lack of evidence.
The verdict has left the CPI bitter because two CPM leaders, on whose statements hinged the case, turned hostile in court. "The CPM leaders backtracked from their statements given to the police. They refused to identify the accused in the court," said a CPI leader. "How could they deny their own MLA? That too to protect RSS workers," he wondered.
The CPM and the CPI are unequal partners in the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF). Of the 99 LDF MLAs, 62 belong to the CPM. The CPI, a junior partner in terms of political clout, has 19 MLAs.
Several leaders of the CPI said on condition of anonymity that the CPM used the MLA's case to strike a deal with the BJP in another case where a district committee member of the party faced the charge of attempt to culpable homicide.
Breather for RSS-BJP
On May 19, 2016, when Chandrasekharan took out his victory procession in his constituency, CPM's influential district committee member and Nileshwar Area Secretary T K Ravi was by his side in the open jeep. CPM's state committee member A K Narayanan and CPI leader K V Krishnan were also by his side.
When the jeep reached Mavungal, an RSS pocket 4km from Kanhangad town, suspected BJP-RSS workers threw stones and attacked the procession. "There were hundreds of RSS workers," Ravi had told the police the next day. Chandrasekharan suffered a hairline fracture on his left arm. Ravi, too, broke his arm and was admitted to a hospital. His driver Hakeem was also injured.
Police later named as accused Balaraman (now 30 years) of Meladukam in Mavungal, Pradeep Kumar, autorickshaw driver Rajesh M (36) of Kalyan Road near Mavungal, Anoop E K of Udayamkunnu, painter S Sudeesh (30) of Kalyan Road, autorickshaw driver Babu 'Katta' (53) of Mavungal, Rahul M (24), soda factory worker Arun M (24), former lottery seller Manoj P, Sujith M of Pallot, Pradeep Kumar, an LIC agent, and Shiju.
"I knew they were there (among the assaulters)," according to Ravi's statement.
By around 6 pm, six of the accused were presented before Ravi at the DySP's office. "All the six were among those who attacked us," Ravi said in his statement to the police.
Chandrasekharan, a three-term MLA, appeared before the court on November 23, 2022. He stood by his complaint given to the police.
But when public prosecutor Abdul Sathar called Ravi to the court on November 28, 2022, he turned hostile. Ravi told the court that he did not identify the accused at the police station.
"There were more than a hundred people in the mob. Therefore, I cannot tell if the accused were among those who threw stones at us. After the incident, I have not identified the accused. I have not given any statement to the police identifying the accused," Ravi, who is now the president of Kinnaur-Karindalam panchayat, told the court in his signed statement.
Anil Bangalam, CPM Madikai South local committee member, whose statement was used by the police to build their case, also turned hostile in the court. Anil, who is also a member of the District Sports Council executive committee, was with Chandrasekharan during the victory procession.
The public prosecutor requested the court to declare the two witnesses as hostile. But when Onmanorama contacted him, the public prosecutor said there were around 250 to 300 people in the mob and so the witnesses could not recognise anyone.
BJP workers turn hostile to save CPM leaders
A few months before CPM leaders Ravi and Anil Bangalam turned hostile, Kasaragod additional sessions court (III) was hearing an attempt to murder case against CPM's district committee member and Panathady area committee secretary Krishanan Oklav, and 11 other party workers. The victims were RSS-BJP workers.
The incident dates back to November 17, 2018, when rightwing organisation Hindu Aikya Vedi, supported by the BJP, called a statewide dawn-to-dusk hartal in Kerala to protest against the arrest of its president K P Sasikala from Sabarimala.
At Cheriya Kallar in Kallar hill panchayat, the protestors were blocking vehicles. Around 2.30 pm, they held up a car belonging to a CPM leader. "We were holding up each vehicle for only two minutes," said Balakrishnan Nair, a BJP leader, and retired Armyman.
At 4.30 pm, around 60 CPM workers arrived in a procession with a jeep following them. The procession was allegedly led by K Krishnan Oklav.
"They took shovels and iron rods from the jeep and attacked us," said Balakrishnan.
Someone hit M V Sasi's head with a shovel. Rajeevan suffered a serious spinal injury. Sasi underwent skull surgery and both stayed in a hospital in Mangaluru for around two to three weeks, said Balakrishnan, who was also injured. "We were attacked in front of the police," he said.
Rajapuram police seized the jeep and arrested 12 CPM workers and leaders the next day.
They were slapped with seven charges, including an attempt to culpable homicide not amounting to murder and causing grievous injuries.
The arrested include K Krishnan Oklav (53), P K Ramachandran (56), CPM Panathady area committee secretary; and Sinu Kuriakose (48), Rajapuram local committee member. They got bail after 17 days in judicial remand.
Manikuttan alias Vijayakumar V K (48), K P Suresh (52), and Udayakumar T alias Udayan Kottody (38) remained in judicial custody for six months and 12 days.
The first accused K Kunhikrishnan (38) and the 10th accused Raghavan K (43) were in prison for 34 days.
The other four accused Sankaran K (54), Ratnakaran T (49), Prasanth C K (29) and Joshi George (47) got bail after 17 days.
The prosecution had listed eight witnesses in the case. The first information statement was filed by Baskaran A K, the first prosecution witness. Balakrishnan Nair, quoted above, was the second witness.
Vijayan, Kamalakshan P C, and Vinod V J, an employee of the Department of Post, were witnesses no. 3, 4, and 5.
Sasi and Rajeevan, who underwent surgeries, witnesses no. 6 and 7.
The Additional Session Court (III) observed that the first seven witnesses were victims of the violence, and the eighth witness, Rajagopalan K, was an eyewitness to the case. Yet, all of them turned hostile in the court.
The victims and the accused were from the same area.
A BJP leader in Panathady said that the cases were "compromised" because most of the accused in the other case (E Chandrasekharan's case) were "our people". "They are young and are looking for jobs," he said.
At least one BJP leader, who is a member of Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram -- the Sangh Parivar's organisation working among Adivasi communities -- opposed the compromise deal struck with the CPM.
A CPI leader said the compromise was struck by the district leaders of the CPM and the BJP. "Without coordination by district leaders, the lower-rung leaders cannot turn hostile in such political cases," he said.
He said both the CPI MLA and the BJP workers were denied justice. The CPM had filed two countercases in the Cheriya Kallar incident of 2018.
Six BJP workers, including Balakrishnan Nair, are accused in the cases. When Onmanorama contacted Nair on Friday for this report, he was returning from the court in Hosdurg. "Our case was postponed to another date," he said.