Just as India is battling the minatory mischief of terror outfits from across the border in Kashmir, trouble from home-grown malcontents is also rearing its head, down South.

Maoists extremism, which the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described as one of the deadliest threats facing the country, seems to be opening newer flanks, as its strongholds in Central India have come under increased surveillance.

Wednesday night, Maoists struck in the quiet, sylvan surroundings of a resort at Vythiri in the picturesque Wayanad district of Kerala.

There was a gun battle between Maoists, who had taken the customers of local resorts as hostages, and the Thunderbolt commando force personnel. In this, a Maoist was killed and two extremists were injured. According to reports, two commandos of the Thunderbolt force (the elite team formed to combat such threats) also suffered injuries.

The name of the killed Maoist was given as CP Jaleel.

As per local reports, the Maoists arrived at the resort situated on the Kozhikode-Bengaluru Highway and sought money and food from the resort managers. With the resort hands unwilling to give money, the Maoists --- reportedly numbering 7 to 10 --- took the resort customers as hostages.

With the resort workers informing the police, the Thunderbolt team arrived and were soon involved in a gun battle with the extremists. Some of the Maoists managed to retreat into the forest area under the blanket of darkness. The leader, CP Jaleel, and two others however suffered bullet hits. Jaleel later succumbed to his injuries.

The whole area known for its tranquillity remained tense this morning, as the tumult of last night's events hung over the place like a persistent miasma.

The worrying part is that this is probably the fourth reported incident involving the Maoists in Kerala in 2019. The three previous incidents fortunately did not lead to gun battle, but Maoists were sighted in three different districts - Malappuram, Kannur and Kozhikode.

The rise in Maoists activities in Kerala is not exactly surprising. In April 2018 itself, the Union Home Ministry had specifically said, "In order to counter Maoist efforts to expand their influence in the tribal areas at the tri-junction of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, three districts of Kerala have been included in the list of SRE (Security Related Expenditure) Districts. Despite the fact that there is hardly any violence in the new districts, the move is pre-emptive."

The Home Ministry named Malappuram, Palakkad, Wayanad districts as places where Maoists had increased their operations.

Home Ministry has been telling the three States of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu that they are now the targets of Maoists. The 3 States were described as the new "tri-junction of Maoists"

But even before all these, it was clear that the Maoists were planning to extend their 'red corridor' from Jharkhand to Wayanad. In an article in Mathrubhumi in 2013, Kerala Maoist leader Rupesh (he is now incarcerated) had said that Maoists had formed something called Western Ghats Special Zonal Committee (WGSZC). "The WGSZC was formed to target Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu in view of the ‘exploitation faced by scores of tribals, Scheduled Caste people, landless poor farmers’ in these areas, as against the booming economic prospects of nearby cities such as Erode, Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu), Palakkad, Kochi, Kozhikode (Kerala) and Mangalore (Karnataka)."

Kerala Police, for their part, have also got intelligence reports that the Maoists had been increasing their strength of their armed wing, the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA), in five Districts of Kerala. In a report submitted by the Kerala Police to the State Government in January 2019, it was said that Maoist cadres frequent around 74 tribal settlements in Kannur, Wayanad, Kozhikode rural, Malappuram and Palakkad, to propagate their ‘cause’. The report also said that gun-toting Maoists were taking 'classes' (running from 45 minutes to one hour) and indoctrinating the tribals with idea of government being against their interests.

Also, specifically in Wayanad, a few resorts have also quietly coughed up the money demanded by Maoists to avoid trouble. 

It is now widely believed that Maoists are even more dangerous as they’ve acquired weapons including AK-47 and have established a strong presence in the 'tri-junction'. 

The arrest of well-known Maoist Danish Krishna alias Dennis, a native of Coimbatore but operating in Palakkad district, and his subsequent interrogation confirmed that the Maoists are now fully well networked in the tribal areas. 

The problem for the law enforcers is that the Maoists either camouflage themselves as local tribes or operate through front organisations. A research analysis paper in Eurasia Review Journal and Think Tank says this: "According to a January 7, 2019 report, there are at least 16 Naxalites front organisations that double up as human rights organisations when there is any police or government action. Intelligence agencies also disclosed that there are around 80 Naxalites operating in the Western Ghats region, who frequently move across the borders of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu."

Old-timers in Kerala recall the attack by the Naxals in 1968, when they targeted the estates of landlords in Wayanad forests. The attacks were spearheaded by Kunnikal Narayanan. But the Maoists of today are far more lethal and diabolic than the Naxals who were crushed in the 1970s. "Today's left wing terrorists are not armed on the ground, but also well networked in the media, and know how to give a spin to their stories," says a top police official.
But the fact of the matter is that exploitation of tribals is a fact and cannot be overlooked. The need of the hour is a well-thought plan that not only quells the violence of Maoists but also safeguards the interests and ensures the well-being of tribals.

The Pinarayi Vijayan Government, which seems to have sat on the Home Ministry warnings, now needs to get its act together before the Maoists gain more strength and run riot.

India cannot afford a conflict at its southern borders, too.

(The views and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of MyNation)