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#2355, 14 August 2007
Naxals-LTTE nexus in Tamil Nadu: An Alliance in the Making?
Devyani Srivastava
Research Officer, IPCS
e-mail: devyani@ipcs.org

The Naxalite presence has emerged in Tamil Nadu with the discovery of a training camp conducted by former People's War Group Naxals in the Periyakulum forests, Theni district, on 25 June 2007. Three persons were arrested by the police from the site while the hunt for seven other Naxals continues. Traditionally, the Naxalite presence has been confined to Dharmapuri, Vellore, and the northern districts of Tamil Nadu bordering Andhra Pradesh. This is for the first time that it has been noticed in the southern districts like Theni, Tirunelveli, Thuthookudi and Ramanathapuram. Significantly, these districts are also believed to have strong sympathy for the LTTE, which has led security agencies to suspect a renewed nexus between the Naxals and the LTTE. Although no links have been found yet, it is time to speculate on the possibility of an alliance between them, overt or covert, in the near future, and its resultant security implications.

A cursory look at the history of both these groups in the state is illuminating. Links between them can be traced to the formation of the Tamil Nadu Communist Party- Marxist-Leninist in 1984-85, which had advocated a separate Tamil Nadu. Its military wing, the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army (TNLA), allegedly had close ties with the LTTE and indulged in several minor bomb blasts and looting of weapons till the mid-1990s, when some of its leaders were killed. The resultant leadership crisis coupled with massive police crackdown, following the proscription of TNLA under POTA on 2 July 2002, led to the arrest of many members that weakened the group. The Tamil Nadu police managed thereby to contain the spread of Naxalism, bar stray incidents.

This background provides reason to take the chances of closer ties between them seriously. Moreover, a new context for the revival of their old linkages might have been provided by some recent developments.

One, the past few months have witnessed a surge in Naxal violence with increasing attacks on security personnel and the use of sophisticated weapons. The technical capability of the LTTE can be a compelling factor behind the Naxals choosing to align with them to intensify their armed struggle against the state. In particular, the recent measure by the government to use aerial surveillance in the forest regions of Chhattisgarh can inspire the Naxals to seek training from the only terrorist outfit that has successfully carried out an aerial attack against any state. Although the Government of India recalled the two unmanned aerial vehicles deployed in Chhattisgarh in August last year, it delivered a strong warning to the Naxals of possible aerial attacks on their camps in the future. The prospect of Naxals receiving training from the LTTE, however, threatens to add greater violence to the operations against left-wing extremism in India.

A second strong motivating factor for the Naxals could be the increasing use of child soldiers, as reported from states like Chhattisgarh and Orissa. Recently, some 10-12 children were found distributing leaflets with the Naxals in Kisinda village, Sambalpur, Orissa. This has led the security forces to suspect an expansion of their bal militia wing. Given that the LTTE is notorious for its extensive use of child soldiers as part of their strategy, it is possible that the Naxals would seek their training in the mobilization, recruitment and use child soldiers in their struggle against the state.

The LTTE, for its part, has equally strong reasons for befriending the Naxals in India. It has suffered serious reverses in Sri Lanka over the past few months culminating in its eviction form the east. This has caused them great problems not only because of the loss of resources and territory but also because of greater concentration of the Sri Lankan Army in the north. Hence, the likelihood of the LTTE infiltrating into India to escape from the crackdown of the Sri Lankan security forces is high. In addition, they would also be looking to set up new training camps for their cadre. For meeting these objectives, a Naxal presence in Tamil Nadu would help them.

With the Naxals wishing to intensify their struggle in India by entering new regions and the LTTE looking around to recoup their strength and resources, closer ties between the two seems imminent. The security implications of this possibility must be taken seriously. The state of Tamil Nadu has its vulnerabilities like caste politics, Dalit oppression, continuing strands of Tamil nationalism, a 'soft' government led by Karunanidhi (as opposed to Jayalalithaa's hard approach to extremism) and forested regions. It is crucial therefore for the state government to remain vigilant to ensure that none of these vulnerabilities are exploited by either group.

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