Two incidents of vandalism in quick succession by suspected cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) in Kerala have again brought the issue of the Maoists’ southern forays into the limelight. On November 18, 2014, six persons barged into the Agraharam Resort at Tirunelly in the Wayanad District of Kerala and broke the windowpanes of the resort’s office building, staff quarters and reception centre. They also damaged the furniture, computer, printer and other equipment kept in the office. They left after sticking wall-posts and posters declaring the celebration of the CPI-Maoist’s 10th anniversary and demanding land for the landless.
On November 10, the corporate office of Nitta Gelatin India Ltd (NGIL) at Panampilly Nagar in Kochi was ransacked by a group of nine masked men, causing extensive damage. The masked men, suspected to be CPI-Maoist cadres, accused the company of polluting the Chalakkudy river and neglecting local people. A press note purportedly released by the Western Ghat Zonal Committee of the CPI-Maoist in Thrissur claimed that an ‘urban action team’ under the Committee had carried out the attack. Later, the Kochi Police Commissioner disclosed, “We have recovered a letter, which has reference to Maoists. The letter has called for armed struggle and indicates that Maoists have taken claim for the attack. But, whether Maoists were actually involved in the attack could be ascertained only after the probe.” Interestingly, the incident of vandalism was captured by the CCTV camera and the footage was handed over to the Police.
The footage shows one man without a mask, but the Police are yet to identify the person. One among the nine-member team spoke Malayalam, while the others were native speakers of Hindi, the Police disclosed. The special squad probing the Nitta Gelatin corporate office attack case has invoked the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) against the nine unidentified men who carried out the attack. As part of the investigation, the Police has taken a few Maoist sympathisers into custody, for interrogation. The Kochi incident has raised a few eyebrows, as there was no intelligence about Maoist presence in the city. The attack was in the heart of the city, and Kochi is the first major urban concentration in Kerala to record a Maoist attack. Interestingly, Maoist ‘commander’ Deva in Dandakaranya (DK) claimed, on November 16, that there was no Maoist involvement in the incident, and accused the Police of lying.
He did, however, concede that the Maoists had deployed armed cadres in Kerala, though their number was not high, and that they did not enjoy a wide mass base in the State. The party was, however, working towards widening its mass base and increasing cadre strength, focusing on basic issues such as Jal, Jungle, Zameen (Water, Forests, Land), and power to the people. Specific issues relating to Kerala would also be looked into as the organisation expanded. After the Wayanad incident, Kerala Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala stated, on November 18, that the Police had identified the modus operandi behind the attacks and, for security reasons, were refraining from giving publicity to the investigations: “The modus operandi behind these recent attacks is a ploy by a few organisations that have links with Maoists to get the sympathy of the local people.”
He added, further, that there were quite a few organisations in Kerala that acted as Maoist fronts, and that these Maoist-friendly groups targeted places and establishments where disputes are ongoing: “Through this, they are able to win the confidence of the locals. Their key target areas are quarries, resorts and establishments.” Some of the incidents that demonstrate the Maoist presence in Kerala in 2014 included:
November 13: Maoist posters were found near the new bus stand, railway station and Cherkalain area of Kasargod District.
October 26: CPI-Maoist wall posters and notices appeared at some locations under Vadakara Police Station limits in the Kozhikode District of Kerala. The posters asked the people to join the CPI-Maoist for a new democratic, unexploited India by strengthening the ‘class struggle’.
October 3: Flex boards exhorting the working class to prepare for an ‘armed battle’ against ‘ruling elites’ were seen in the Kallamala region of western Attappady in the Palakkad District. A few were installed at Poonchola and Pambbanthode villages close to Mannarkkad. The boards mentioned the celebration of the CPI-Maoist’s 10th anniversary, and appealed to people to strengthen the party base in the three southern States.
September 22: Regional television channels in Kerala showed video clips, reportedly of CPI-Maoist leader Roopesh, threatening to launch an armed struggle in the State.
July 28: Kerala Police arrested a Swiss youth, identified as Jonathan Baud (24), after he addressed a meeting arranged by CPI-Maoist sympathisers at Valappad in Thrissur District to condole the death of their comrade V S Sinoj alias Ramesan who was accidentally killed while assembling crude bombs on June 16, 2014 in a forest. The Swiss national is out on bail but is yet to be allowed to leave the country, as the matter is being heard by the court.
July 6: A group of CPI-Maoist cadres held a meeting of Adavasi (tribal) families at Vaniyampuzha Adivasi Colony, Munderi, in the Nilambur Forest of Malappuram District. About 60 Adivasis, including women, attended the meeting.
June 16: Senior CPI-Maoist leader from Kerala, Sinoj alias Rajan, was killed in an accidental blast while assembling explosives in the deep forests of Wayanad District.
April 24: A four-member armed group, suspected to be CPI-Maoist cadres, threatened a Police officer, Pramod Bhaskaran, and his mother at their house in Wayanad District. According to an alert sent to the State by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) on March 27, armed cadres belonging to the CPI-Maoist had earlier visited various Adivasi colonies in Kannur, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Malappuram and Palakkad at least 50 times, after they were first sighted in Kanjirakolly in Kannur district early in 2013.
State Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala acknowledged in the Assembly, on June 9, 2014, that there were reports of a Maoist “presence” in the forest and adjoining areas in six northern Districts of the State. Replying to questions in the House, he said the Government was in receipt of intelligence reports of Maoist “presence” in Palakkad, Malappuram, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Kannur, and Kasaragod Districts. Besides, the State Home Minister said, “The intelligence wing has reported that some Maoists are masquerading as migrant labourers in Kerala”.
Further, Intelligence sources assume that the total recruitment of Maoists is currently at about 50 in the State. The assumption was based on information that CPI-Maoist cadres bought clothes to stitch around 50 new uniforms for the armed group. The Maoists are known to have one existing dalam (squad), the ‘Kabani Dhalam’, which functions in Wayanad District. State intelligence has also warned of the presence of Maoists in houseboats, in Alappuzha.
In view of the emerging Maoist threat in the State, the State Government, on February 21, 2014, directed the Police to fortify 16 Police Stations in north Kerala on ‘a war footing’. Further, the Government ordered 300 armed Policemen to the region to provide ‘perimeter defence and support’ to Thunderbolts Kerala, the special weapons and tactics team of the State Police, which was spearheading what the Government termed ‘anti-Naxal operations’.
Wayanad District, where a six-member Maoist group was seen moving more frequently, would be the ‘base station’ for the operations. The State is also taking necessary precautionary measures to monitor the link between migrant workers and Maoist. Seen in the light of the Maoists’ declaration of “opening up a new war front in the Sahyadri (Western Ghats) border region of Karnataka-Kerala-Tamil Nadu”, the Maoists are preparing for the long haul in the State, though such an effort is currently largely restricted to the widening of the mass base.
The merger of the CPI-Maoist and the Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist – Naxalbari (CPI-ML-Naxalbari), under the CPI-Maoist banner, on May 1, 2014, is a significant step in this direction. Though past efforts to extend the Maoist movement into the Southern States have met with little success, the Maoists are far from admitting defeat.