Kerala: Nascent Threat

Kerala: Nascent Threat

Nijeesh N. Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management | @indiablooms | 27 Feb 2018

According to a February 15, 2018, report, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) is likely is to include two Districts from Kerala – Palakkad and Malappuram – in its list of Districts affected by Left Wing Extremism (LWE) in the country. Never in the past, has any District from Kerala been included in such a list. The last such list, released on July 18, 2017, included 106 Districts across 10 States, but made no mention of Kerala.

Explaining the current situation in these two Districts, former Palakkad District Police chief Srinivas A. stated on February 15, 2018,

Though no violent incident has been reported from the two districts [Palakkad and Malappuram] in 2017, there have been multiple sightings of Maoist [Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist)] cadres in the area coupled with intelligence reports that suggest that the insurgents are close to establishing a base in the region.

Earlier, on January 2, 2018, Union Minister of State (MoS) for Home Affairs Hansraj Gangaram Ahir informed the Lok Sabha (the Lower House of Indian Parliament) that “Left Wing Extremists have been trying to establish presence at the Kerala-Karnataka-Tamil Nadu (KKT) tri-junction”. Significantly, Malappuram shares it borders with Wayanad (in Kerala) and The Nilgiris (in Tamil Nadu), both of which fall in the KKT tri-junction. Similarly, Palakkad which is adjacent to Malappuram shares its border with The Nilgiris.

Some of the incidents of sightings of Maoists along and in areas close to the KKT tri-junction on the Kerala side during 2017 include:

November 3: A team of six armed CPI-Maoist cadres in olive green uniforms reached the house of one Moideen at Pozhuthana village in Vythiri taluk (revenue administrative unit) in Wayanad District. Moideen was threatened at gunpoint and asked to provide food to the Maoists. The team left for the nearby Kurichyarmala forest (South Wayanad Forest Division) after spending nearly one hour in the area.

September 5: Five armed CPI-Maoist cadres, including a woman, visited a house at Parappanpara in Koduvally taluk in Kozhikode District. After taking food from the house they threatened the house owner and asked him not to inform the Police about their visit. However, Kerala Police launched a massive combing operation against the Maoists in the forest areas near Parappanpara the next day (September 6, 2017). Though the Police could not locate the Maoists, it was suspected that the team was led by Soman, a native of Wayanad and a former leader of Porattom, a Maoist front organisation.

July 31: CPI-Maoist posters surfaced in Punchakkolli Tribal Colony under the Vazhikadavu Police Station limits in Malappuram District.

May 14: A group of five armed CPI-Maoist cadres, including a woman, was spotted near the Dumdum Estate along the Mundakai Forest in Wayanad District.

April 21-22: Police conducted combing operations in the Varichilmala region of the Mancheeri Tribal Colony in the Nilambur Forest in Malappuram District after receiving reports of a Maoist group camping inside the forest. It was also reported that the group had planted landmines around their camp near the Mancheeri Tribal Colony, in an apparent bid to prevent Police raids. According to reports, a group of armed people had warned the Mancheeri Colony residents of landmines and had asked them not to enter their camp area.

Most recently, on January 18, 2018, a team of four armed CPI-Maoist cadres visited the house of an individual identified as Abraham, at Kodenchery in Kozhikode District and asked the family to cook food for them.

These developments are, however, not particularly worrisome. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Kerala has not witnessed a single incident of Maoist-linked violence through 2017. The last violent incident from Kerala was reported on November 24, 2016, when two CPI-Maoist leaders were killed in an encounter in Malappuram District. Since 2005, Kerala has recorded 23 violent incidents, of which two resulted in fatalities (three Maoists, data till February 25, 2018).

According to official data disclosed by MoS for Home Affairs Ahir, Kerala has accounted for 23 incidents of Maoist-related violence since 2014: eight in 2014, 10 in 2015, five in 2016, and none in 2017 (data till December 15, 2017). Ahir further disclosed that no violence had been reported in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu since 2014. Though the Minister did not reveal fatalities data, according to latest Government figures made available in January 2018, Kerala has not recorded any Maoist-linked civilian or SF fatality since 2010. The data does not cover Maoist fatalities.

Indeed, the November 24, 2016, incident which resulted in the death of a CPI-Maoist 'central committee (CC) member’ and ‘secretary’ of the ‘Western Ghats Special Zonal Committee (WGSZC)’, Kuppuswamy Devarajan aka Shanker, and Ajitha aka Kaveri, a woman leader, in an encounter with the Police inside the Nilambur forests in Malappuram District has dealt a major blow to CPI-Maoist attempts to develop a strong leadership in South India. Further, on August 6, 2017, another women Maoist leader belonging to the Bhavani Dalam (squad), Latha aka Meera, was killed by wild elephants in the Nadukaani Forest range in the Nilambur Forests of Malappuram District. Latha, a native of Kottekad in Palakkad District, had been associated with Left Wing Extremism (LWE) since 1996. Bhavani Dalam operates in and around Palakkad (Kerala) and Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu).

