Police bid to counter Maoist propaganda

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Wayanad police launch WHAM to woo tribal youths

In the run-up to the Lok Sabha election, the Kerala Police are pushing forward with a Winning Hearts and Minds (WHAM) programme to defeat an embryonic but potent left-wing extremist movement that is striving hard to make inroads into tribal settlements in Wayanad.

The densely forested district perched high on the Western Ghats in northeastern Kerala had shot into national focus recently following unconfirmed reports that Congress president Rahul Gandhi might contest the 2019 Lok Sabha election from there.

District Police Chief, Wayanad, R. Karuppu Swamy told that the police were waging a war of ideas against naxalite insurgents who appeared to be intent on stirring up cynicism about the political process.

Two dalams

Two naxalite dalams, numbering not more than 20 heavily armed irregulars, repeatedly appeared in tribal settlements in Wayanad recently to extort money from resort owners and also distribute pamphlets disparaging the electoral system. Their activity had led to a shoot out in which the police killed one suspected Maoist in Vythiri.

Assistant Superintendent of Police Vaibhav Saxena said the police were investigating more than 22 UAPA cases registered in 2018-19 in connection with the sighting of Maoists.

The police were pursuing a two-pronged strategy to deny Maoists operating space in the district. It entailed countering misinformation dished out by Maoists and instilling trust in tribal youths whom Maoists hoped to convert to their cause.

Mr. Saxena, a physician and trained anthropologist, had regularly interacted with the tribal people to understand their customs, culture and dialect. His jungle forays often took him to the family house of a woman, Jisha, who had converted to the Maoist cause and was since named a fugitive from the law. He routinely treated tribes for minor ailments.

Subsequently, the police organised a football match with local teams comprising a mix of police officers and tribal youths. More community policing initiatives, such as medical camps in tribal settlements and cultural meets, are in the offing.

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