Going by the charge sheet filed by Kerala Police in a local court, political animosity was the reason behind the brutal murder of Youth Congress worker SP Suhaib on the night of 12 February, 2018.
The local-level leader, known for his helpful nature, was having tea on that fateful day at a shop in his native Therur near Edayannur in the politically-volatile Kannur district when a “hit squad” of the state’s ruling CPI(M) emerged on the scene with swords and country bombs, and attacked him.
Suhaib succumbed to injuries on the way to the hospital. He was just 30.
Eleven CPI(M) activists were arrested and charge sheeted, and five of them face trial for executing the murder.
For Suhaib’s family, however, the prosecution of the attackers is not enough.
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State blocks CBI investigation
The family has been demanding that the investigation be handed over to the CBI so that it can look into the larger issue of the “elimination politics” practised by CPI(M) in Kannur — and also probe the “conspiracy angle” to ascertain if the party’s leadership was involved in ordering the hit on Suhaib.
They have contended that the local police has not dwelt on these issues in its investigation as it would point to the involvement of the higher echelons of the CPI(M).
Even as state Congress president K Sudhakaran and other party leaders held protests demanding a CBI investigation, Suhaib’s lower-middle class family approached the Kerala High Court seeking a directive to the central agency to investigate the high-profile case.
While a single-judge bench allowed the CBI investigation, the state government appealed against the order. It hired top lawyers of the Supreme Court to argue its case and a division bench subsequently stayed the single bench’s order.
The family, which struggles to eke out a living, then took the matter to the Supreme Court, but the state government has yet again channelised its considerable resources to fight the appeal.
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What the state has spent in courts
A couple of developments in the Suhaib murder case over the past week has yet again placed it under the spotlight, and the recent revelations could potentially damage the Pinarayi Vijayan government’s reputation, especially its claim that it respects the rule of law.
Answering a question by the Opposition, the cash-starved government itself revealed in the state Assembly that it has spent a whopping ₹1.36 crore to pay fees to the senior Supreme Court lawyers hired to appear in the Kerala High Court to oppose the CBI investigation in the Suhaib murder case.
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Now, with the appeal pending in the Supreme Court for almost a year, the government is yet to reveal how much it is spending on the lawyers representing it in the apex court.
According to some estimates, the entire appeal process in the case would cost the exchequer anywhere in the vicinity of ₹2.5 crore to ₹3 crore .
On the face of it, the murder was politically motivated and executed by lumpen elements. As far as the state is concerned, there is no public interest involved in shielding the accused from a CBI inquiry by going in appeal.
The government explanation is that the CBI, controlled by the Centre, is partisan and would wrongly implicate innocent CPI(M) leaders who have no links to the murder. The Opposition has pooh-poohed this explanation, saying the fear is imagined and not supported by facts.
Threats by the accused
In a related development, a key accused in the case has created a sensation by admitting that he and his team murdered Suhaib on the orders of certain unnamed CPI(M) leaders of the area who were upset over the Congress worker’s growing popularity and his willingness to fight the CPIM) in what they consider is their stronghold.
Akash Thillankeri, the key accused, is now apparently disillusioned with the party leadership and making critical observations about the state unit of the CPI(M).
Besides facing the murder charge, Thillankeri is accused of involvement in the peddling of narcotics and gold from the Gulf nations to Kerala, and the party was forced to initiate disciplinary action against him.
Through Facebook posts, he and his friends have accused the CPI(M) of using them as tools to execute political murders and then throwing them away.
Out on bail in the Suhaib murder case, Thillankeri has threatened to reveal the motives behind the murder if the party continued to ignore him.
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CPI(M) cadres counter accused
However, the Facebook posts invited angry reactions from party cadres and local-level leaders who, too, took to the social media platform to respond to Thillankeri.
When Thillankeri and his team responded angrily to the counter-attack by the cadres, one among them, a women CPI(M) member, filed a case against Thillankeri, accusing him of using social media to outrage her modesty and for using filthy language.
Thillankeri and two accomplices were arrested, but later released on bail.
Once a favourite of the CPI(M) and its Kannur strongman P Jayarajan, Akash Thillankeri is now accused by the party of being a smuggler and leader of a quotation gang — local parlance for contract killers.
The party cadres are highlighting how Thillankeri and his cronies are into gold smuggling and narcotics peddling, and saying that was the reason the CPI(M) denounced them. They also warned them that anyone threatening the party leaders would not be able to walk in the open if they opened their mouths.
Tough act to defend
The whole issue is a severe setback to the CPI(M) and the state government at a time its state-level mass contact programme is being initiated by party state secretary M V Govindan.
The CPI(M) now finds it difficult to explain why it encouraged and protected someone like Thillankeri so far. And why the state exchequer is spending so much money to prevent a CBI probe against him and his accomplices in the Suhaib case.
The latest revelations will keep the murder alive in the future as well. Especially as the Opposition is now demanding a further probe into the case based on the latest revelations by Thillankeri and friends.
This is not the first time the Pinarayi Vijayan government availed services of top Supreme Court lawyers paying huge amounts from the state exchequer to avoid investigations by central agencies.
Crores have been spent, but the exact amount is yet to be revealed.