Of treachery, witchcraft & temple affairs: The mess in Kasaragod's Congress

  • Despite Rajmohan Unnithan's record-breaking win in the Lok Sabha election, the Congress is in disarray because of mutual distrust and infighting
  • CPM is accused by its party workers of tapping into the disgruntlement and illegally luring dissenters in Congress with temple trustee positions
Rajmohan Unnithan . File Photo: Manorama

Kasaragod: On June 5, to mark World Environment Day, Congress leader and United Democratic Front (UDF) Kasaragod District Secretary Adv A Govindan Nair made a small pit and planted a jackfruit sapling on the premises of Sree Mallikarjuna Temple in Kasaragod town.

The next day, when the photograph of the customary event with seven other people was published in the local newspapers, Congress and CPM workers saw Nair's new avatar -- chairman of the board of trustees of Mallikarjuna Temple. They soon learned that the LDF government-controlled Malabar Devaswom Board, which manages the temple, had illegally appointed Congress leaders and workers to all five non-hereditary trustee positions in Mallikarjuna Temple.

The trustee appointments were just the beginning of the story. Nair's innocuous tree planting act has unknowingly dug up some serious political dirt the Congress and the CPM would be keen to bury -- ranging from witchcraft and counter-witchcraft to alleged double-crossing in elections, and from the temple trustee appointment to jobs being offered to CPM workers in Congress-controlled cooperative societies. Grassroots workers are gearing up to protest against the seemingly corrupt practices of their party leadership.

Apart from Nair, the other four trustees of the temple are Mahila Congress district secretary Usha S, who is the wife of District Congress Committee (DCC) executive committee member Arjunan Thayalangadi; Congress' former Kasaragod Mandalam president Umesha K of Anangoor; and Congress workers Manoj AC of Vidyanagar and Ramprasad of Kasaragod. They were appointed on March 5.

"The CPM has a policy of controlling temples through trustees. It will not hand over the control of an important temple such as Mallikarjuna Temple to the Congress without a quid pro quo deal," said an advocate and DYFI leader.

Several Congress leaders, including a president of a mandalam committee in Kasaragod district, alleged that the CPM sought the help of these Congress leaders to defeat UDF candidate Rajmohan Unnithan in the Lok Sabha election. "We suspect these Congress leaders helped CPM's CH Kunhambu win in Udma Assembly constituency in 2021 and struck a deal with the CPM to defeat Unnithan in the general election," he said. As part of the deal, they did witchcraft and placed malefic objects in the MP's residence in Kanhangad and UDF's central election committee office in Kasaragod, the Congress leader alleged. Several Congress leaders on condition of anonymity accused Nair, who was in charge of the election committee, of indulging in sorcery to defeat Unnithan. "This is the condition of Nehru's Congress which advocated scientific temper in the country. Mind you, this witchcraft is widely practised in Kerala," said another party leader.

On May 15, 20 days before the results were declared, Unnithan dropped broad hints on a section of Congress leaders doing witchcraft to defeat him. "I will exhibit all the things I recovered from my office room in my residence and the UDF's central election committee office. I am sure BJP people and Marxist people will not come to my election committee office," he said and added that he anticipated their backstabbing and took measures to counter it.

"I will give their names and star signs. Let the results be out. In 2019, when I trailed by 40,000 votes, one Congress leader said 'Don't worry, he will not win now'. But I went on to win by 40,438 votes. This time, I will win by at least one more vote. I trust the people of Kasaragod," Unnithan said on May 15.

On June 4, when the results were declared, Unnithan won by over 1 lakh votes (1,00,649), a feat achieved only by CPM founder AK Gopalan in 1967 (1,18,510 votes) and his son-in-law P Karunakaran (1,08,256 votes) in 2004. More on witchcraft later.

Politicians as temple trustees
CPM state committee member and Udma MLA CH Kunhambu, accused of benefiting from the Congress' factionalism and alleged witchcraft, said he would not like to comment on the rival party's infighting.

But he rejected the allegations that the appointments of Congress leaders as trustees of Mallikarjuna Temple were part of a quid pro quo deal. Malabar Devaswom Board called for applications to fill the positions of non-hereditary trustees in the temple on June 30, 2023. "The CPM sympathisers did not know of the vacancies and did not apply for the positions. Someone was assigned the responsibility to tell CPM people but he forgot to alert them," said Kunhambu.

1 & 2.) Malefic objects such as embossed figurines on metal sheets were recovered from a plastic back in the UDF's central election committee office in Kasaragod. MP's team says it was placed to bring misfortune to him. 3.) Metal coils believed to be witchcraft objects were recovered from the bamboo cavities of three flag sticks. Photos: Special arrangement.

Malabar Devaswom Board got nine applications from Congress and BJP supporters and leaders. The board picked five from the Congress after interviewing all nine candidates.

Kunhambu said Mallikarjuna Temple and Madhur Temple were run by the RSS from Karnataka irrespective of who the trustees were. "Perhaps that must be the reason why CPM members did not take an interest in applying for the posts," he said.

But the DYFI leader said the Malabar Devaswom Board flouted its ordinance and the order of the Kerala High Court to appoint active politicians as trustees of the temple. The application form itself has an undertaking saying 'the applicant is not an office-bearer of any political party and that they would not engage in active partisan political activities'.

