A Maoist activist was shot dead by police while he and a gang member were allegedly trying to extort money from a resort in Wayanad district of Kerala on Wednesday night.
A brief exchange of fire occurred at Upavan resort at Lakkidi, a hilltop stopover along the busy Kozhikode-Bengaluru highway, police said.
The deceased was identified as C P Jaleel (30), from Pandikkad in Malappuram district. Guests at the resort were unhurt.
Although north Kerala districts of Malappuram, Palakkad, Wayanad, Kozhikode and Kannur had reported frequent forays of Maoist gangs into tribal colonies and houses close to forests in the last couple of years, this is the first reported incident of armed Maoists in a public place.
In November 2016, two Maoists were killed in a police encounter, but that was in the dense forest of Nilambur in Malappuram district. Since then, Maoist presence in north Kerala had come down significantly. The gangs again began appearing in the villages in recent months.
DGP Lokanath Behera told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram that Crime Branch police and magisterial-level investigations would be conducted into Wednesday’s incident as per Supreme Court guidelines.
The DGP said that an armed gang reached the resort and tried to extort money and food. When they saw the police, the gang fired at them, and one of the Maoists died in the subsequent firing.
Behera said the police had recently noticed Maoists putting up posters in villages, exhorting people towards armed struggle and threatening tribals. They drew up an action plan, Operation Anaconda, since December, and were conducting search operations in Malappuram, Kozhikode, Wayanad and Kannur districts. Security has been strengthened, the DGP said.
A senior police officer involved in Wednesday’s operation alleged that Maoists had gained confidence to strike in public places. “This incident shows that Maoists used to extort money from resorts in interiors and near forests.”
He said that CCTV visuals showed that the gang entered the resort at 7.26 pm. “They were there till 8.54 pm. That shows this may not be their first attempt,” the officer said.
He alleged that the gang demanded Rs 10,000, but the staff could arrange Rs 5,000. When the gang insisted, one staffer was sent to withdraw money from an ATM. It was then that the police were alerted, the officer said.
“When police reached, the gang fired at their jeep. As police returned fire, one of them (Jaleel) was killed. He had a country-made gun and the other (who escaped) had an AK-47,’’ he alleged. The police searched the forest but found nothing.
Anti-Maoist squads have been camping in the region for several months following the reported presence of small armed gangs at tribal colonies. A month ago, a gang took out a march through a road at Kottiyoor in Kannur district. A three-member gang visited a tribal colony at Lakkidi twice this year, last on Monday.
At the colony near the resort, a tribal youth, K Shambu (42), said, “They came in the night, and tried to convince us they were working for tribal welfare. They asked me to join their gang, but I refused.”
Leela, 56, a woman at the colony, said the gang had once taken food with them and demanded rice. “When they demand rice, how can we deny it? They haven’t harmed us, and behave cordially,” she said, adding that the gang insisted they switch off mobile phones until they left the colony.