There is no dearth when it comes to the various security challenges in Kerala. The menace of radicalisation, Wahhabism and now Naxalism can all be found in Kerala.

Last week four Naxalites were killed in an encounter at Agali in Palakkad district. The police said that the encounter took place after the patrol party came under fire from the Naxalites. The encounter was an important one as the Kabani Dalam of Naxalites were planning to regroup in the area. The Congress was quick to react and condemned the killings. While Congress MP from Palakkad VK Sreekandan expressed doubts over the encounter, state opposition leader, Ramesh Chennithala said that it was highly improper to eliminate them ruthlessly.

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Two CPI(M) activists, Maha Fazal and Alan Shuhaib were arrested after they were distributing pamphlets condemning the encounter. This in fact led to a slugfest within the Left, with many questioning the need to arrest the two under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The Left it must be noted has always been critical of the UAPA.

The police however maintained that they had enough material to arrest the duo under the provisions of the UAPA.  The BJP which has been consistent on its views regarding the elimination of the Naxal movement has backed the police.

Seeking refuge in South:

The Union Government since 2014 has been clear on its stance against the Naxalites. It has taken stern action against the Naxalites in jungles as well those who spread their ideology in cities. The action in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Maharashtra have been consistent and there has been a major dip in the movement. In this context the police had initiated action against those in the Bhima Koregaon case and it was clear that many of them were propagating on behalf of the Naxalites and also aiding the smooth passage of funds from abroad.

The Southern Range police had in May 2018 prepared a report, which suggested that the Naxalite movement was growing in South India. There were clear attempts to make Kerala their den and then operate in the other parts of Southern India. The report spoke about the rise of the problem in the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Western Ghats and Dakshin Kannada.

In Kerala, the rise has been systematic. The Naxalites have been extending their support to plantation workers in a bid to spread their ideology apart from enhancing their geographical spread. Recently four Naxalites had visited plantation workers at Nilambur. They also visited the Plantation Corporation of Kerala and distributed notices and put up posters, extending support to plantation workers. The Naxalites have demanded that the wages of these workers be enhanced from Rs 390 a day to Rs 800.

The rising menace in Kerala:

Intelligence reports prepared by both the state as well as central Intelligence Bureau accessed by MyNation say that the Naxalites are looking out for unexplored jungles in Kerala.  The report also says that the highest number of Naxalites are at Kannur. Further they have also been sighted at Mallapuram, Kozhikode, Wayanad and Palakkad.

The report says that while in the other places, they go about propagating their ideology, in Wayanad they have set up their arms training camp.

The Naxalites have stayed away from violence as of now. They want to lie low and spread their base gradually. However, the incident at Agali was the first instance of Naxalites resorting to violence as a result of which the police had to hit back.

Kerala is a strategic point for Naxals. There are scores who are sympathetic towards them. Like in the cases of Islamic radicalisation, the Naxalites are fully aware that there would be a mechanism which would protect them. Further, the Naxalites are not only looking at Kerala alone.

Kerala would be their base point and they would move between the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala to enhance their geographic spread. Officials say that the Naxalites are well aware that there would be coordination issues when they move between the three states. The state police units do not have a great history of coordination, when it comes to inter-state related issues. Officials say that the solution is to have the central forces deal with this issue, if a proper solution is to be found.

Over the years the security agencies have zeroed in on high value targets in Kerala. Take for instance the case of Deepak, who is part of the Dandakaranya Special Zone Committee. He had fled the encounter site. Deepak was one of the key persons who moved between bases across the country to provide arms training to the cadres. For the past few months, he had made his base, and this is a clear indication that the arms training was taking place in the forests unabated.

The presence of leaders from the Dandakaranya Zonal Committee in Kerala is particularly disturbing in nature. This committee is led by the who’s who in the Naxal business. They were all based in Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal which have been the top areas for the movement. The Central Committee of the Naxalites has been moving its top leaders to the south, with a specific intention of setting up a strong base.

When asked about how influential the Naxal movement is in Kerala, officials say that it is not very high, but they have been making strides. It is something that the government cannot sit over. If left unattended, then the Naxalites have every chance of making this a big movement in Kerala and the rest of South India.

