The killing of CPI (Maoist) central committee member Kuppu Devraj in an encounter with police in Kerala’s Malappuram district is a major loss to the rebels in south India, where they have been trying to gain ground. A native of Krishnagiri in Tamil Nadu, Devraj was in-charge of the tri-junction area of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu for over a decade. Operating south of Mangaluru in Karnataka, his movement was reported in areas bordering Ooty in Tamil Nadu and some districts of Kerala.
This is only the second instance in the past five years when a central committee member was killed in an encounter after Mallojula Koteshwara Rao alias Kishenji was killed in West Bengal.
Noting that “Devraj joined the People’s War Group around two decades ago and was later made secretary of the Karnataka region, replacing Cherukuri Rajkumar Azad”, a Maoist source told The Indian Express: “It is a major loss.” Azad, also a central committee member, was killed in an encounter in 2010.
This killing marks another success for Kerala Police, who earlier arrested five key rebels, including K Murlidharan or Ajith, chief of the CPI (ML) Naxalbari before it merged with CPI (Maoist), and Roopesh, president of the Western Ghat Special Zonal Committee of Maoists.
“He was the key man. He was trying to consolidate things in the southwest. After the arrest of Roopesh last year, there was a kind of retreat before they came back,” K Vijay Kumar, Senior Security Advisor — Left Wing Extremisn (LWE) — to the MHA, told The Indian Express.
“It was a good operation,” Kumar said, underlining that “there are still Maoists in the area like Vikram Gowda. We cannot say that (Maoists) have been erased”. Kumar noted that the districts of Kerala with Maoist presence are “Wayanad, Malappuram, Kannur and parts of Thrissur”. Thursday’s encounter took place in Nilambur forest of Mallapuram district. This forested zone of Kerala, Kumar said, is “denser than you encounter in LWE areas, barring Eastern Ghats in Koraput and Vizag and parts of Malkangiri”.
“It is close to Silent Valley. It is difficult for Maoists to survive here, and more difficult for counter-insurgency forces to go in and conduct operations,” he added. “Maoist operations in these areas are about expanding base, spreading propaganda and occasional attacks on forest staff. They are keeping the violence level low to build public support before they can militarise,” he said.