Kerala: Peripheral Risks

The State Police forces have been successful in containing the Maoist threat in Kerala, but existing critical gaps in capacities and deployment of the Kerala Police indicate potential future susceptibilities.

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A file photo of Maoists in Chhattisgarh. Photo: AFP

On April 12, 2024, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) special court at Kochi in Ernakulam District sentenced four cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) to rigorous imprisonment (RI).  The four were convicted on April 9, 2024, in connection with a 2014 case relating to assault, threat and arson, etc., against a senior officer of the Kerala Police. Accused Roopesh was sentenced to 10 years RI along with an INR 235,000 fine; Kanyakumari received six years RI with an INR 105,000 fine. Both of them were convicted under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Anoop, who was convicted only under the UAPA, was sentenced to eight years RI with a fine of INR 60,000; while Ibrahim has also been punished for offences under the same law to six years RI and a fine of INR 40,000. The case against the accused is that on April 24, 2014, they barged into the house of A.B. Pramod, a civil Police officer, threatened him, and set ablaze his vehicle. The accused attacked Pramod for giving information about Maoists to high-ranking Police officials. The case was originally registered by the Vellamunda Police on April 24, 2014, and re-registered by the NIA on January 2, 2016.

Meanwhile, one Maoist-related incident has been recorded in the state since in the beginning of year 2024. On February 17, a 61-year-old wanted CPI-Maoist cadre, Suresh aka Pradeep, was arrested during a combing operation in the Kanjirakolli Forest area in Kannur District. Suresh was wanted in many cases, and the Police of Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu had been searching for him for several years.

Security Forces (SFs) arrested 53 Maoists in the state since March 6, 2000, when the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) started compiling data on Naxalite [Left Wing Extremism, LWE] violence, including three in 2023 and the above mention one in 2024 (data till April 14).

No surrender of Maoists has been reported in 2024. The State recorded its first and only surrender on October 25, 2021, when P. Lijesh aka Ramu, a senior CPI-Maoist leader, surrendered without arms, before Superintendent of Police (SP) Aravind Sukumar in the Wayanad District. Ashok Yadav, Inspector General of Police (IGP), North Zone, had 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.

SFs have eliminated at least 10 Naxalites [Left Wing Extremists] since March 6, 2000, including one in 2023. On December 29, 2023, a woman CPI-Maoist leader, Lakshmi aka Kavitha, succumbed to her injuries at Aralam in the forest area in Kannur District. A set of posters in the name of Maoists claimed that she was seriously injured during the encounter that took place on November 13 at Ayyankunnu in Kannur District. The posters also declared that the Maoist group would avenge her death.

According to partial data collated by SATP, the State has not recorded any fatality in the civilian and SF categories in LWE-linked violence since March 6, 2000, (data till April 14, 2024).

The Naxalites have only been able to orchestrate 19 violent incidents in the state since March 6, 2000, including one explosion. On March 5, 2017, a high-intensity blast damaged property and blew up a mud house on the fringe of a forest in Chappamala in Kottiyoor, a Naxalite-affected area in Kannur District. No casualty was reported in the blast. Four incidents of arson have been reported since March 6, 2000: one each in 2020 and 2015, and two in 2014. The Maoists abducted six persons in two sperate incidents: three in 2015 and another three in 2018. Further, 12 acts of vandalization by Maoists have been reported: one in 2003, five in 2014, four in 2015, one in 2020 and one in 2023.

Meanwhile, SFs foiled Maoist designs and recovered arms and ammunition on one occasion in 2023, in addition to another such incident in 2020. Since March 6, 2000, at least six such incidents have been recorded in the State.

SFs also recovered Posters/Pamphlets/Literature on three occasions in 2023, in addition to one such incident in 2022. Since March 6, 2000, at least 32 such incidents have been recorded in the State.

According to the SATP database, based on underground and over-ground activities of the Maoists in 2023, one District (Kannur) in the state was categorised as moderately affected; while two (Kozhikode and Wayanad), were marginally affected. In 2022, just two Districts (Kozhikode and Wayanad) were marginally affected.

Meanwhile, the NIA which in January 2024 took over the case involving Sanjay Deepak Rao aka Vijay Rao (60), the ‘central committee member’, who was arrested in Hyderabad on September 13, 2023, found during investigations that Rao, in charge of the ‘Western Ghats Special Zone Committee (WGSZC)’, was actively working for the CPI-Maoist in the tri-junction area of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka. The NIA thus alleged,

 Under his direction, other frontline members of CPI (Maoist) were operating in the urban areas of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala to promote the activities of the outfit.

Under his direction, other frontline members of CPI (Maoist) were operating in the urban areas of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala to promote the activities of the outfit.

Sanjay Deepak Rao had taken over the leadership of the Maoists in Kerala, heading the outfit’s Western Ghats operations, after the death of senior leader Manivasagam in an encounter in 2020.

 Moreover, on March 25, 2024, the NIA took over the probe from the Police, into the shootout that took place between four CPI-Maoist cadres and the Kerala Police at the Chapparam Colony near Periya in Wayanad District of Kerala on November 7, 2023, following the directives of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), to uncover Maoist activities in the forest areas of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Though no casualty was reported in the incident, two Maoists were arrested: Chandru of Tamil Nadu and Unnimaya of Karnataka. The other two managed to escape. An unnamed NIA source disclosed,

Chandru and Unnimaya are wanted in other cases too. Their interrogation will be vital in uncovering Maoist activities in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka forests. Besides, lookout notices will be issued for two others, Sundari and Latha, who managed to escape after a gunfight with Thunderbolt commandos.

Meanwhile, according to a March 21, 2024, report, the Karnataka Police said that Maoist leader Vikram Gowda was spotted in a village in Kodagu, which borders Kerala. Gowda is a native of Hebri in Udupi, Karnataka, but is known to operate from Kerala. However, the Karnataka Police said that they had initiated investigations and deployed personnel after evidence emerged of Maoist activity in forests in the districts of Kodagu and Hassan. Further, the Police stated that vigilance in the areas close to the tri-junction forests of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala have been heightened since the twin encounters between suspected Maoist groups and the Kerala Police Thunderbolts special forces team. The first encounter was in Thalappuzha in Wayanad District of Kerala on November 7, 2023, followed by one at Karikkottakary in the Kannur District of Kerala, on November 13, 2023. No casualty was reported in either incident.

The State Police forces have been successful in containing the Maoist threat in Kerala, but existing critical gaps in capacities and deployment of the Kerala Police indicate potential future susceptibilities. According to the latest Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data, as on January 1, 2022, Kerala had 149.60 Police personnel per 100,000 population, which is below the inadequate national average of 152.80. Further, with a sanctioned strength of 61,474, the State Police has just 53,216 personnel in position, a deficit of 13.43 per cent. The sanctioned strength of the apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State was 172, but just 116 officers were in position, a deficit of 32.55 per cent.

Certainly, the Kerala Police has done extremely well in containing the Maoist menace. The Maoist influence, moreover, has been shrinking in neighbouring states as well. Nevertheless, given the Maoists past capacities to engineer a revival, there is no scope for complacence, particularly in view of intensive effort by the Maoists in the KKT tri-junction region.

Deepak Kumar Nayak

Deepak Kumar Nayak, Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi, India

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