The Southern base:

The fact that the Naxalites have been building a southern base is not something new. Officials have been pointing out the same to the government since the year 2010. In this context one must look at the interrogation report of Pramod alias Nandakumar, who was the Karnataka State Secretary of the Communist Party of India-Maoist.

Pramod, originally from Kannur in Kerala had told the police that the movement was shifting to the South gradually. He said that there were manpower issues in the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal.

He further said that there was a plan afloat to create a very powerful southern Naxal corridor.  The effects of the spill out from the Naxal strongholds have been felt in Karnataka as well. Recently, police said that there were Naxalites spotted in the forests of Sullia and Kodagu. They were carrying with them advanced weapons. The complainant in the case, who is a rubber estate owner said that the Naxalites had asked them for food. They then took with them the dry tobacco leaves that were stored in the house.

Karnataka Police say that this team is headed by an Udupi resident Vikram Gowda. He was one of the key persons who had strongly opposed bringing Naxalites to the mainstream. Other incidents of Naxal spotting have been reported at the Koyanadu village as well. In this case, they gave two persons Rs 2,000 and asked them to fetch ration for them.

Police say that these Naxalites who are part of the southern corridor are being handled and controlled by the leaders in Kerala. Further in Karnataka, it is not just the locals, but Naxalites from both Tamil Nadu and Kerala have also been spotted.

The arms route:

A fishing port at Tamil Nadu was once a landing point for beedi smugglers from Sri Lanka. They would come to the Koddikarai port and take opium in exchange for beedis. This place has been notorious not just for drug smuggling, but for an arms racket as well.

Intelligence reports clearly point out that smugglers are today bringing in weapons with the help of the Chinese and channelizing the same to Kerala. In 2013, it may be recalled that the MV Seamna Guard Ohio was detained. The agencies found a huge cache of arms. There have also been several incidents where other vessels have been intercepted with arms. The major part of the operation takes place near Nagapattinam at the end of the Salt Pan area of the Koddikarai fishing port. Investigations have also revealed that the arms racket is taking place with the help of the Chinese who facilitate the smugglers from Sri Lanka.

While Kerala appears to be waking up to the Naxal problem now, it was in 2013 that a major consignment of arms had reached the state from Sri Lanka through Tamil Nadu. The arms were moved to the Udumalpet and Karur Forest areas.

The intelligence agencies say that this is a crucial route and has been used by both Naxalites and other elements to bring in arms. They find this to be a safer passage since moving arms from the other parts of the country is not that simple given the heightened vigil.

How Centre fights the Naxalites:

In one of his addresses, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi said that left wing extremism had been bleeding the country. He however added that due to the sustained efforts of the security forces, launching of developmental works and also efforts to connect the people with the national mainstream has reduced their geographic spread considerably. The Naxalites have today been reduced to less than 90 districts as opposed to the 126 they used to control.

The number of Naxalites arrested between 2016 and 2018 stood at 4,123 as per data available with the Home Ministry. Incidents of violence by Naxalites reduced from 6,524 to 4,136. In the year 2010, the number of civilian deaths due to Naxal related violence stood at 720 and by 2017, it came down to 188. This incidentally is the lowest under this category since 1999.

Further the elimination of Naxalites shot up from 445 to 510 and their surrenders from 1,387 to 3,373. This was clearly because that in the states of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, the traction was down and the pressure by the Central Forces was immense.

In 2013, the districts reporting Naxal violence stood at 76 and by 2017 it reduced to 58. Similarly, the number of police stations reporting Naxal violence stood at 330 in 2013 and by 2017 it reduced to 291.

Data available for the years 2009 to 2018 also show a major decline in Naxal related violence. In the year 2009, the number of such incidents stood at 2,213 and by 2018 it came down to 178.

The year 2013 reported 1,136 incidents. In 2014, it was 1,091, while in 2015, the number of such incidents was at 1,089. The years 2016 and 2017 witnessed 1,048 and 908 incidents of Naxal related violence respectively.

Another very important aspect is with regard to extortions. The NCRB data for 2017 said that there were no incidents of extortion in the 14 districts of Chhattisgarh, while in Telangana and Jharkhand 3 and 2 such incidents were reported.