By Nijeesh N.*
On February 12, 2019, a three-member armed group of Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) came to the house of one Biju in Jeerakapara village in Kozhikode District. The Maoists interacted with the family and demanded food. The group included Geetha aka Sundari aka Sindu, who is among three Maoists accused in the Vellamunda Maoist Case being investigated by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). In this case, three Maoists with deadly weapons had trespassed into the house of A.B. Pramod, Senior Civil Police Officer, trained their guns at him and threatened to kill him.
On January 14, 2019, a four-member ‘team’ of Maoists ‘visited’ Vaniyampuzha Adivasi (tribal) Colony in Malappuram District and pasted posters demanding that tea estate workers should be given INR 800 as daily wage and should not be terminated from their jobs. They also collected food items from the people. Later on, January 17, 2019, acting on information shared by Kerala Police about this incident, Tamil Nadu’s Naxalite Special Division (NSD) team conducted combing operations in several villages near the place, on the Tamil Nadu side, where the incident was reported. They were unable to locate any Maoists.
There have been at least three reported incidents of Maoists ‘visiting’ residential areas or being sighted in 2019, thus far (data till March 3, 2019). These incidents have been reported from three districts (Kannur, Malappuram and Kozhikode) out of a total of 14 Districts in Kerala. During the corresponding period of 2018, one such incident was reported, from Kozhikode. Through 2018, there were seven incidents reported from three districts (Malappuram, Kozhikode, and Wayanad). The year 2017 recorded four such incidents, again from Malappuram, Kozhikode, and Wayanad.
Of these four Districts – Kannur, Malappuram, Kozhikode and Wayanad – from where Maoist sightings have been reported, two – Malappuram and Wayanad – fall along the Kerala-Karnataka-Tamil Nadu (KKT) tri-junction, an emerging safe-haven for the Maoists. The third District from Kerala, which falls along the tri-junction, is Palakkad. In the KKT tri-junction, the Maoists function under their Western Ghats Special Zonal Committee (WGSZC). According to an article written by the then underground Kerala Maoist leader Rupesh (now in prison) in ‘Mathrubhumi’ weekly in 2013, the WGSZC was formed to target Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu in view of the ‘exploitation faced by scores of tribals, Scheduled Caste people, landless poor farmers’ in these areas, as against the booming economic prospects of nearby cities such as Erode, Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu), Palakkad, Kochi, Kozhikode (Kerala) and Mangalore (Karnataka). The Maoist move is said to be part of an ambitious plan to extend the purported Red Corridor from Jharkhand to Wayanad.
Not surprisingly, on April 16, 2018, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) revised the existing list of Left-Wing Extremism (LWE)-affected Districts in the country covered under the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme and added three districts from Kerala – Malappuram, Palakkad and Wayanad – to the list for the first time. Never in the past, has any District from Kerala been included in such a list. Though the number of LWE-affected Districts had decreased from 126 in 10 States to 90 in 11 States, eight new districts (including three from Kerala) were added to the revised list.
The UMHA notification in this regard stated,
|… So you take a look at other countries. Pakistan is there; they should be fighting. But Russia should be fighting. The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is it was a tough fight. And literally, they went bankrupt. …In order to counter Maoist efforts to expand their influence in the tribal areas at the tri-junction of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, three Districts of Kerala have been included in the list of SRE Districts. Despite the fact that there is hardly any violence in the new Districts, the move is pre-emptive…|
Moreover, a report dated September 8, 2018, stated that, according to the intelligence wing of the anti-Naxal [Left Wing Extremism] squad of the Kerala Police, the ‘Western Ghats Special Zonal Committee (WGSZC)’ of the CPI-Maoist had been increasing the strength of its armed wing, the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA), in five Districts of Kerala: Palakkad, Wayanad, and Malappuram, included in the SRE list; as well as Kannur and Kozhikode. The report also claimed that a meeting, which was attended by ‘central committee members’ of the party and members of the ‘Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC)’, had decided to strengthen five ‘branch committees’ in these five Districts.
