CHIEF MINISTER Jayalalithaa told the Standing Committee of Chief Ministers of naxalite-affected States in New Delhi on September 19 that Tamil Nadu had been free from naxalite violence in the past three years. There is no reason to disbelieve her statement. There have been no reports of any naxalite activity in the vulnerable regions, particularly in the Dharmapuri-Krishnagiri belt.
Although the State has not witnessed any major naxalite attack since the 1980s when the government launched a massive offensive against the extremists, sporadic incidents were reported in the border districts when outlawed groups sneaked into the forests when under pressure in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Apparently anticipating such forays, the State government announced a ban on the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
The most recent incident of violence in Tamil Nadu involving naxalites was the death of Siva alias Parthiban, described as the "State secretary" of the Radical Youth League, in an "encounter" on November 24, 2002, in the Uthangarai forests of Dharmapuri district. The police claimed that five of their men were injured in the "operation". Human rights activists disputed the claim and recalled that Siva was a key witness in a case relating to the death of a telecommunication engineer, K. Ravinder, also in an "encounter with naxalites" three years earlier at Perungattupallam village in Dharmapuri district. The 25 persons arrested after the "encounter" reportedly included the "chief" of the People's War in Tamil Nadu, Duraisingavelu of Chennai. Five of those detained were women, three of them siblings. The crackdown on Left extremists began when an arms training programme for about 40 persons was to commence in the Uthangarai forests. Earlier, in May 2002, a panchayat union chairman was allegedly done to death by persons belonging to a Maoist organisation and another extremist group.
The activists involved in the Uthangarai incident and their associates are said to be either in prison or rendered inactive because of continued police repression. Three companies of the Tamil Nadu Special Police have been deployed in the region. Besides, after the killing of the forest brigand Veerappan in 2004, two teams of the Special Task Force (STF) assigned to capture him have been tasked to gather information on extremists in Dharmapuri, Krishnagiri, Tiruvallur and Vellore districts.
At the Delhi meeting, while stressing the need for proactive steps to wean people away from any possible influence of naxalites, Jayalalithaa said poverty, rural indebtedness, unemployment, inequitable growth and exploitation formed the breeding ground for naxalites. In Dharmapuri district all these factors manifest themselves. The State government has adopted the "twin-track policy" of tackling the security threat and simultaneously implementing development programmes.
In a significant move, the STF teams have been asked to undertake development work by collecting "information on the needs of the people". Also, the Inspector-General of Police, Intelligence, has been named the nodal officer for coordinating the programme. But it is doubtful if these efforts will be enough to tackle the complicated problems relating to child labour, infant mortality and malnutrition among children, poor earnings of rural households, land redistribution and unemployment.
The CPI (M-L) Liberation has a significant presence in the State. Its trade union wing, the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), which claims a membership of three lakh workers, has been concentrating on unorganised workers. Party sources said that apart from addressing the factors that bred extremism, specific problems faced by the Scheduled Tribes should be attended to. The SOC (CPI-ML) group, also a party with significant influence and a naxalite past, has been involved in struggles against the policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, which it calls "recolonisation", and Hindutva politics, which it terms "Brahminical Hindu fascism". Condemning the killing of innocent people by Maoist groups, some sources in the party said that such actions would only harm the efforts to mobilise people in favour of changing the social order. It wants the people to be made aware of the "bankruptcy of the present social system". "The problem should be seen neither as a law and order problem, nor as a socio-economic problem. This has to be seen as a systemic failure. And Maoists do not seem to have understood this fact," a party leader observed.