When Kabani turns red again

The narratives of the police and the 'revolutionaries' were running homologous in Kerala but now there are two bullet-ridden bodies to negotiate between them

When Kabani turns red again

In March 2012, I had a colloquy with a Maoist leader who is now doing his time in the prison as an undertrial for alleged 'unlawful activities'.

Unlike the stereotypes created by the media and the 'revolutionaries' themselves, the meeting was at no jungle hideout, but in the heart of the city. He did not wear any olive green or camouflage military attire, but a jeans and T shirt. He came driving a car and met us near a populous park in the city. Some thing stood 'by the book' in the meeting that he used a pseudonym to reach us.

What he wanted at that time was media coverage for their to-be-launched 'next level struggle'.

They were about to start the next phase of their campaign in the Western Ghats region and wanted to get an interview published in some national media.

He had given me a handout being circulated among the central committee members (CCMs) of the outfit, which emphasised on the necessity of armed struggle and the establishment of revolutionary people's committees for the development of class war.

Even though my partner was planning to write a series of reports on the Far Left movement that time, the interview never materialised.

The word 'armed struggle' rang many bells and I had been wary of things to come by. But to my consolation, nothing, except some reported 'sighting of armed Maoists in some tribal colonies', happened for a long period.

Thunder bolt commandos during a combing operation in Wayanad

[caption id="attachment_331450" align="aligncenter" width="550"]Thunder bolt commandos during a combing operation in Wayanad Thunderbolt commandos during a combing operation in Wayanad[/caption]

During this period, the Maoists were busy visiting tribal colonies, organising small meetings and collecting rice and groceries from colony natives.

The police had all these information but were at least an hour or two behind the ultras.They fed the reporters with plenty of inputs, which were developed into imaginative stories. All of these stories followed a pattern.

A few men and women in military attire turning up at tribal hamlets, spend some time talking to villagers about the plight they face under an oppressive government and at times instigating them to fight against the state.Then, they collect some rice and groceries from the villagers and slip back into the forests.

Hours later, police teams would march in and raid villages for ‘Maoists’. The next day, media reports would say quoting the police that the “gang that visited the colony included Maoists who are on BOLO (Be on Lookout)”.

Many of the political commentators rubbished these stories as planted by the forces and accused the media for swallowing it without a pinch of salt. Some of them even stated that it was when the government goes into some kind of trouble that Maoists surface in colonies with guns.

The interesting fact is that though Maoists were critical about the sensational nature of the media reports, they did not challenge the narrative at all, instead validated the police version through their publications. Romanticised counter versions of the police stories -which run almost parallel - were published by the revolutionaries themselves.

Here is a sample from a pro-Maoist blog post believed to be maintained by one of the top brass of the Western Ghat special zone committee of the outfit:

People were excited after seeing the women comrades of Kabani squad in their olive green outfit and with their long rifles. After becoming close, the main query was about the life inside the forest, particularly in the rainy season, in an area full of blood thirsty leeches, locally known as “attas”, and elephants. Com. Rajan with his naughty laugh would explain them that the leeches and elephants are part of our militia. The locals take initiative to feed the squad with whatever food they have. Com. Akash, a pakka urbanite, always was apprehensive whenever people gave kappa (tapioca) and bitter gourd as he is unfamiliar with these things. Com. Kavitha, with all her dynamism, soon becomes a pet of people in the whole area. Com. Jenny is very popular in the whole Tri-junction due to her heroic past. She resembles a medieval Mongolian woman warrior jumped into the present world, with a modern assault rifle instead of her horse and sword. Com. Anu, with her rich political and organizational experience, helps the squad to connect with the people. Com. Varghese with his political and military capacity is the backbone of the Kabani squad. Com. Manoj’s expertise in the guerrilla warfare, grip over the terrain and the alertness makes himself an effective combatant. All these comrades became dear and near to the ordinary people in the area'

Even though it may be read as a counter narrative, this blog post validates the police version of Maoist squad threatening the local tribes from the other side of the story, which was uncharacteristic of the erstwhile Naxalite movement.

[caption id="attachment_331453" align="aligncenter" width="600"]posters
Posters put up by Maoists on the wall of a Forest office[/caption]

Not only the colony visits, but also the 'actions' were owned up by the outfit. When the quarry-crusher unit was attacked in Kannur district, Mandakini, who claimed to be the spokesperson of CPI (Maoist) border area committee that leads the Kabani squad, owned the responsibility of the action.

In the statement, it gave a call 'to reject Kasturirangan report and to expose the limitations of Gadgil report'.

It went on reiterating that only through class struggle and the establishment of Revolutionary People’s Committees, the protection of Western Ghats can be materialised and the problems of the toiling masses can be resolved. Similarly, the shootout between Thunderbolt commandos and ultras at Kunjom in Wayanad district also was authenticated by them.

One of the handouts claimed that they met face to face with the Thunderbolt within a short distance of 30 mat Kombara Kurichia colony and the squad retreated from there to avoid any civilian casualty. They added that the commandos continued to fire in the air to gain a psychological impact for a long time.

'PLGA guerrillas and a team of Kerala Police exchanged fire near Kadukummana village near Mukkali in the forests of Silent Valley in Palakkad district of Keralam on 17 October. 30 personnel of Kerala Police including its anti-Maoist commando force Thunderbolts were carrying out a search operation when they were fired upon by the Maoists. There was no casualty on either side' reports Maoist information bulletin (
MIB-32 July-December 2015

They are regular in bringing out the publication Kattuthee (Wild fire) in Malayalam, through which they broke the news of the 'accidental death' of Sinoj aka Rajan, who was in charge of political wing of the Kabani squad, during the making of a bomb in the deep forest.

It was in early 2015 that the Maoist movement in Tri Junction found a mention in their mouthpiece People's March,
which was then edited by Murali Kannambilli aka Ajith, who is in a Pune jail now. It has been widely believed that the organisation was planning to make it big in this area.  The ultras were operating under three different squads - Kabani, based in Wayanad, Kozhikode and Kannur districts of Kerala; Nadukani in Nilambur, Nanchanguda and Kudagu areas; and Bhavani towards the Silent valley forest area, until they got merged in 2014.

According to People's March, Kabani was the first armed squad to be formed in Kerala, aiming to develop the state as a guerrilla zone.The task of these squads was cut out to take the movement into the next higher level of armed struggle. Kuppuswamy aka Kuppu Devaraj, who was the only central committee member from this area, commanded the armed squad.

[caption id="attachment_331456" align="aligncenter" width="600"]kattu
'Kattuthee', featuring the news of the 'accidental death' of Sinoj aka Rajan, who was in charge of political wing of the Kabani squad, during the making of a bomb in the deep forest.[/caption]

Vikam Gowda, and Sundari were next to him for the last 18 months or so. According to some party documents available, they were expecting the Nilambur model assault from the state at any time.

"Everybody in the squad knows that once armed struggle starts, it means everything will be decided through the development of armed struggle. The key question is who is going to take and maintain the military initiative. As part of the multi-pronged approach, the enemy has been preparing different tactics, including the large deployment of special commando forces and building up of fortified camps and informer network. The squad is trying to win over the oppressed masses and to consolidate them into people’s militia, mass organisations, trying to build basic party structures and carryout a recruitment drive for the PLGA," said a document titled Social Conditions and Tactics in Tri Junction.

Till this point, they have played well in maintaining a narrative that runs parallel to the police version of events. Now the parallels have ceased to exist, the paths have been crossed, bullets fired and bloodshed. With the state machinery striking with deadly blows, the ultras are left with no other option but to retreat.