It was the bloodiest chapter of the Naxalite movement in Kerala. And A. Varghese was, to the Adivasis of Wayanad in north Kerala and members of the radical Left, the local variant of Latin American folk hero and Communist idol Che Guevara. In the late Sixties, Varghese had led his band of followers on a killing spree that invoked the Naxalite theory of annihilation of class enemies. Till, on February 18, 1970, the State struck back in a Bolivia-style execution in the jungles of Wayanad. The man who pulled the trigger 28 years ago, constable Ramachandran Nair, reconstructs the execution of Varghese in a statement to Outlook:
After combing the Thirunelli forests for two days, the CRPF men set up camp near a local temple. They had sighted Vargh-ese and his comrades winding their way through the trees the day before. But the Naxalites had given them the slip, setting off a country bomb in their wake which left a constable badly injured.
The next morning the police received a tip-off that Varghese was holed up in a house occupied by a certain Sivaraman Nair, who served as caretaker to an elderly widow called Ittichiri Manayamma, a known ally of the Naxalites.
The police team approached the house, rapped on the front door and announced their presence, Nair recalls. "A voice from within rang out: 'Nair, have you betrayed me?'" The cops stormed the door and entered. "Varghese stood with his arms up in the air. He smiled: 'Don't worry. I'm alone and unarmed.'" The Naxalite leader was led out, wrists bound with a rifle sling, and bundled into a jeep.
Thirty minutes down the road, en route to the nearby town of Mananthavady, they were joined by a convoy of police vehicles. Constable Nair recognised Dy SP Lekshmana and DIG Vijayan in one of the jeeps. "Varghese turned to us," Nair remembers. "'They are going to kill me,' he told us. 'One of you will have to do it. I have one request. Before I am killed, give me a signal so that I can shout a slogan.' He was so calm when he said that."
It was 2 pm. A cop walked up to Varghese and blindfolded him. The policemen settled down to eat. Constable Nair shared his food with the prisoner and also offered him a beedi. At 6.30 pm, Dy SP Lekshmana addressed the constables guarding the Naxalite leader. Nair recreates the sequence of events: "Lekshmana told us that Varghese was going to be shot. DIG Vijayan was standing nearby. Then Lekshmana ordered those of us who were willing to shoot Varghese to raise their hands. Rappai and Sreedharan raised their hands. Haneefa hesitated but finally raised his. I did not."
The prisoner should be produced in court, Nair reasoned with his superior. "Lekshmana reminded me that policemen could die in accidents. I recognised the threat. Varghese was going to die anyway. If I died, my family would be helpless." Nair ended his resistance.
The dissenter was chosen to perform the deed. Nair looked at his target. He winces at the memory: "Varghese was sitting between two rocks. He was calm but alert, as though he was waiting for something to happen and wondering why it wasn't happening. I went up to him and rested the nozzle of my rifle on the left side of his chest. Then I remembered his request. I sounded a signal with my tongue. 'Long live the revolution', he shouted and I pulled the trigger. He fell over."
Another cop then fired a shot in the air and put the weapon in the Naxalite leader's lifeless hand. The encounter death was complete.