'They don't just kill their enemies, they chop off limbs, sever heads.'
'How can anyone kill a teacher in front of small children and a son in front of his parents?'
Shobha Warrier/Rediff.com visits Kannur, the Marxist bastion in Kerala, which has witnessed more political murders than any other part of India.
Panoor, a small municipality in Kannur, is unknown outside Kerala, but within Kerala, it is often described as a most dangerous place, a place where political enemies are brutally murdered.
Many still remember how K T Jayakrishnan, a Bharatiya Jana Yuva Morcha leader, was hacked to death in front of his students inside a school classroom, near Panoor in 2000. Jayakrishnan was murdered in retaliation for an attempt to kill Marxist leader P Jayarajan a year earlier.
Many people ask if I am going to Panoor to buy crude bombs. It is said the maximum number of crude bombs made in Kerala are manufactured in Panoor.
This is not what you expect from an area that boasts a literacy rate of 82 per cent!
Kannur has given birth to giants in India's Communist movement: A K Gopalan, E K Nayanar, Azhikodan Raghavan. Many in Kannur are members of the Communist Party of India-Marxist.
Seventy per cent of the panchayats are governed by the Left Democratic Front and when you travel to this district especially during elections, you only see red flags and posters of Pinarayi Vijayan, who is tipped to be become Kerala's next chief minister, everywhere.
The Marxists, who have dominated Kannur's villages for several years, ensure that no one from any other political party enters such villages. No comrade is permitted to switch political sides. These villages in Kannur are described as 'party villages' and the maximum number of such villages are located in Panoor.
As I walk into the CPI-M office in Panoor, I recall what B R P Bhaskar, the veteran political commentator, told me a few weeks ago. "When someone deserts the party, we see an attempt to kill him. The Communist parties dissuade people from leaving by killing deserters."
There are only four or five people at the CPI-M office. On the wall are many photographs of party members allegedly killed by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh activists; rakhtha saakshikal or the martyrs.
I ask the Marxist functionary sitting behind a desk with a smirk on his face if he will help me visit a 'party village.' Even before the phrase 'party village' leaves my lips, he snaps at me.
"What do you mean by party village? You media people have spread the news everywhere that we don't allow other party people to enter or work in our villages. Who gave you this false information? We allow everyone irrespective of their party to live in our villages."
Taken aback, I persist. "I just want to go to the villages where political murders have taken place, where the RSS and Marxists kill each other," I say.
"It is the RSS that killed our people," he roars. "We were the victims of their violence. Even when they killed four of our party people one by one, we didn't retaliate. Like true Gandhians, we only demonstrated. How long can we behave like Gandhians and demonstrate?"
"That's why we also attacked them. They even killed our party member, a school teacher in front of his students. Do you expect us to keep quiet?" he asks.
As I leave the CPI-M office, I ask a man at a shop nearby why so many murders occur in Panoor. He looks around to make sure that no one is listening. "It is sad that our village is no longer peaceful," he says. "I blame both the RSS and Marxists for the murders though most of the violence was started by the Marxists."
At a tailoring shop, a small crowd gathers around me, animatedly discussing the political murders in Panoor. "It is a shame that Panoor has such a bad reputation," one man tells me. "Murders, crude bombs. We feel ashamed. We feel the Marxists and RSS are equally responsible for these murders."
"They don't just kill their enemies, they chop off limbs, sever heads. Sometimes we wonder whether they are human beings," he adds. "How can anyone kill a teacher in front of small children and a son in front of his parents? This is cruel and heartless."
Who will win the election in this constituency, I ask. "The Marxists will not win," they tell me, a statement that is almost heresy in Panoor. "The Independent with UDF (United Democratic Front) support will win. He has done a lot of development in this area."
"We should punish all those who indulge in violence. Both the Marxists and BJP are goonda parties!"
Pinarayi village is well known in these parts because of Pinarayi Vijayan, the CPI-M leader likely to become Kerala's next chief minister if the Marxists win the May 16 assembly election.
The village junction looks as if it has been dipped in red with posters of a smiling Vijayan everywhere. Vijayan rarely smiles and there appears to be a conscious effort to dispel his grim image.
At 2 in the afternoon, I spot men in spotless white dhotis and shirts discussing politics in the unbearable heat.
Do you think the LDF (the CPI-M-led Left Democratic Front) will win, I ask as a conversation opener.
"Of course, the LDF will win and Pinarayi will be the next chief minister," they tell me. "We are really proud of our leader. He has made our village famous all over the world."
What will the village gain if Vijayan becomes chief minister?
"Look at the bad condition of our roads now. This will become the highway to Kannur airport. When he was the electricity minister, he did so many things for our village."
What if V S Achuthanandan, the former Marxist chief minister and bitter Vijayan rival, becomes CM?
"We will be disappointed, but we have to obey whatever the MLAs and the (CPI-M) Politburo decides. But we are sure that Pinarayi will be the next chief minister!"
Are all the people in this village Marxists?
"95 per cent of the villagers are Marxists. There are some dissidents. You can't help it!"
Pinarayi Vijayan's home, widely criticised as one not befitting a Marxist leader, is located in Pinarayi.
It is indeed a huge, very un-proletarian, house, but in Kerala people like to build palatial bungalows.
His wife opens the door. I introduce myself and seek an interview. "Please come in," Mrs Vijayan says, apologising for the mess the drawing room is in. She is in the process of changing the curtains. Unlike her husband, she is jovial and funny, and readers will read my interview with her in a couple of days.
Peralassery, 12 kilometres from Kannur town, is an iconic village for the state's Marxists. Perhaps we can call it the temple town for the Marxists. It is where the legendary Communist leader A K Gopalan was born.
AKG died in 1977, but he lives on in the village in the form of the AKG school, the AKG library, the AKG hospital... it is as if almost every building in the village is named after him.
Pinarayi Vijayan's election campaign office is located in the village.
Like Pinarayi village, you only see the colour red everywhere. In the centre of the village is Vijayan's election office. The man in charge of the campaign is K K Ragesh, a Rajya Sabha MP. A couple of party members are reading the newspapers and the office is not a hub of activity.
"All our party work is done at the lowest level, not like the Congress where everything works from the high command level," says Ragesh. "From here, we assign duties to party members at the booth level. They do all the campaigning, distribution of posters, etc."
I ask the young boy at the fruit shop next to Vijayan's campaign office who will win the assembly election. He looks at me puzzled. "Do you have any doubt?" he says, "We will come to power and Pinarayi will be the chief minister."
We?! The boy is not even old enough to vote.