That these Districts are under the radar of the Maoists is also evident from a report submitted by the Kerala Police to the State Government in January 2019, stating that Maoist cadres frequent around 74 tribal settlements in Kannur, Wayanad, Kozhikode rural, Malappuram and Palakkad, to propagate their ‘cause’. These include 29 colonies in Palakkad, 17 in Wayanad, 15 in Malappuram, eight in Kannur, and five in Kozhikode rural. The report added that gun-wielding cadres have been ‘taking classes’, lasting 45 minutes to one hour, on how the government was ignoring tribal people in several colonies, besides seeking food and clothes. The report stated further that that Maoist cadres have also been threatening tourist resort managements and extorting money. They extorted INR 30,000 from a resort under Padinjarethara Police Station limits in Wayanad District, besides demanding that the resort promoters to give them INR 200,000 per annum.
Significantly, Police arrested a Maoist leader, identified as Danish Krishna aka Dennis, a native of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, from the Bhuthayur tribal settlement in Attappady in Palakkad District on October 5, 2018. Danish Krishna, who belonged to the ‘Kabani and Bhavani divisions’ of PLGA, was hiding in the tribal settlement, masking his identity. Police later stated that he was active in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, organising tribal people and forcing them to turn against the State.
According to a October 16, 2018, report, Central and State security agencies assessed that Maoist activities had become dangerous in the state (Kerala). An unnamed senior Police officer was quoted as saying, “Maoists are now even more dangerous as they’ve acquired weapons including AK-47. They’re establishing a strong presence in the forests spread across the Kerala-Karnataka-Tamil Nadu tri-junction.”
According to a January 7, 2019, report, there are at least 16 Naxalites front organisations that double up as human rights organisations when there is any police or government action. Intelligence agencies also disclosed that there are around 80 Naxalites operating in the Western Ghats region, who frequently move across the borders of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. These cadres were mostly confined to Kerala, after other two states (Karnataka and Tamil Nadu) recentlyput the heat on them.
These are worrying signs, though, as stated by the UMHA, there is a visible absence of violence. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Kerala has not recorded a single Maoist-linked fatality through 2018. The last Maoist-linked fatality from Kerala was reported on November 24, 2016, when two CPI-Maoist leaders, including ‘central committee (CC)’ member and ‘secretary’ of the WGSZC, Kuppuswamy Devarajan aka Shanker, and Ajitha aka Kaveri, a woman leader, were killed, in an encounter with the Police inside the Nilambur Forest in Malappuram District. Since 2005, Kerala has recorded two incidents of killing, with three fatalities (all Maoists) (data till March 3, 2019).
Clearly, the State Government has so far succeeded in containing Maoist attempts to spread their influence in Kerala, by adopting several measures. For instance, on May 9, 2018, the State Government announced a Surrender-cum-Rehabilitation package for Maoists operating in the State. According to the scheme, the extremists were categorised at three levels, based on their operations and their role in the organisation. However, no surrender has been reported in Kerala since the announcement of the new scheme.
Further, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan informed the State Assembly in March 2018, that the Government, in its bid to combat the Maoist menace, was in the process of recruiting 75 tribal men and women to the civil police through the Public Service Commission. No further report is available in this regard.
On December 30, 2018, A.K. Balan, the Minister in charge of law, culture, and the welfare of backward classes, in a bid to keep tribals away from Maoist activists, announced,
|… At least one person in every tribal family should be employed by the government so that they would remain committed to the government and the society. They would then protect the interests of the government and oppose anti-government acts. This is a psychological approach. emptive…|
Further details about the plan are not available.
Meanwhile, according to a January 5, 2019, report, Kerala Police along with a unit of the ‘Thunderbolts’ – the commando wing of the India Reserve Battalion, an elite anti-Maoist formation – started their special Operation Anaconda against Maoists in the tri-junction region, following reports of the sighting of armed Maoist cadres in the area. Kerala Director General of Police (DGP) Loknath Behera disclosed that attempts had been made to rope in the Police Forces of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka for combined search operations. However, he refused to divulge the strength of the search team or details of the locations where combing operations were conducted.
The Maoists have been forced by the Security Forces to retreat from areas of their dominance during in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha and Chhattisgarh over the past few years have been trying to venture into territories which are at present not adequately policed by SFs. The KKT tri-junction area is one such region. It is imperative for State Governments as well as the Central Government to ensure that the region is provided adequate security. Moreover, the Kerala Government should actively engage with vulnerable sections of the local population to address some ‘popular issues’, such as tribal and dalit struggles, land rights, etc., which can be exploited by the Maoists to expand their influence.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management