Lok Sabha Election 2019: People brave Maoist threat, hilly terrain to vote in Wayanad

The Kerala police had listed 162 locations scattered over seven Assembly segments in Wayanad, Kozhikode and Malappuram districts as prone to the threat from Maoists.

April 23, 2019 01:04 pm | Updated 01:08 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

A group of voters beloning to a particularly vulnerable tribal group of Aranamala Kattunayakka settlement in Wayanad district after casting their votes on Tuesday, April 23, 2019

A group of voters beloning to a particularly vulnerable tribal group of Aranamala Kattunayakka settlement in Wayanad district after casting their votes on Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Despite the threat of disruptive Maoist activity and difficulties posed by a rugged terrain marked by switchbacks of hills and forests, voters turned out in large numbers in Wayanad.

The Lok Sabha constituency shot into national prominence following the candidature of Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

According to an Election Commission of India update at 11.40 a.m., Wayanad cast 23.68% of its total votes. Unofficial figures put the figure at 28%.

The Kerala police had listed 162 locations scattered over seven Assembly segments in Wayanad, Kozhikode and Malappuram districts as prone to the threat from Maoists.

Security cranked up

The police had cranked up protection for Lok Sabha candidates and briefed them about the unpredictability of Maoist actions and provided them with armed bodyguards and trained police drivers.

The police also brought their election camp offices under security cover, stepped up counter surveillance, initiated area domination exercises and sent special forces into adjoining forests on long-range patrols to deter and interdict the armed irregulars.

National leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, had toured the constituency cocooned in tight security and their itinerary pointedly avoided remote places reckoned Maoist hotspots.

The State law enforcement had fortified four police stations — Kondanadu, Thalapura, Thirunelli and Vellamunda — in Wayanad with sand-bagged machine gun posts and watchtowers as part of their aggressive anti-Maoist drive in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Maoist threat

They had also singled out sensitive polling booths vulnerable to Maoist disruption using a predicability calculus based on past Naxalite activity.

A senior official said the police intelligence had predicted that armed Maoists could use the presence of Mr Gandhi to commandeer outsize propaganda value for their cause by staging a token action, which could be theatrical in nature.

He said the Maoists had a potentially disruptive but minimal presence in Wayanad and the armed irregulars, numbering around 20, were always on the move in the vast swath of dense forests contiguous to Kerala, Karnataka and TN.

Since November, Maoists have made at least 22 appearances in Wayanad district, according to police.

They had appeared seemingly out-of-the-blue at tribal colonies and population centres abutting dense forests often between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. They bore arms, a mix of assault rifles and country made smooth bore weapons, and distributed pamphlets urging the boycott of elections in a bid to make a political statement, police said.

One such surfacing of an armed group at a jungle resort in Vythiri had resulted in a shoot-out with the police in which a suspected Maoist was killed on March 7.

Investigators also said two Naxalite units, presumably Nadukani and Kabani, were active in Wayanad and they numbered around twenty together. In Wayanad, the units had progressed from mere propaganda and theatrical comings and goings to active recruitment of tribal youth to their cause, a development that worried the police in the run-up to the elections, they added.

A top official said the overt the deployment of armed police and paramilitary units in Wayanad had possibly dissuaded the groups temporarily from undertaking any political activity. Officials said with Karnataka also intensifying anti-Maoist operations as part of the second phase of the Lok Sabha elections; the groups could have sought refuge in forests contiguous with neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

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