Exchange of fire between ANF and suspected Maoists has spread fear in taluk

The exchange of fire between the Anti-Naxal Force and suspected Maoists on Friday morning has spread fear in Sakleshpur taluk.

This is the first time that such an incident was reported in Hassan district, which was known to be out of Maoist influence.

A six-member team of Maoists, including a woman, visited Kinkeri-Balehalla and had food at Lokesh Gowda’s house.

Later, they borrowed 20 kg rice from another person in the village.

It is said that the Maoists offered to pay for the rice, which was recovered by the ANF, but the person refused to take money.

The ANF has intensified combing in the dense forests of Sakleshpur taluk, and ANF commander Alok Kumar visited Sakleshpur on Saturday.

Farmers who had restricted their outdoor activities owing to the elephant menace have now become more rattled by the exchange of fire.

Zilla panchayat member B.N. Ramachandra (Byramudi Chandru), who represents Yeslur, told The Hindu that people in his constituency have been gripped by fear.

“They are sharing their fears with me. All these days they feared the elephants, and the exchange of fire has only heightened them. Many of them had already given up agriculture because of the elephant menace. They fear getting caught in the crossfire of the battle between the ANF and Maoists,” he said.

The former Sakleshpur MLA H.M. Vishwanath, while speaking to presspersons in Hassan on Saturday, said his worst fears had come true.

He said that for the past many years he had been trying to draw the State government’s attention to the movement of Maoists in the taluk.

“The root cause for these developments is the projects in the Western Ghats; they have been proposed despite opposition from the local people. The State government proposed a hydropower project at Gundia, and now there is talk of the Yettinahole project. Besides, people have become fed up with elephant attacks. All these issues are responsible for creating an interest in naxal ideology,” he said.

Mr. Vishwanath said he had spoken to Mr. Lokesh Gowda’s wife when the Maoists were in the house. “I asked Meenakshi [Mr. Lokesh Gowda’s wife to give the phone to one of them, but she told me they were not willing to talk to me,” Mr. Vishwanath said, adding that people in the villages affected by repeated elephant attacks and those upset by the proposed projects had lost faith and confidence in people’s representatives.

“There are chances of the youth in these villages getting attracted to naxal ideology and joining the armed struggle,” he cautioned.

The former MLA sought to link the movement of Maoists in Sakleshpur to the failure of farmers’ movement, which was once strong in the region.

“Had the farmers’ movement been strong and successful, Maoists would have had no reason to come to this region. I suspect that intellectuals, sympathetic to the Maoist ideology, took part in anti-power project protests and in seminars and contributed to the spread of the movement in this area,” he said.

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