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Courting Controversy

Courting Controversy
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Above: The Vijayan government’s appeal against the probe plea of murdered Congress worker Shuhaib’s  family has left people baffled/Photo: UNI

The Left government in Kerala and the High Court lock horns over the political killing of a youth Congress worker and the need for a CBI probe into the controversy

~By Naveen Nair in Thiruvananthapuram

The Left government’s run-ins with the judiciary are nothing new. But in recent memory there has been no other instance when the state and the Kerala High Court have been locked in a battle over the need for a CBI probe of a political murder. The gruesome killing of 29-year-old Youth Congress worker Shuhaib in Kannur by an 11-member gang of the ruling CPM created a tremendous outcry across Kerala over the last two months. Not that the state is new to such political killings, as political parties annihilate their opponents, but the barbarity of the killing caused some serious outpouring of grief and sympathy for the victim and anger towards the government.

Shuhaib was hacked 37 times below his waist and then left to bleed to death. The killers also threw country-made bombs to create an atmosphere of total chaos outside the tea shop where he was killed. Shuhaib’s family was not satisfied with just sympathy. It approached the Kerala High Court, pleading for a CBI probe, but not before writing to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and failing to elicit any response.

“We decided to approach the High Court because we do not trust the investigation the police are doing. See, my son was killed by the CPM. How can I get justice from the same police that is controlled by the ruling party? Also, the conspiracy angle needs to be probed which will go up the ladder in the CPM leadership,” says CP Mohammed, Shuhaib’s father.

Mohammed has some strong arguments to put forth in support of his conspiracy theory. He says that the killers who have been arrested by the police team investigating the case and identified by witnesses who were present at the scene of the crime had no previous association with or enmity towards Shuhaib. He says that they were not even from the same area where Shuhaib lived and carried out his political activities as a Youth Congress worker. This means, after Shuhaib had become a headache for the CPM it was the district leadership who wanted him dead.

The single-judge bench of the Kerala High Court represented by Justice Kamal Pasha saw merit in Mohammed’s argument and accepted the plea, by asking the CBI office in Thiruvananthapuram to take up the case. But the state government which had all the while opposed a CBI probe went on to appeal before a division bench headed by Chief Justice Antony Dominic. The government’s actions baffled the political pundits in the state. “None of us can make out why the state government should go in appeal against the plea of the victim’s family and that too after a single-judge bench allows a CBI probe. If people have a feeling that the ruling party and the government have something to hide, you cannot fault the doubters,’’ says Sunnykutty Abraham, veteran journalist and political commentator.

The single-judge bench while passing its judgment came down heavily on the state government and the investigation that had been conducted by the state police. Justice Pasha minced no words while reflecting on the delay on the part of the investigating team in recovering the weapons used in the crime in spite of the accused being in its custody for a number of days. “Either they could not do it out of inefficiency or their hands are fettered as pointed out by the learned counsel for the petitioners. It cannot be believed that the investigating agency could not gather any information regarding the weapons from A1 and A2 even though for days and days they were in the custody. It cannot be said that the investigation of this case was expeditious or fair. It lacks transparency,’’ wrote Justice Pasha in the judgment.

He was also highly critical of the police for not slapping the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) on the accused. The court observed that the intention of the accused in hurling bombs at the spot before hacking the victim was to create terror in the area which was befitting of UAPA charges. Standing strongly by the arguments put forth by the victim’s father, the court reiterated that the conspiracy behind the so-called political murder, if any, should be unearthed and expressed apprehension whether the state police would be able to do that. “When they had no personal vendetta towards the deceased they could only be treated as mere pawns in the hands of some others, who are still in the shells. A large scale conspiracy behind the murder can be genuinely suspected. Persons who can make use of such pawns to exterminate their political opponents should not be permitted to continue such dramas anymore,’’ the judgment added. Justice Pasha, while rounding off the judgment, also noted that “it is only the individuals who die and their families that get pushed to streets while the political parties never die”— a grim summing up of the situation in Kerala.

While the government’s stand to go for an appeal to the division bench baffled many, there are several others who think the CPM has a lot to hide in this case which is why the party is pushing the government to stall a CBI investigation. Already three such cases are under CBI probe in Kannur in similar circumstances with all three pointing suspicion at the Kannur district leadership of the party which is close to the chief minister. A transparent and thorough investigation can only end up embarrassing the party and alienating it further from the people. “The CPM is no doubt worried about the case. This is because it has all the imprints of the senior leadership, similar to how TP Chandrasekharan was killed in 2012 when again, some of the middle leadership was caught and convicted. Considering the backlash against violent politics by the electorate, another embarrassment is something the CPM cannot afford at this juncture when they have lost Tripura too,’’ says CR Neelakandan, a prominent political activist.

The CPM meanwhile, has rubbished such allegations and continues to be in denial mode. “The party has nothing to hide in the Shuhaib case and so we are not afraid of a CBI probe. The government has the opinion that all cases should be probed by the state police. Only if it cannot then it goes to the CBI. Here the state police have nabbed the culprits and the government has full faith in the investigation,’’ CPM State Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan told mediapersons. The Congress party has said that the government, by opposing the CBI probe, is trying to buy time to enable the accused to get normal bail which is given if the chargesheet is not filed in 90 days. It has also alleged that any investigation by the state police will only leave enough loopholes in the charge-sheet, which will help the accused get off with a lesser sentence or even an acquittal. While the decision of the division bench is awaited, the Congress has also made it clear that it would approach the Supreme Court if the family fails to get a favourable judgment from the High Court.

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