By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On March 10, 2022, the presence of six armed cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) was reported from the Seethapara tribal settlement under the Chakkittapara Panchayat (village level local-self-Government institution) in Kozhikode District. The armed Maoists came near the river bank and asked the residents who came to bathe to purchase rice for them. When the residents said that they could not, the Maoists demanded that the residents get the rice from their own homes. They held two people captive and sent the others to fetch the rice. After the residents delivered the rice, the Maoists released the captives and left.
On March 8, 2022, six armed Maoists, including two women, reached Pushupagiri village under the Koduvally Taluk (revenue sub-division) in Kozhikode District, and entered three houses to seize food staples, taking away rice, coconut and bakery products. In one house, they had tea and charged their mobile phones. From another, they took soap and nails.
These are the two reported incidents of Maoist presence in residential areas in 2022, thus far (data till March 20). Through 2021, six such incidents were reported from three districts [Kozhikode (three), Wayanad (two), and Palakkad (one)]. There were two such incidents in 2020 (one each in Wayanad and Kannur). Since March 6, 2000, a total of 34 such incidents have been recorded in the State.
Meanwhile, Kerala has not recorded a single fatality in Maoist-linked violence through 2021. The last fatality in the State in such violence was reported on November 3, 2020, when a CPI-Maoist cadre was killed by the Security Forces (SFs) in an encounter in the forests near Meenmutty in Wayanad District. The slain cadre, identified as Velmurugan from Tamil Nadu, was an expert in weapons’ handling and propagating the Maoist ideology. He had been on the run since 2012 and had cases registered against him in Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
In fact, according to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on Naxalite [Left Wing Extremism, LWE] violence, the State has recorded a total of nine fatalities (all Maoists) in six separate incidents (data till March 20, 2022). Of the nine Maoist fatalities, one was reported in 2014, two in 2016, five in 2019 and one in 2020.
The Maoists were unable to execute any violent incident in 2021, as against one such incident in 2020. On January 15, 2020, Maoists attacked and vandalized a tourist resort, broke window panes of the resort and set its furniture ablaze, at Attamala town under Meppadi Police Station limits in Wayanad District. Since March 6, 2000, at least four incidents of arson, two of explosion, and two of abduction, have been recorded in the State.
Further, five incidents of recovery of posters/pamphlets/literature was recorded in 2021, as in 2020. 18 such incidents have been recorded between March 6, 2000 and 2019: 2019 (four), 2018 (three), 2014 (eight), 2013 (one), 2010 (one), and 2009 (one).
Meanwhile, Security Forces (SFs) arrested five Maoists in 2021, in addition to three in 2020. Significantly, on November 9, 2021, the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Kerala Police arrested senior CPI-Maoist leader B.G. Krishnamurthy, the ‘secretary’ of the CPI-Maoist ‘Western Ghats Special Zonal Committee (WGSZC), and Savithri aka Rejitha, the ‘commander’ of the group’s Kabani Dalam (armed squad), from Sulthan Bathery in Wayanad District. 49 Maoists have been arrested in the State since March 6, 2000.
The State recorded its first surrender on October 25, 2021, when P. Lijesh aka Ramu, a senior CPI-Maoist leader, surrendered before Superintendent of Police (SP) Aravind Sukumar without arms in the Wayanad District. Lijesh, a native of Amarakkuni near Pulpally in Wayanad District, claimed that he was the ‘deputy commander’ of the Kabani Dalam of the WGSZC and had worked for the organisation in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Ashok Yadav, Inspector General of Police (IGP), North Zone, disclosed, “Lijesh is the first Maoist cadre to surrender in the State after the Surrender and Rehabilitation scheme announced by the State Government in 2018.” No surrender had been reported prior to the announcement of the Rehabilitation scheme in 2018.
In 2021, Maoist activities were reported from five of the State’s Districts – Kannur, Kozhikode, Malappuram, Palakkad, and Wayanad – which fell in the ‘marginally affected’ category. In 2020, Maoist activities had been reported from five Districts – Kannur, Kozhikode, Palakkad, Thrissur and Wayanad; while, Wayanad fell in the ‘moderately affected’ category, Kannur, Kozhikode, Palakkad, and Thrissur were in the ‘marginally affected’ category. Kerala has a total of 14 Districts.
Incidentally, in its June 19, 2021, review of the categorization of Districts affected by LWE, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) identified Wayanad as one among the ‘District of Concern,’ along with another seven Districts across five States in the country. Moreover, three Districts – Malappuram, Palakkad, and Wayanad – were also among the 70 Districts in 10 States that are covered under the Centre’s ‘Security Related Expenditure (SRE)’ scheme which funds focused operations against the LWEs.
The Maoists have been struggling hard to expand their movement in the State and in the region. Significantly, the Maoists deputed Deepak, ‘zonal committee’ member and his wife Sharmila from other ‘guerrilla zones’ to the WGSZC. Deepak, who has the experience of working in Chhattisgarh, was to impart training in jungle warfare and use of explosives. Deepak was arrested in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu in November 2019, and Sharmila returned to her unit in 2018. Since then, the CPI-Maoist ‘state military commission’ in WGSZC, which oversees armed activities, is without a head. However, sources indicate that the Maoists are planning to bring in some experienced and battle-hardened cadre from Dandakaranya region to South India, to overcome their present crisis. At present, according to a November 30, 2021, report, the number of cadres of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA in the State has come down to 14, from around 40 in 2015, after a series of encounter killings, arrests and surrenders. The Maoists are struggling to counter intensified efforts by the Kerala Police to get Maoists to surrender.
Indeed, the State Government has, so far, succeeded in containing Maoist attempts to spread their influence in Kerala, implementing several measures. For instance, on March 15, 2022, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan handed over a cheque of INR 394,000 and the key of the house, availed on rent till a new house is constructed under the Life Mission scheme, to surrendered Maoist P. Lijesh, in accordance with the State Government’s “surrender-cum- rehabilitation” scheme. Lijesh will also be provided with INR 15,000 as stipend for continuing his education, as well as assistance in joining any Government Industrial Training Institute (ITI) or other institution.
Further, to get hold of Maoist elements in the State, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) conducted searches in Wayanad District on February 25, 2022, in connection with a case of recruitment of vulnerable youth by the CPI-Maoist. During the searches, various incriminating documents, digital devices and SIM cards were seized. The case related to providing training to new CPI-Maoist recruits, for their induction into the group’s front organisations; organising terrorist camps; and threatening the unity, integrity and sovereignty of India. Earlier, on October 12, 2021, NIA officials launched a series of raids across locations in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, to unearth suspected CPI-Maoist training camps and hideouts. The raids were triggered by specific intelligence inputs on people being indoctrinated into the party’s ideology through propaganda material. Officials seized videos that were used to train cadres.
The Maoist threat in Kerala remains peripheral, but there are critical gaps in capacities and deployment of the Kerala Police that could be clear future vulnerabilities. According to the latest Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data, as on January 1, 2020, Kerala had 152.49 Police personnel per 100,000 population, which is below the inadequate national average of 155.78. Further, with a sanctioned strength of 62,571, the State Police has just 53,723 personnel in position, a deficit of 14.14 per cent. The sanctioned strength of the apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State was 172, but just 126 officers were in position, a deficit of 26.74 per cent.
The Maoist are making sustained efforts to extend their activities in Kerala, bringing in experienced leaders from places like Bastar in Chhattisgarh, to coordinate and lead the task of revival. State Police forces have been successful in containing the threat, and an unrelenting effort to ensure that the Maoists do not succeed in their efforts is an imperative.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management