A splinter group of alleged Maoists set ablaze a van belonging to a former gram panchayat member at Kuthlur village, on the fringes of the Kudremukh National Park, early on Saturday.
The group, comprising around 15 people, accused the gram panchayat member, who is an environmental activist, of “aiding the government in displacing the tribal people.”
The Maoists, all below the age of 30, knocked on the door of Ramachandra Bhat (42), the former gram panchayat member and currently working for the non-governmental organisation, Wild Cane, that seeks to rehabilitate villagers in the national park, and asked him to come out.
When he refused, they set fire to a shed and van parked there. They also set fire to a two-wheeler.
The police said the ‘Maoists’ did this in protest against what they termed as forcible eviction of tribals from the park area.
Prathap Reddy, Inspector-General of Police (Western Range) said Mr. Bhat was one of the activists who was trying to convince people in the national park area to accept the rehabilitation package of the State government.
Mr. Reddy said investigation was on to find out who was involved. “We have information on the group that has come here,” he said.
Anti-Naxal Force teams, led by Commander Seemant Kumar Singh, have started combing operations.
“They called out to me in Tulu and even identified themselves as naxalites,” Mr. Bhat told The Hindu at his residence.
“If we had opened the door, I don’t know what they would have done to us,” said Mr. Bhat’s wife Pramila.
The group left photocopies of handwritten pamphlets that spoke against the displacement and the government agencies, and even regional religious leaders. They shouted slogans against him and the government, the Forest Department and the police while leaving the place. Around 10 others joined them as they sprinted on the main road, said Mr. Bhat.
The group had also put up a banner of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) on the main road.
Mr. Bhat, who had never received any threat from Maoists before, said he only gave information about the government rehabilitation package. A woman, who was among the many Malekudiyas who arrived at the house on Saturday, said 16 out of the 37 houses in the hamlet had “voluntarily” given applications for rehabilitation through Mr. Bhat.