Parents of Velmurugan Ayyanar knew their son, a second year student of the government law college in Madurai, was attracted towards left ideologies and was an integral part of protests in the college — nothing more than a youth involved in active student politics.
So it came as a rude shock to his father Ayyanar when residents of his village, 90km from Madurai near Periyakulam in Theni district, told him his son was taking arms training with a dozen others in the nearby forests. As police rounded up the group, Velmurugan and two others were arrested. This was in 2007. Thirteen years later, the family is shattered as news reached that Velmurugan was gunned down in Wayanad forest by the anti-Naxal wing of the Kerala police. More than the shock of the violent end his son met, what remains is the mystery why Velmurugan chose this path.
Families of other slain Maoists like Karthik from Pudukottai or Ajitha from Kanyakumari are also unable to figure out the reason for taking up armed struggle. Like Velmurugan, Ajitha was also a law student in Madurai, but discontinued her studies. Ajitha’s mother Sornam from Alagappapuram in Kanyakumari says she was like any other child. She did her undergraduate in Nagercoil and later joined a law college in Madurai. Sornam, a daily wager, was clueless what transpired at the college. “In 2014, Ajitha telephoned to say she had discontinued college. I asked her to return home, but she refused and an argument broke out between us. That was the last time she spoke to me,’’ says Sornam.
Ajitha, along with Karthik, Manivasagam and Aravind from Tamil Nadu, were killed in 2019 in the Agali forests. Manivasagam, whose wife, sister and son are behind bars for more than two years for alleged Maoist activities, was another bright mind. A BSc in zoology and MA in English literature, the Salem man was attracted to radical ideologies in his student days in the 1980s. Wanted in several cases in Tamil Nadu including the Uthangarai bomb blasts, he used to operate in Krishnagiri before going into the forests of Kerala.
For a state that boasts of several welfare measures, targeting the tribal and poor population, it’s surprising to see the number of people in the Maoist rank and file. “In the past three years, seven of eight people killed in encounters in Kerala, were from Tamil Nadu,’’ says S Balamurugan, national council member of People’s Union for Civil Liberties. He says the socioeconomic conditions are not as bad in Tamil Nadu or Kerala as in central India. “It is the political ideology that attracts people to join Maoist struggle,” he says.
Seeds of the Naxal movement in Tamil Nadu were sown in the 1960s by communist leaders like Arputhasamy alias Appu and trade union activists like Kannan Kutty. In the 1980s there was a resurgence of armed struggle in the form of Tamil Nadu Liberation Army (TNLA), which wanted a separate Tamil nation and was inspired by LTTE’s armed struggle. TNLA leaders were killed and the movement eventually faded out.
Maoist P A Shyna, arrested along with husband Roopesh in Coimbatore in 2015 on charges of attempting to indoctrinate people, feels encounters are to divert attention of people from corruption charges. She says it is not indicative of the growing cadre base of Maoists from TN.
“There are a considerable number of people in Tamil Nadu in the Maoist movement. But I don’t think people from any one state are in large numbers in the Maoist movement,’’ she says.
Dindigul range DIG M S Muthusamy says the incident of A Velmurugan getting influenced by radical ideology was an aberration. There is no influence of radical ideology among people living in the hills in Dindigul or Theni. Velmurugan’s family, in fact, were not happy with what he turned out to be, he says.
Theni superintendent of police E Sai Charan Tejaswi says they are working on a two-pronged strategy to prevent people from getting swayed by Maoist ideology. “Police and anti-Naxal squads have been reaching out to tribals and solving their grievances and needs like ration and electricity. Help for higher studies is also being provided through district administration,” he says. At the same time, front organisations that indoctrinate people are kept under check.
Police as well as Maoist sympathisers say the number of people attracted towards the Naxal movement has dropped in TN. “The situation is not conducive for armed struggle. Their influence is shrinking,’’ says writer S V Rajadurai, who takes a sympathetic view of Maoist movement. “It is difficult to survive in the Western Ghats. Also the tribal population is just 1% in TN. So they cannot replicate the central India model here,’’ he says. However, Maoists are trapped in a vicious circle, they cannot return to the mainstream as there is no effective surrender policy and at the same time they cannot hide for a long time. “Mao says the first task is to survive. But circumstances for armed fighters to survive is bleak. Their deaths have become an unnecessary sacrifice. Armed revolution is a thing of the past,” says Rajadurai.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.