Moreover, during 2017, the Security Forces (SFs) arrested three Maoists. On September 21, 2017, Kalidasan aka Kalidas aka Sekhar Raja (44), a Bhavani Dalam (squad) ‘commander’, was arrested from the Moolakombu tribal settlement on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border at Pudur near Attappady in Palakkad District. Kalidas had reportedly been giving arms training to fresh recruits in these areas.

Nevertheless, the Maoists continued with their effort to spread their activities in the region through 2017. A May 9, 2017, report stated that CPI-Maoist cadres had formed a new 'combat and operational' unit in the KKT tri-junction. The new unit, named as Varahini Dalam was formed in a bid to avenge the death of Shanker and Ajitha in the November 24, 2016, incident. The Police suspect eight CPI-Maoist cadres to be part of the unit headed by C. P. Moideen. The new Dalam is the fourth such unit that CPI-Maoist cadres have raised in Kerala; the others are Kabani Dalam, operating in Wayanad, Kozhikode, Malappuram Districts; the Nadukani Dalam which focuses on Nilambur and Tamil Nadu's Gudalur Districts; and the Bhavani Dalam.

Worryingly, another report dated January 4, 2018, revealed that the CPI-Maoist had succeeded in establishing several ‘Revolutionary People’s Committees (RPCs)’, rudimentary forms of the Maoists’ parallel government set up, in many areas along the Kerala–Karnataka–Tamil Nadu border. These ‘successes’ have been achieved under the leadership of B.G. Krishnamurthy, a senior Maoist leader from Karnataka, who took charge of the Kerala operations in place of Kuppuswamy Devarajan, who was killed in the encounter at Nilambur (November 24, 2016 incident). Intelligence sources further disclosed that the ‘new State [Kerala] coordinator’ B.G. Krishnamurthy had been successful in organizing several meetings in these areas, which were attended by People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) cadres and he had also successfully formed ‘RPCs‘ in around six adivasi (tribal) colonies, including Attappadi in Palakkad District.

Further, according to a January 7, 2018, report, the CPI-Maoist national level leadership has directed its cadres to stay in their ‘shelters’ in the Wayanad mountain ranges of Kerala and to spread their activities to other neighbouring states.

Indeed, though the Maoists have so far failed to establish any significant presence in the State and adjoining regions, they seem to be relentless in their effort to extend their base. It is imperative, therefore, for the State and Central Governments to address issues that can ensure continuing success against the rebels.

An internal security assessment conducted by the State Police, following the November 24, 2016, Nilambur encounter, had identified around 100 Left Wing Extremists (LWEs) operating in Kerala. According to this assessment, though most of these cadres were ready to give up arms, the lack of a proper surrender and rehabilitation policy in the State held them back. An unnamed senior Police officer involved in combating the Maoists in Kerala had thus observed on June 9, 2017

We have identified nearly 100 Maoist activists, including senior cadre who belong to the State. Chasing them and finishing them off in encounters is not a sustainable solution. We should give them an option to surrender and it will help the Police to contain the activities of LWE.

We have identified nearly 100 Maoist activists, including senior cadre who belong to the State. Chasing them and finishing them off in encounters is not a sustainable solution. We should give them an option to surrender and it will help the Police to contain the activities of LWE.

Meanwhile, the Government had acted swiftly in view of this report and the State Police involved in anti-Maoist operations prepared a surrender policy in April 2017. Director General of Police (DGP), Kerala, Loknath Behera, submitted a draft proposal in this regard to the State Home Department in October 2017. According to Police sources, the draft policy included granting jobs, vocational training, stipend, bulk financial assistance, agriculture land for cultivation and housing facilities. The policy also proposed additional financial incentives to be offered in case Maoists surrendered their weapons. The policy clearly mentioned, however, that no relaxation was likely where serious cases were pending against individual Maoists. According to the SATP database, no surrender has been reported in Kerala since 2006.

Further, in the wake of reports that Maoists were preparing to avenge the killing of Kuppuswamy Devarajan and Ajitha, the Kerala Police decided, in August 2017, to induct 50 women into its first ‘woman commando unit’ to fight Maoist activities in Kerala. ‘Thunder Bolt’, the commando wing of the India Reserve Battalion, an elite anti-Maoist wing, already exists in the State Police. The State Government also decided to establish a commando training school which will be modelled on the lines of anti-insurgency training schools of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Greyhounds [the elite anti-Maoist commandos in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana]. The School will be stationed in the 350-acre campus of the Kerala Police Academy (KEPA) in Thrissur District. DGP Loknath Behera stated, "We are planning to set up the school at a higher altitude location inside KEPA so that even the daily commuting itself will be a sort of training. Across the world, the commando training schools are designed thoughtfully, which we are also planning to implement."

The State Government has taken some important measures to deal with the incipient Maoist problem. Significantly, the first volume of the WGSZC’s new English-language journal, ‘Communist’, published in May 2017, labelled the Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan as the biggest threat and prime enemy of the Maoists fighting in the KKT tri-junction. Dealing with the problem at this emerging stage is an urgent imperative for the state and its agencies.
 

Kerala: Nascent Threat

Nijeesh N. Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management
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