Velmurugan, a Tamil Nadu native who was killed earlier this week, is the eighth suspected Maoist gunned down under the LDF regime.

A collage of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Kerala DGP Loknath Behera against a red background
news Law and Order Friday, November 06, 2020 - 13:03

Kannammal is devastated, breaking down as someone holds her so that she does not collapse. The elderly woman was coming out after identifying the body of her son, Velumurugan, at the mortuary of Government Medical College Hospital, Kozhikode in Kerala on Wednesday. A suspected Maoist, Velmurugan, a native of Theni district in Tamil Nadu, was killed by Thunderbolt, an anti-insurgency force of the Kerala police on Tuesday near Kattikulam in Wayanad.

According to the police, he was killed when the Thunderbolt team fired back for self-protection as a group of Maoists attacked them during combing operations in the forests, a claim that Chief Minister Pinarayi has backed. Velmurugan is the eighth suspected Maoist killed by the Thunderbolt force since the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government came to power. In an earlier incident, three people were killed on October 29, 2019 by Thunderbolt personnel in the forest near Agaly in Palakkad. 

It’s an extreme contradiction that the ‘encounters’ and ‘killings’ are repetitively taking place in a state that is quite proud of its civic and political sense. These encounter killings, which are a blatant denial of human rights, seem to expose the dishonesty of a government led by a Left party that upholds and stands for human rights, particularly that of the marginalized, said political observers.

The CPI(M)-headed alliance assumed power in May 2016. The first encounter killing under the Pinarayi Vijayan government happened in November 2016. Kuruppuswamy Devaraj and Ajitha, two suspected Maoists, were killed in the Nilambur forests in Malappuram district. Pinarayi, however, said at the time that the government would not take any steps that would hurt the morale of the police who are sincerely doing their job. 

Pinarayi, who is also a member of the CPI(M) politburo, had also taken a stand asking people not to portray Maoists as ‘lambs’, while the Opposition questioned the arrest of two youths — Alan Suhaib and Thaha Fazal, under the Unlawful Atrocities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in November 2019. 

‘Police is outside civil control’ 

There is precedent for police excess in Kerala. Raman Srivastava and Jayaram Padikkal are two controversial police officers that served in the state. Jayaram Padikkal was convicted in the death of Rajan, a man who died of custodial torture in 1976. The conviction was overturned due to the officer’s alleged proximity to K Karunakaran, a doyen Congressman in Kerala.

Raman Srivastava was the southern range Inspector General of Police (IG) when the ISRO espionage case emerged. Karunakaran was ousted from the post of CM in 1995 for his refusal to suspend Srivastava. The latter’s involvement in the case was investigated first by a special team and later by the CBI.

Political analyst and veteran journalist BRP Bhaskar believes that this takes place because the force is more or less outside civil control in Kerala. “In our recent history, the worst period from the point of view of civil rights and police atrocities, was the period when K Karunakaran was in power after the Emergency. Jayaram Padikkal was the police chief under him. The present team is turning out to be worse, with Pinarayi Vijayan as Home Minister and Chief Minister, Loknath Behera as the state police chief and Raman Srivastava as the police advisor of the CM. Pinarayi trusts officers serving him implicitly rather than using them properly. The civil control has also come down,” BRP told TNM.

‘Shocking under a communist CM’

Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala has condemned the encounter killings and said that it was shocking that it was taking place under a communist CM. Roopesh, a Maoist leader, his wife and three others were arrested by the Andhra Pradesh police in a joint operation undertaken by AP, Karnataka and Kerala in 2015. The Congress-led United Democratic Front government was in power in the state then and Chennithala was the Home Minister. Roopesh is still in prison and has been legally fighting the cases against him.

"No Maoist was shot down during the UDF regime, but they all were held without hurting them. The accusation that the previous encounters under the Pinarayi Vijayan government were not real encounters still persists," Chennithala said, while demanding a high level probe into the killing of Velmurugan.

'A double standard' 

“The bigger question is whether there was an encounter. In previous instances, even the CPI (a prominent ally of the CPI(M) in the LDF) had raised suspicion about the encounters. There is widespread suspicion about the claim. There has been no proper inquiry. There is standing instruction by the Supreme Court that every encounter should be followed by an inquiry. There is nothing on the public domain,” BRP said.

Appukuttan Vallikkunnu, a former CPI(M) ideologue, echoes the opinion. “The previous encounters were not encounters. An inquiry committee of the CPI had submitted a report that there was no encounter. People who believe in the rights of people and the role of the state believe that the killings are wrong. The government had arrested two youth under the UAPA. If the recent killing wasn’t an encounter, then why didn't the government allow the family of the deceased, the media and civil rights activists to go to the spot? What we saw was traces of one-sided shooting and a cold blooded murder, not of an encounter,” he told TNM.

The CPI had submitted its enquiry report on the suspected Maoist killing in 2019 saying it was a fake encounter. 

Read:Maoists’ killing was a fake encounter’: Kerala CPI submits report to CM

“The government earlier had been compelled to acknowledge that there were lapses in the killings. But the lapses now have become serial. If it happened only once, one could have viewed it as a rare case and as a coincidence when it happens for the second time, but when it happens for a third time, it becomes a habit,” BRP said. 

"Even the accepted procedures are not being followed or the government is merely accepting the police’s claims. It’s very unfortunate and there is no civil society movement in Kerala against it. Even the opposition parties, the civil society and the political system don’t give due importance to human rights issues. Shooting should be the last resort, but for commando troupes it's the first resort. They are trained to kill. They operate with the theory that if they don’t kill first, they will get killed. If a proper inquiry was done about the previous killings, the troupe would have had some control," BRP opined. 

Appukuttan Vallikkunnu, however, blamed the government for its double standard.

"There are two parties in the government, the CPI and the CPI(M), which in their manifestos and in party programmes say that in the case of Maoists or citizens who oppose or dissent against the government, they shouldn’t be suppressed and that they should be heard. There should be due legal process if they are booked. But it's playing out in the opposite way in the state," he said. 

Read: Why is Kerala CM shielding Loknath Behera despite his lacklustre record as police chief