By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On January 15, 2017, Security Forces (SFs) in Kerala warned that the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) was planning a coordinated movement of its urban and rural forces to strengthen its activities in India’s southern States, mainly in Kerala. SFs made this claim on the basis of the review report of the CPI-Maoist’s ‘South Zonal Committee’ (SZC), retrieved by the Police from the site of the November 24, 2016, Nilambur encounter. The report asserted that the Maoists had been able to defeat ‘enemy’ plans and successfully organize their meeting in the forests of the ‘tri-junction area’ – connecting Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu – under the protection of People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) Forces, and with the ‘support’ and ‘participation’ of people.
A ‘central committee (CC) member’ of the CPI-Maoist, Kuppuswamy Devarajan aka Shanker, and Ajitha aka Kaveri, a woman leader, were killed in an encounter with the Police inside the Nilambur forests in Malapuram District on November 24, 2016. Giving details, Director General of Police (DGP) Loknath Behera stated on December 3, 2016, that it was the Maoists who fired at the Police Force first. He further disclosed that the Maoists had fired at the Police seven times in the preceding two years and had raided houses of Adivasis on several occasions, though, “Fortunately, there were no casualties.”
On January 2, 2017, Police received evidence that the CPI-Maoist, with the ‘support’ of tribal people, had taken control of some forest land along the Kerala and Tamil Nadu border, cutting down hundreds of trees. A series of video clip, released by the Police, showed armed CPI-Maoist and tribal people removing trees in the forest and installing a CPI-Maoist flag in the area. Police suspect that the area shown in the video is the Agali Forest region of Palakkad District.
Though there has been no Maoist-linked fatality in the State in 2017 thus far, (data till March 5, 2017), developments through 2016 indicate that Maoist activities are on the rise. According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Kerala recorded two Maoist-related fatalities (both Maoist cadres) in 2016. Both these fatalities took place in the Nilambur encounter. There was no LWE-linked fatality in 2015. One Maoist was killed in 2014.
Though there was no violent action targeting civilians through 2016, there were several reported incidents of expansion activity, including:
March 29, 2016: An armed group of suspected CPI-Maoist cadres visited a tribal colony at Pattakkarimbu in Malapuram District and convened a meeting of the locals in which the group ‘urged’ the people to boycott the Kerala Assembly elections, which were held on May 16, 2016.
September 26, 2016: A group of seven armed CPI-Maoist cadres, consisting of six men and a woman, conducted a ‘class’ for the tribal people at Mundakkadavu Adivasi (Scheduled Tribe) Colony’s community hall in Mallapuram District. Police said the meeting was convened by the group’s leader Soman. The meeting had not ended when the Police reached the colony and, on seeing the Police, the armed group escaped through the back exit, using the Adivasis as human shields and shouting Maoist slogans.
October 28, 2016: CPI-Maoist cadres operating in the Nilambur area in Mallapuram District issued warnings to those who were acting as ‘informers’ of the Police and other intelligence agencies. This was disclosed in the first issue of Chenkad (Red Forest), the ‘official’ mouthpiece of the Nadukani squad of the CPI-Maoist.
December 8, 2016: A couple of hand-made posters by the CPI-Maoist Bhavani Dalam (armed squad), alleging that the State Government was trying to suppress the Naxals, surfaced at Mele Ommathampatti at Pudur Panchayat (village level local self-Government institution) in Attappady in Palakkad District. The posters demanded the withdrawal of the Kerala Thunderbolts (the Kerala Police elite commando force) from Attappady.
According to Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) data, at least 12 LWE-linked incidents were recorded in Kerala in 2016, as against no such incident in 2015. The State registered eight such incidents in 2014.
Further, according to SATP data, the Maoists were engaged in three reported exchange of fire incidents in 2016, as against two such incidents in 2015, and two in 2014.
Based on SATP data for 2016, six Districts in the State were Maoist-affected. These include Mallapuram, Idukki, Kasargod, Palakkad, Thrissur and Wayanad. While Mallapuram can be categorized as moderately affected, the other five were marginally affected. In 2015, nine Districts in the State, viz., Alappuzha, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Palakkad, Malappuram, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Kannur and Kasaragod, were categorized as marginally affected. On March 1, 2016, Union Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary, stated in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Indian Parliament) that activities and presence of Maoists had been noticed from the Wayanad, Kozhikode, Kannur, Mallapuram, Palakkad and Ernakulam Districts of Kerala since 2013.
Six of these Districts – Wayanad, Kozhikode, Kannur, Malapuram, Palakkad and Ernakulam – in Kerala fall along the Karnataka-Kerala-Tamil Nadu tri-junction area. Significantly, the Maoists had merged with the Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist – Naxalbari (CPI-ML-Naxalbari), under the CPI-Maoist banner, on May 1, 2014, with the aim of securing a foothold in the Karnataka-Kerala-Tamil Nadu tri-junction area. The CPI-ML-Naxalbari had, for long, an independent presence in Kerala, and the Maoists believed that the merger would provide them the resources and manpower needed to spread their influence in this strategic region.
Further, informing the Lok Sabha on February 24, 2015, Kiren Rijiju, Union Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs, had stated that, in order to spread their area of influence, CPI-Maoist was making efforts to spread its influence in South India, particularly on the tri-junction of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka.
In spite of these intentions, levels of violence in the region have remained low. This is primarily because SFs have played a significant role in containing the ‘Maoist movement’ across the country and also preventing them from expanding their base in other areas. However, the Maoist intent has also played a part in this outcome. Media reports on January 24, 2017, indicated that a letter suspected to be written by a CPI-Maoist Central Committee or politburo member had warned ‘comrades operating the tri-junction area’ in South India against launching attacks on the Police, as the leadership thought such an action would be detrimental to the organisation at the current stage of the movement in the region. Consistent with their broader strategy and tactics, the Maoists seek a far greater and sustainable consolidation before escalating violence.
The State Government has, nevertheless, taken clear cognizance of the emerging threat. On February 27, 2017, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan informed the State Assembly that the Unified Command formed under his leadership to contain the spread of Maoist activities in the State was also mandated to focus on operations against Maoist sympathisers in the State. The Unified Command would also serve as a forum to review developmental activities in the Maoist-affected areas of the State.
The Kerala Government constituted the Unified Command under the Chief Minister on January 17, 2017, as suggested by the Union Government, to contain the spread of Maoist activities in the State.
On December 3, 2016, State DGP Loknath Behera, acknowledged that the Maoist threat was on the rise in Kerala along the tri-junction area.
Though the Kerala Police has been quite effective against the incipient threat of a spreading Maoist presence and activities, it is useful to acknowledge enduring capacity deficits that make its task difficult. According to the latest data provided by the Bureau of Police Research and Development [BPR&D], as on January 1, 2016, the State had 53,881 policemen, as against a sanctioned 60,502 policemen, leaving 6,621 police posts vacant, a deficit of 10.94 per cent. Further, at least 41 Indian Police Service (IPS) posts were vacant in the State, against a sanctioned strength of 163 – a deficit of a 25.15 per cent. Also, the Police/Area Ratio (number of policemen per 100 square kilometers) is 138.64, as against the sanctioned strength of 155.68 – a deficit of 10.94 per cent. However, the all-India ratio stands at 54.69 per 100 square kilometres, as against a sanction of 72.03. Such deficits will eventually impact adversely on the State’s capacity to contain the Maoists and must be urgently addressed.
* Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management