On February 20, 2023, the Division Bench comprising Justice Anil K Narendran and Justice PG Ajithkumar ruled that a person actively involved in politics, whether or not holding an official post, is not eligible to be appointed as a non-hereditary trustee in temples under the Malabar Devaswom Board.

The court was hearing a petition challenging the appointments of one CPM local committee secretary, one branch secretary and one DYFI Meghala secretary as non-hereditary trustees at Palakkad's Sree Pookkottukalikavu Bhagavathi Temple. The CPM leaders argued that they became office-bearers after they were appointed as temple trustees and the DYFI leader argued that the youth front of the CPM was not a political organisation.

But the court ruled that political parties would elect or select as their office-bearers only those who are actively involved in their organisations. So not much deliberation was required to conclude that the CPM leaders were active politicians, the division bench ruled. On DYFI, it said that the constitution of the organisation made it evidence that its activities are related to politics.

In 2022, the same two judges -- Justice Anil K Narendran and Justice PG Ajithkumar -- drew a distinction between active politicians and sympathisers of political parties and ruled that sympathising with a party cannot be a disqualification for temples' non-hereditary trustee positions.

In the February 2023 order, the High Court directed the Malabar Devaswom Board to strictly follow the observations made in the two judgments while appointing non-hereditary trustees.

Yet, when Onmanorama contacted Malabar Devaswom Board president TR Murali, a member of CPM's Palakkad District Committee, he said Congress leaders were appointed as trustees at Kasaragod temple because, at the time of appointments, they did not hold any office.

1) Diagrams representing yantras, which are visual representations of specific mantras, were recovered from Kasaragod MP Rajmohan Unnithan's house in Kanhangad and UDF's Central Election Office in Kasaragod. 2) Metal coils believed to be witchcraft objects were recovered from the bamboo cavities of three flag sticks. Photos: Special arrangement.

He said the temple's ordinance barred politicians holding office and professionals with busy schedules from becoming trustees. "That is not because of their political ideology but because they will not have time to shell out for the temple," he said, contradicting the unambiguous High Court direction.

The Malabar Devaswom Board deputy commissioner Beena C, who stood in as the commissioner, appointed the three Congress leaders -- Nair, Usha and Umesha -- as trustees of Mallikarjuna Temple despite a BJP worker, Venugopal, submitting evidence of their political activities.
Nair also took the same line that he and others held no office when they were made temple trustees.

Witchcraft and counter-witchcraft
Ahead of the Lok Sabha election, the UDF created the post of UDF district secretary to accommodate Nair. He was given in charge of the front's election commission office.

Congress leaders close to Unnithan said that the MP used to feel fatigued, pain in the leg and anger, putting off those close to him. "He believes in sorcery. He suspected somebody must have cast an evil spell on him and so he called in a well-regarded witchcraft practitioner from Pathanamthitta," said his aide.

On March 12, the witchcraft practitioner found small golden metal sheets embossed with the image of Lord Ganapati, image of leg, eyes, and diagrams representing yantras, which are visual representations of specific mantras, from the backyard of his house in Kanhangad, said the MP's aide. Usually, the yantras are disposed of after the ritual.

On April 19, too, similar "malefic objects" hidden amid 100 laterite stones were recovered from his house.

On April 25, on the eve of the election, the witchcraft practitioner unearthed the biggest cache of objects, said the aide. "A plastic sack was recovered from the cavity of a half-done pillar in the party office. Objects were recovered from the cavity of three bamboos used as flag mast, and also from the pen stand in MP's table.  Unnithan felt better after the recovery of the metal sheets," said his aide.

Allegations to hide illegal appointment
Nair said he had a good relationship with Unnithan and the allegations raised against him were an attempt to divert attention from a fraudulent recruitment at Kasaragod Cooperative Marketing Society, controlled by the Congress. The society's secretary Vinod Kumar is accused of recruiting a DYFI activist by taking money, said Nair.
Kumar is also the district president of Kerala Cooperative Employees' Front (KCEF), an organisation affiliated with the Congress. "There is anger against him and party workers are planning to launch a protest against him. These wild allegations of witchcraft are made to divert attention," he said.

"I don't believe in witchcraft. It does not work in the Congress and if someone has done it, it worked in the favour of Unnithan. Look at his margin," Nair said, half-jokingly. But another Congress mandalam president said the allegations against Kumar were true but Nair is also on sticky wicket because he appears to have taken favours from the CPM.

Inquiry report to be submitted today
Meanwhile, the two-member committee looking at the allegations of Congress leaders attending the wedding reception of the son of an accused in Periya double murder case will submit the report to the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) on Tuesday, June 11.

File photo: AFP

Committee members -- KPCC general secretary Adv PM Niyas and political affairs committee member M Subramaniyan -- said they took the statement of 38 people, including the parents of the slain Youth Congress workers Kripesh and PK Sarathlal.
According to sources, the parents are angry with Congress leaders for attending the reception. "The report will reflect the anger," said a Congress leader privy to the matter.

Meanwhile, Adv Niyas said the committee confined its inquiry to the Periya matter and not any other disagreement in the party.

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