Nilambur encounter revives alternative narrative of Maoists in Kerala

The killing of two top leaders of CPI (Maoist) on November 24, in an encounter with Thunderbolts, the anti-Maoist division of the Kerala Police in Nilambur region, has sparked an uproar in the liberal circles of the state

Over two months after the nation mourned Uri martyrs, a section of Kerala is mourning another type of ‘martyrs’. The killing of two top leaders of CPI (Maoist) on November 24, in an encounter with Thunderbolts, the anti-Maoist division of the Kerala Police in Nilambur region, has sparked an uproar in the liberal circles of the state.

Supporters and enthusiasts of Naxal and Maoist movements in Kerala are portraying the slain as martyrs of the liberation war against the State apparatus.

Kerala, the state known for upholding values of a liberal democracy even at difficult times, has an alternative narrative about ‘martyrs’.

The slain Maoists were identified as Kuppuswamy Devaraj (65), a central committee member of the outlawed outfit CPI(Maoist), and Ajitha (45).

Reports of 26 bullets being recovered from the bodies of the dead Maoists and forensic findings of a close range firing suggest a case of the encounter being fake.

Police claimed the Maoists fired at a patrolling vehicle without any provocation. However, the presence of over 60 personnel at the site hint that the move was not spontaneous, but planned.

Only a small revolver being recovered from the site strengthens the claims of a fake encounter.

The relatives of the slain Maoists and human rights activists have refused to accept the bodies, seeking a probe.

Following the uproar, the Kerala government has ordered a Crime Branch inquiry into the killing, asking the Perinthamanna sub-collector to submit a final investigative report.

A state which has a history of strong Communist movements, Kerala saw Naxalite uprising in the late 1960s.

The rebellion, led by Charu Majumdar, Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal in 1967, forming Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) in Naxalbari village of West Bengal had its own reflections in the state.

Similar types of small armed uprisings were reported from Wayanad, Kannur and Kozhikode districts.

Later on, the movement lost its steam and got dissolved. Historians put it as a series of isolated events of armed violence other than the great storm of revolutionary struggle.

When the CPI (Maoist) was formed in 2004, Left extremists suddenly found themselves in the middle of an important discourse. Partly because of the failure of the mainstream Left politics and the romanticism involved, many in Kerala immediately moved toward the new party.

Around this time, a massive crackdown on Maoists was going on. A lot of people suspected of having links with them came under the scanner, were questioned and incarcerated.

Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba, Human Rights activist Binayak Sen and many activists from Kerala were put in jail under the infamous Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. They underwent brutal tortures and punishments while being in prison.

The inhuman treatment the Left extremists received in prison led more people to side with them. Many Maoist sympathisers used social media platforms for the propagation of their ideas and ideologies. Kerala, with a strong background of Left movements and high number of users in social media, saw an exponential growth in the Maoist support base.

Sources say that public platforms like film festivals, debates and civil society movements became the main spaces where these rebels get together.

The 2014 Kiss of Love protest and 2015 Amanava Sangamam (meeting of people) allegedly had involvements from Maoist enthusiasts, which made the security forces to be on vigil.

The Nilambur encounter has put the current Left regime and its supporters in a defensive mode.

The mainstream Left parties had campaigned against the recent encounter killings in Bhopal, Gujarat and Rajasthan under the BJP rule and Kerala Chief  Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has been a staunch critic of the Modi government and his policies.

The recent killing of two Maoist leaders under the government of Kerala comes as a trigger for these Maoist sympathetic elements to heat up their campaign to gain support.

Of course, the human rights violation involved in the incident has to be probed, but the glorification of it is something that has to be opposed.