CPI (Maoist) sneaked into the Western Ghats about a decade-and-a-half-years ago, looking to start operations from the largely impregnable forest regions of the south. The party formed Western Ghats Special Zonal Committee(WGSZC) in 2012 to unify and step up activities in the tri-junction, the mountainous forest regions shared by Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Eight years on, the insurgent party that aimed to draw in support from the tribal settlements appears to be beating a retreat, unable to cope with the frequent police encounters and arrests of its leaders and cadres.

The party decided to form WGSZC at a meeting held in 2009 near Uduppi in Karnataka with an aim to scale up the party’s activities in the forest regions in the tri-junction. But the decision was effectively implemented only in 2012, by deploying members of its People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) in the region. In 2013, the presence of Maoists was reported for the first time in forest regions of Wayanad in Kerala.

In the initial stage, the Maoist activities in Wayanad, Malappuram and Palakkad districts were coordinated under Kabani Dalam (squad) which was formed based in Wayanad. The security forces had confirmed the presence of more than 40 members in the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) of the party, during the period.

Later in 2014, the party formed a second squad, ‘Nadukani Dalam’ in Meppadi of Wayanad, Eastern region of Malappuram, Mannarkkad, Silent Valley buffer zone area and a small portion of Attappadi in Palakkad district. But, it seems the organisation’s long-term strategies are failing in the region thanks to the frequent arrests of its senior leaders who were coordinating activities in the region and the police encounters in which many senior leaders were killed.

“Frequent encounters with police is a major indicator of the strategic failure of naxal groups. They are even not capable of rectifying their mistakes which led to past encounters and they are being forced to frequently face encounters with police in the region. The cadres are miserably failing to draw support from the tribal settlements as the government agencies which are implementing welfare projects for tribal people are active in the area,” a social activist in Nilambur said.

Maoists suffered a major setback in the tri-junction, when Maoist couple Roopesh and Shina (Kerala) Anoop, Kannan and Veeramani (Tamil nadu) were arrested in Tamil Nadu in May 2015. After 2013, more than 25 PLGA members have been arrested from various parts of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The arrests of the leaders and cadres give an edge to the security forces which seized weapons and collected details about the strategy of the naxal forces, through a detailed interrogation.

In a secret digital document, the central committee of CPI (Maoist) had blamed that Roopesh and Shina had miserably failed to maintain the secrecy of the party activities in Kerala and their individualism and disregard of security norms of the party was the reason for the debacle of the Maoist movements in Western Ghats zone.

Central committee had criticised that “most of the comrades in the region had been very loose in following the methods of secret practice” by specially mentioning Roopesh and Shaina, who were known in the name of Kariyan (K) and Priya (P) among Maoists. The report blames that K and P had shown thorough disregard for the security norms related to establishing camps and shelters inside forest and they had kept their two children in the camp though they were fully aware that the children were being monitored by the security agencies.

Bhagat Singh from Tamil Nadu had submitted himself to police in 2017 and another Tamil Nadu native Padma surrendered before police in 2018. Apart from these, many senior leaders of the party were killed in encounters with police in various locations in the tri-junction during the last four years. Death of a central committee member of the party Kuppu Devaraj and WGSZC member Ajitha in an encounter with police at Varayanmala near Edakkara in November 2016 was a major blow to the Naxalite movement in the region.

Aiming to overcome the crisis, the Maoist group had a plan to revive the activities in the tri-junction through a five-year long plan of winning the trust of people in forest border areas, especially the tribals. The politburo members and central committee members of the party Oggu Satwaji alias Sudhakar who surrendered in Andhra Pradesh, revealed to police that that central leadership of CPI (Maoist) was planning to launch five-year long programme in Kerala and a senior naxal leader was appointed to revive activities in the aftermath of death of senior leaders in Nilambur encounter. But the organisation failed to gain any foothold in the tribal area in Nilambur even after this.

The death of Kerala Maoist leader C P Jaleel in a police encounter at Upavan resort in Vythiri in March 2019 was another blow to WGSZC . In October 2019, senior leaders of the party Mani Vasagam, Karthik, Aravind and Rama from Tamil Nadu were killed in a police encounter in Manchakkandi, near Agali, Palakkad.

The incident had badly affected the functioning of Bhavani Dalam, which was formed based in Attappadi region of Palakkad, forcing the party to rearrange the Bhavani Dalam after this incident. They had scaled up recruitment from Tamil Nadu as part of strengthening Bhavani Dalam. The group was also planning to redeploy its selected cadres from Nadukani Dalam, Kabani Dalam and Banasura Dalam to Bhavani dalam aiming for an immediate revival. But, giving another jolt to the party in the tri-junction, party worker Velmurukan from Tamil Nadu was also killed in a police encounter near Meenmutti in Wayanad district on November 4.

Sources of anti-naxal squad of police said that the activities are now slow under three Dalams of WGSZC as the naxal group is groping in dark to design an effective strategy for the region. “ The decline of power of the party in the region started right from 2015 itself, after the arrest of Roopesh and Shyna from Tamil Nadu, which was a crucial move from the part of security forces.

Surrender or arrest of leaders can give a major blow to party activities, as security forces can get many crucial details about the party’s long-term strategies and plans in the region from the arrested or surrendered persons. It would help police to design proper counter measures to curtail growth of armed groups in the areas,” said a source on condition of anonymity .