The Kerala police, on Wednesday, unveiled their latest addition to their Thunderbolts fleet — an elite commando force formed to deal with terrorist and counterinsurgency operations. Additional DGP of Kerala police Manoj Abraham has unveiled the Medium Level Armoured Troop Carrier on his Facebook page and announced that the Kerala Thunderbolts — who also specialises in anti-Maoist tactics — will be using it for their various operations. The ten-seat carrier is capable of withstanding SLR shots and the bottom can take up to two high-explosive grenades. The pertinent question is whether all of this is necessary.
Left-Wing Extremism has been a significant problem to the Centre as well many state governments, posing serious questions of security issues. While the issue has been addressed with proper paramilitary and police response, the situation continues in many states. The problem however is centred in states such as Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana. LWE is present in other states as well, but not as severe.
This is where it gets interesting. Kerala has a recorded history of Maoism as well — backed by the Communist Party of India (Maoist) as in most states. However, unlike in others, the Kerala version of the Maoists have been mostly philosophical and about awareness campaigns rather than a violent approach common in Jharkhand or Bihar. Even still, the Kerala police have been known to engage in a “firefight” with the Maoists, with many activists and opposition parties calling them fake encounters.
To simplify the matter, since 2016, eight Maoists were killed and all of them have been under questionable circumstances. Moreover, any act of dissent was welcomed but the LDF government with a UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) case. The police fight against Maoists has been anything but difficult — some experts have even called the police action excessive since many of those killed had expressed interest in surrendering. States like Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have seen attacks despite the LWE decreasing since 2007. Recently, 10 CRPF soldiers were injured and one died following an IED blast in Chhattisgarh. Considering this, Kerala has it better than most.
Moreover, this isn’t the first addition to the Thunderbolts in the past few years. In last year, the Kerala police, under the suspicion that several districts have Maoist presence, decided to purchase armoured vehicles to carry troops. The plan was to purchase two Light Armoured Troop Carriers each worth Rs 60-65 Lakh. Since this operation comes under protocols directed by the union government, the state has been able to pass off the bill to the Centre. In Kerala, the LDF government has been able to justify the purchase thanks to the number of “encounters” and “firefights” the Thunderbolts have faced in the Maoist-affected regions. However, the state government has gone through with their justifications despite repeated criticisms from CPI (CPM’s largest ally in the LDF), other left groups, opposition, social activists, and human rights groups.
Kerala police’s latest addition to their fleet seems an overreaction to a problem that is already self-controlled in Kerala. Political experts note that Kerala Maoists have never turned to the level of violence that their comrades have shown in other states, and the outfit’s strategy in the state follows an “educate and create awareness” protocol. This is often swiftly dealt with draconian acts such as UAPA, and it does not require a firefight from either direction. Then why do we need to spend so much on a problem that is naturally waning in the state?