Stephen David Bangalore, November 19, 2008
The Western Ghats are one of the world's hottest biodiversity spots. In Karnataka, though, they are one of the most well-trenched lairs of Naxalites, three of whom were shot dead in a three-hour gun battle ending around 4 am Wednesday morning.
The Anti-Naxal Force (ANF), a separate force to stamp out Naxal presence in the state, zeroed in on the separatists in the Mavinhalla forests near the coffee-rich Chikmagalur district in the Western Ghats region.
ANF, which lost 28-year-old police official Guruprasad in the crossfire, has been combing the forests to look for a few more Naxals who escaped from the battle scene, including a woman Naxal who the police believe is Kanya Kumari.
Inspector General of Police (Mangalore) Asit Mohan Prasad's team confiscated a sten-gun and two country-made pistols from the spot. Guruprasad, who was single and hailed from warrior-strong Kodagu district that gave India its first commander-in-chief Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa among other defence stars, had also fought against Veerappan with the STF in his nine-year-long association with the police.
Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa has called for a Cabinet meeting to strategise an operation to stamp out Naxals in the state and will take cues from the way forest brigand Koose Muniswamy Veerappan and his associates were eliminated in the jungles near Dharmapuri along the state border in October 2004 by the Special Task Force, the forerunner to the ANF.
Mysore's Saketh Rajan, an Indian Institute of Mass Communication-trained writer who embraced the ideals of Peoples War Group in Andhra Pradesh before setting up base in his home state Karnataka, was the first major Naxalite killed by police in Menasinahadya forests in Chikamagalur three years ago in February 2005.
Naxals come from a small West Bengal village Naxalbari, where a section of Communist Party of India (Marxist) workers led by Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal led a violent uprising in 1967, trying to develop a "revolutionary opposition" in opposition to the CPI(M) leadership. The insurrection started on May 25, 1967 in Naxalbari when hired hands attacked farmers over a land dispute. The peasants attacked the landlords and violence escalated. Majumdar, an admirer of China's Mao Zedong, preached that Indian peasants and the depressed sections must fight to overthrow the alleged perpetrators, the government and upper classes.
Veerappan used to operate along the Karnataka border with Tamil Nadu but after his elimination the police force began bracing up to battle the challenges from the members of the growing Naxal movement.
Most of the casualties from 2007 onwards - eight dead this year, including six people police claim were Naxals shot dead in July 2007 in the same Chikmagalur district and one policeman and a civilian - are far less than the numbers thrown up for say Chhattisgarh (208 dead, including 123 policemen) and Andhra Pradesh (59 dead) as of last year.
The Naxal movement has been quite strong in the three districts of Chikmagalur, known for its coffee plantations, Sringeri, home to one of the biggest Hindu temples, and Kudremukh, which housed one of the biggest iron ore mines now ordered closed by the Supreme Court over environmental concerns. Supporters of the Naxal movement say that the police have been indiscriminately killing intellectuals who are fighting for the tribal and adivasis.
Former Karnataka-cadre IAS officer Chiranjeev Singh, who studied the Naxal-infested districts, gave a report to the government asking it to spend more money on developmental projects in the region and create jobs for the youth. The state government had earmarked Rs 3 crore each for the three Naxal-infested districts of the state.