[Analytics] Saying no to Mao in Kerala

Maoist training Camp (Representational Image). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

At first glance, the death of four suspected Maoists in an ‘encounter’ with Kerala’s Thunderbolts commandos in the Agali backwoods of Palakkad district on October 28 may have raised worries about the rise of left-wing extremists (LWE) in the state again. Amarnath K. Menon specially for the India Today.

But the manner in which the commandos struck, a day after Deepavali, in the dense Manjakandi forests in the Attapady range of the Mannarkkad forest division, is proof of the constant vigil against LWE activities in the state.

All four were residents of Tamil Nadu. The police have identified one of them as Manivasakam, head of the Kabini Dalam of the Western Ghats Zonal Committee of the CPI (Maoists).

This is Kerala police’s third big success in the fight against the militants since the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front government assumed office in 2016. While two Maoists from Karnataka were killed in an encounter at Nilambur in Malappuram on November 24, 2016, another militant, the only Malayalee death so far, was killed at a resort at Vythiri in Wayanad on March 7 this year.

Ironically, the Maoist ideology itself does not have too many takers today among Malayalees even though the first democratically elected communist government in the world (according to some) was in Kerala (1957) and the state was a hotbed of Naxal activity in the late 1960s and ’70s. Among the earliest LWEs to be detained was the legendary Kunnikkal Narayanan, jailed for the 1968 Thalasserry-Pulpally attack on police stations which led to the death of two policemen, and his wife Mandakini. Both are no more, while their daughter Ajitha, a firebrand 18-year-old activist then who was also arrested and brutally tortured, has in the past two decades transformed into a human rights and gender justice activist.

Analysts argue that it is perhaps the long-standing influence of the communists in the state that has prevented the Maoists from making deep inroads into the state. On the other hand, even with sporadic reports in the past few years of the presence of Maoists in the forested districts like Idukki, Malappuram and Wayanad, the police have not been able to completely break their strength.

Unlike in the 10 states that constitute the infamous Red Corridor, there has been no targeting of civilians and public property by the Maoists in Kerala. In stark contrast to many other affected states, Kerala has had no civilian casualties from LWE violence between 2014 and 2018. Even the Malayalee militant killed at the Wayanad resort in March this year had apparently gone there to extort cash and source groceries for fellow Maoists.

The Left Democratic Front (LDF) government, given its ideological opposition to the ruling BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in Delhi, does not want to leave anything to chance vis-a-vis being accused of harbouring the Maoists. Despite differences among his LDF allies, notably the CPI, Chief Minister Vijayan has been determined to track and put down LWE activities in the state, perhaps even more so than the other Red Corridor states in the south, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Since May 2018, the government has also offered a surrender and rehabilitation package, similar to the central schemes on offer since 2014 in other Maoist-hit states. It’s another matter that no one has availed the offer so far. The policy has been successful in other states, including Telangana where the majority of the Maoist leadership comes from, but it has been largely irrelevant in tackling LWE as it exists in Kerala.

What sets Kerala’s Maoists apart is their profile, educated, articulating intellectual positions on social issues in line with LWE thinking with no involvement whatsoever in inciting violence. There are also many activist groups in the state which, though not aligned to the LWE, do resonate with them on issues concerning the disadvantaged.

Social analysts also point to other factors which have reduced the LWE influence in the state, like the vibrant civil society movement that takes up social issues in the public arena and a strong media which, unlike other states, presents such issues in perspective.

Security analysts and intelligence sources, though, have a different opinion. They believe the Maoist threat in the state is very real with inputs coming in about the LWE involved in extortion from the burgeoning tourism industry. Alerts have also been raised in the last two years on arms training of cadres in the jungles of the tri-junction.

Concerted campaigns by the police of several states and security agencies, the regular exchanges about their strategies under the aegis of the exclusive division on LWE in the Union ministry of home affairs (MHA), the dwindling numbers of hardcore Maoists, they have all helped push the rebels to seek refuge at this tri-junction of the southern states. The goal in Kerala seems to be to try and find recruits and logistics support from among the local tribals in Wayanad besides enlisting the odd Sri Lankan Tamil refugee. For the moment, though, with lighter hues among the Reds holding sway, few are willing to back the extremists.

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