Some time in a wet June nine years ago when Kerala was keenly engrossed in the Neyyattinkara Assembly bypoll in Thiruvananthapuram, veteran Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI-M] leader V.S. Achuthanandan made a surprise visit to the house of K.K. Rema, widow of the slain Revolutionary Marxist party of India (RMPI) founder-leader T.P. Chandrasekharan, raising the political ombrometer during the monsoons in the State.
The incident not only sent shock waves among the CPI (M) leadership, the image of Ms. Rema crying on the shoulders of the then Leader of the Opposition Achuthanandan still remains etched in the political memory of Kerala.
The hacking of Chandrasekharan, who had walked out of the CPI(M) and floated a dissident outfit, by a seven-member gang engaged by a section of local CPI(M) leaders at Onchiyam on May 4, 2012, continues to haunt the party in the state. Even in the just-concluded Assembly poll, the Left-led coalition filed a complaint against Ms. Rema, a Congress-led UDF-backed candidate in Vadakara, for trying to influence voters by using pictures of VS, as Mr. Achuthanandan is popularly known, in the campaign material.
Last week, Ms. Rema seemed to be the happiest, emerging victorious by a margin of 7,000 votes from the same constituency she had lost in the 2016 polls. Her victory gave a major embarrassment to the CPI(M) State-wide.
“This is the victory of T.P. Chandrasekharan. The electorate responded to his cold-blooded murder. The voters showed that the nine-year wound did not heal so easily. This is an achievement against political violence and injustice,” the 50-year-old proclaimed at Onchiyam.
Ms. Rema was born the second of the three children of K.K. Madhavan and K.K. Dakshayani. Her father, a die-heard Marxist, was two-time grama panchayat president of Naduvannur in Kozhikode district. By her own account, her political vibes began to merge when she joined the pre-university course at the Guruvayurappan College in Kozhikode. She was nominated to the district unit of the Students’ Federation of India (SFI), the students affiliate of the CPI(M).
An undergraduate at the Malabar Christian College, Ms. Rema was elected to the Senate Council of the Calicut University. Later on, she became the State vice-president of the organisation. She was a member of the CPI (M) Naduvannur branch after leaving college.
In 1993, she met her future husband, the “brave and aggressive” TP. But the marriage proposal came via the party. “I knew TP, and we used to talk. It was a sort of arranged-love marriage,” she says.
A year later, they tied the knot and she moved to Onchiyam. Though many CPI(M) leaders persuaded her to join active politics, she remained a home-maker. Her family life kindled in her after the birth of their son, Abhinand, in 1997.
Meanwhile, factionalism in the CPI(M) Kerala unit had its reverberations in a bigger way in Onchiyam. Perhaps the infighting started much earlier than 2006 when Mr. Achuthanandan contested the Assembly election after initially being denied a ticket and then went on to become the Chief Minister.
Chandrasekharan, identified with the Achuthanandan camp, had been DYFI Kozhikode district secretary. After a local intra-party dispute in 2008, he left the CPI (M) and formed the RMPI. Ms. Rema recollects that the CPI(M) decided to eliminate him as its leadership did not want a parallel dissident unit to function in Onchiyam, a region of martyrs where 10 party workers were killed in 1948, eight in police firing and two others in police custody. Political realities changed after Chandrasekharan left the party. The CPI(M) lost the Vadakara Lok Sabha constituency in the 2009, 2014 and 2019 elections.
Realities also changed for Ms. Rema. Her endeavour against odds brought her to electoral politics having to face multifarious political parties.
She unsuccessfully contested the Assembly poll in 2016, securing over 20,000 votes. None will forget when Ms. Rema sat on dharna before AKG Bhavan in New Delhi in 2018.
Ms. Rema still feels that the conspiracy angle has not be probed into the murder of her husband although a special additional sessions court convicted 12 accused, including three leaders of the CPI(M) in 2014.
However, sensing earlier itself that the party’s electoral prospects would be damaged, the CPI (M) brought out its party-level inquiry into Chandrasekharan’s killing stating that the murder was not politically-motivated but based on a personal animosity between him and the CPI(M) Kunnummakkara local committee member K.C. Ramachandran, who was convicted by the trial court.
Now, her dependence on the UDF appeared very obvious as the CPI(M) is still hostile to her and the party she leads. Her party cadres has had a tough time living in an isolated political framework at Onchiyam. Today, Ms. Rema has a new job to move ahead on multiple fronts simultaneously. She has an agenda for her constituency to gain more public support. “Political culture should change in Kerala. Political leaders should learn to respect the opposition,” she says.