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Above: (Clockwise from above) Ariyil Abdul Shukoor; CPI(M) district secretary P Jayarajan and Kalliasseri MLA TV Rajesh. The CBI has filed an additional charge sheet against Rajesh and Jayarajan in the Shukoor murder case

With a CPM strongman being accused of criminal conspiracy in the death of a Muslim Students Federation activist, the CPI (M) has been left red-faced in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls

By NV Ravindranathan Nair in Thiruvananthapuram

The ruling CPI (M) is finding itself in a tight spot. With the CBI filing an additional charge sheet accusing CPI(M) district secretary P Jayarajan and Kalliasseri MLA TV Rajesh of criminal conspiracy in the Ariyil Abdul Shukoor murder case, things are not looking up for it. In fact, the CPI(M) was earnestly thinking of fielding Jayarajan from Kannur constituency in the Lok Sabha polls.

The additional charge sheet at the Principal Sessions Court at Thalassery replaces an earlier charge under Sections 118 (concealing design to commit offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life) with 120-B (criminal conspiracy to commit an offence such as murder that is punishable with death) read with Section 302 (murder), IPC. This has not only landed CPI(M) strongman Jayarajan and Rajesh in a tight spot, but also dampened the spirit of the party which is facing an unprecedented protest over the government’s aggressive stand on implementing the Supreme Court ruling on Sabarimala.

Abdul Shukoor, 21, was an activist of the Muslim Students Federation (MSF), the students’ wing of the Indian Union Muslim League. He was hacked to death on February 20, 2012, at Keezharain, the CPI(M) stronghold in Kannur district. In 2016, based on a complaint by Shukoor’s mother, Aathikka, the Kerala High Court ordered that the case be han­ded over to the CBI. There are as many as 33 CPI(M) workers, including Jayarajan and Rajesh, arraigned as accused in the case.

According to the police charge sheet, Shukoor was killed in a vendetta murder allegedly after Muslim League workers pelted stones at the vehicle of Jayarajan and Rajesh earlier in the day. The murder happened within hours of the vehicle being attacked. Both were arrested on August 1, 2012, and Jayarajan was in custody for 28 days.

The case was earlier probed by a special team of the Kerala police, which charged them under Section 118. The original charge sheet said the plot to murder the youth was hatched in a hospital at Taliparamba where the two leaders had been admitted after the stone pelting incident. Earlier, the CBI was not ready to take over the case even though the Oommen Chandy government had recommended a CBI probe. Following this, Aathikka approached the High Court and requested that the CBI take over the probe.

The CBI move is a major blow to Jayarajan in the party’s citadel of Kannur as the investigation agency has added charges under Section 120-B for criminal conspiracy (read with 302 IPC for murder) against Jayarajan and Rajesh, the 32nd and 33rd accused, respectively, in the case.

In another case involving the murder of one Manoj, an RSS worker, Jayarajan was arrested and remanded to judicial custody. But by that time, the LDF had come to power and got him released on bail, citing his ill-health. While he was under judicial custody, almost every day he was taken out on a stretcher to a hospital to provide him a comfortable stay. Immediately after getting released on bail, he resumed the office of district secretary of the CPI(M).

The CBI’s latest move, as expected, has been criticised by the CPI(M) which has alleged that it has become a tool in the hands of the BJP. “The CBI filing an additional charge sheet in the case is politically motivated. It is being used as a weapon to target political opponents,” said CPI(M) Kannur district secretariat in a statement. It also stated that there would be a strong reaction from the people against this move in the Lok Sabha polls. “There have been no new witnesses or evidence when the CBI fabricated the case to frame leaders Jayarajan and Rajesh,” the statement said.

On February 11, the CPI(M) state committee alleged that the CBI charge sheet was a joint political move by the BJP and the Congress ahead of elections. Further, CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan alleged: “The CBI has mainly relied on the testimony of witnesses collected by the local police to submit a fresh charge sheet. So there is ample evidence to point out there is a conspiracy to implicate the CPI(M) in the case and the CBI was used by vested political parties.”

Whatever be the claims of the CPI(M), the case is likely to cast a shadow on the poll prospects of the party and adversely affect the possibility of Jayarajan contesting the elections.

The charge sheet comes at a time when the CPI(M) is trying to woo minority communities, especially Muslims. With Jayarajan leading the party in Muslim-dominated Kannur, it will now find it tough to take this community into confidence. CH Valsaraj, a senior journalist from Malabar, told India Legal: “Jayarajan leading the party in the polls in a district which is part of three Lok Sabha constituencies (Kasaragod, Kannur and Vadakara) and how it would impact the party is a matter of concern. Being an accused in a murder case will dent his image and it will be difficult to present him as a candidate.”

There is already a feeling that this time, minority votes would be consolidated in favour of the UDF as they want the UPA to come to power at the centre. “The charge sheet has proved that the decision to murder Shukoor was taken at the higher levels of the CPI(M),” said District Congress Committee President Satheesan Pacheni.

More importantly, party veteran and former Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, while expressing his displeasure at his party shielding criminal elements, told the media that it would be better to allow the law to take its own course. Even after repeated queries on the CBI charge sheet, he did not retract his words. It may be noted that he neither condemned nor criticised the filing of the additional charge sheet. Achuthanandan has always been known for putting the party in a difficult spot, most often for his own vested interests. He has been keeping a low profile ever since he was made chairman of the Administrative Reforms Commission. His veiled attempt to justify the CBI is a clear message to party followers who toe his line that they should not join the opposite camp which alleges that the CBI’s act was politically motivated.

Meanwhile, the UDF’s effort to bring the issue to the assembly through an adjournment motion was thwarted by Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan. His decision to deny the Opposition a chance to discuss the issue involving one of the MLAs was also a hot topic for discussion.

Speaking to India Legal, BJP leader K Surendran said that whatever the claims by the CPI(M), the new development would put it on the mat. “The fact that three youths, Shukoor, Fazal and Shuhaib, were killed by CPI(M) activists would antagonise the minority community, especially in the Malabar region. The CPI(M) will find it difficult to defend their criminal act there,” he said.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan will also find the going tough with the criminal face of the party coming to the fore. How he salvages the situation is anybody’s guess.

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