NEW DELHI–For the first time in Kerala, a lower court has handed down death sentences to all 15 accused in a single case involving the murder of a local BJP leader Ranjith Sreenivasan in Alappuzha district.
The court called it “the rarest of the rare” crimes.
Mavelikkara Additional Session Court Judge VG Sreedevi on Tuesday pronounced the capital punishment against 15 individuals who are allegedly associated with the outlawed Popular Front of India (PFI) and its political wing, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI).
Ranjith, 45-year-old lawyer and the state secretary of BJP’s OBC Morcha was hacked to death in front of his family at his home in Alappuzha on December 19, 2021 – hours after SDPI state secretary K S Shan was killed in Alappuzha by a gang allegedly belonging to the RSS-BJP.
Earlier on January 20, the Additional Sessions Court in Alappuzha district convicted Naisam, Ajmal, Anoop, Mohammed Aslam, Salam Ponnad, Abdul Kalam, Munshad, Saffaruddin, Jaseeb Raja, Navas, Sameer, Nazir, Zakir Hussain, Shaji, and Shernas Ashraf, all from Alappuzha, in the Ranjith murder case. Eight of the 15 accused were found guilty of murder, while the remaining seven were convicted of criminal conspiracy by the court.
On March 18, 2022, police had arrested all 15 suspects, and a chargesheet was submitted. The swift action by law enforcement agencies was followed by a speedy trial, which was transferred from Alappuzha to Mavelikara Court based on a High Court order. With 156 prosecution witnesses, the hearing concluded on December 15, 2023, less than two years after the murder.
While the trial in the Ranjith’s murder concluded swiftly, the trial in the killing of SDPI leader Shan, which occurred just a few hours before, is yet to start despite the reported submission of a final probe report. The police submitted chargesheets in both murder cases in March 2022. In the Shan murder case, the chargesheet named 15 people belonging to the RSS. All the accused in the case are currently on bail. Media reports attribute the delay to the lack of a special prosecutor, a crucial role unfilled until last week’s government appointment. While the court is likely to consider the case next month, the SDPI’s demands for a time-bound trial highlight their concerns about the delay.
The tragic story of back-to-back retaliatory murders began in February 2021 in Kerala when tensions between RSS and PFI-SDPI activists erupted in Alappuzha over a protest against the visit of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. This confrontation culminated in the brutal hacking of RSS worker Nandu R Krishna. Months later, the cycle of violence continued with the alleged murder of SDPI leader Shan. This act of retaliation sparked the murder of BJP leader Ranjith.