Ideas and Bullets : The Maoists in Kerala


On Tuesday, the 29th of October 2019, local as well as the national level Indian media reported that the police of the southernmost state of Kerala have either injured or eliminated three suspected Maoists in a gun battle. The elite commando force ‘Thunderbolt’ carried out the operations in the Agali forests in Kerala’s Palakkad district in the morning of Monday, 28th October.

There has been an increased activity of Maoists in the Attappadi forest region in the Palakkad district – an area close to the tri-junction of the three southern states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala [may see the map below. Courtesy: google maps]

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Who are the Thunderbolts?

Carrying a motto of being ‘Swift, Strong and Secure’ and with a strength of about 2 companies of commandoes, the Thunderbolts is adept in Jungle-warfare, counter-terrorism and counter insurgency.  The force has its headquarters at Thrissur in Kerala. The personnel undergo rigorous training so as to engage the enemy in air, water and land.

Earlier in 2013 and 2014, the Thunderbolts had successfully negotiated the Maoists in Malappuram, Kannur and Wayanad districts of Kerala.


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As an interesting matter of fact, a proposal to set up Kerala’s first tribal ‘taluka’[an administrative unit] comprising the 745 sq km of the Attappady hills in Palakkad district has not materialsed yet. The Attappady hills, being part of the Nilgiris biosphere reserve, was once known for its rich biodiversity. However, the migration of farmers and deforestation has affected the ecosystem.

The 745 sq km stretch has been generally inhabited by three tribal clans — the Kurumbas, the Mudugas, and the Irulas.


It is worth noting that the Maoists are attempting to push into northern Kerala for some time now. In November and December 2014, a number of incidents in Palakkad and Wayanad districts indicated Maoist presence. In May 2015, at a bakery in a village near Coimbatore, two key strategists for the left-wing extremists were nabbed by the police. 

Wayanad has the highest number of tribals in Kerala, followed by the Idukki and Palakkad districts. The region of Maoist concentration in Kerala is inhabited by approximately fifty adivasi tribes engaged in agriculture and herding. Quite expectedly, the Maoists have chosen their area of expansion in place that has large concentrations of agricultural and plantation workers – spanning both adivasis and dalits.

Historically, the Maoists have attempted to gain strength and credence from the proud history of fierce resistance to British colonialism by the Kurichya adivasis during the late 18th and early 19th century in the Wayanad area. Wayanad was also one of the main areas of revolutionary struggles in Kerala during the armed peasant rebellion of Naxalbari of the late 1960s.


The upshot of the whole discourse could be summarized as follows:

  1. The Maoists are continuing their efforts to establish an alternative guerilla base, their Plan-B in case the Bastar-Dantewada zone collapses.
  2. The left-wing extremists have naturally chosen a tribal populated, thickly forested zone as the attempted guerilla base.
  3. The attempts by the ultras to establish a base have been going on for the last six to seven years. Their efforts are unlikely to fade away in the coming future. In fact, the attempts are likely to increase in the possible scenario of further pressure on the ultras in the Dandakaranya region by the security and the way the insurgents are being pruned in other regions.


Michel Foucault has put forward his thesis of post-modernism, as an anti-thesis to Marxian theory of social revolution. Foucault, like other post-modernists Derrida and Lyotard, believes that a grand-revolution espousing a meta-narrative is not the order of the day. The Indian Maoists at the other end however, continue to cling on to their belief of unfolding a New Democratic Revolution through a proletariat uprising by toppling the bourgeoisie parliamentarian democracy; though their Nepalese counterparts found it pragmatic enough to get absorbed in the electoral politics.

The war of ideas goes on in the intellectual space. As a consequence, the war of bullets does not end. Kerala is the new battleground.



The article has been penned by Dr Uddipan Mukherjee, IOFS, Jt Director to the Govt of India, Ministry of Defence, at the Ordnance Factory Board. Opinion expressed if any, is solely that of the author.

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Author: Dr. Uddipan Mukherjee