Pushed out of Andhra Pradesh following a public outcry, the Maoists have set their sights on Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and other southern states.
Maoist militants hoping to expand their influence have set their sights on the south, analysts say. The southward push follows similar expansions to Assam in the northeast and Maharashtra in the west.
"The primary objective of this banned outfit is to link the Eastern and the Western Ghats through the southern states," said Prakash Singh, a former IPS (Indian Police Service) officer and expert on Maoist organisations in India.
"The Western Ghats pass through five states, including Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Goa. Of the 2,200km that the mountains straddle, the deepest jungles are in Karnataka, and the Maoists plan to take advantage of this. The militants plan to set up a base in Wayanad, Kerala and establish a route through the forests to Mysore, Karnataka," he explained to Khabar South Asia.
Authorities in Tamil Nadu recently arrested a suspected militant who they say played a key role in building Maoist operations in the state.
"Acting on a tip-off, the Q branch of the police arrested 29-year-old Vivek, aka Kumar, the state secretary of the banned Maoist group, from an apartment in Shenoy Nagar in Chennai, while his wife Padma managed to escape," Tamil Nadu Director General of Police K. Ramanujam told Khabar.
"Vivek has been providing arms training to the local Maoist operatives in the forests of Periyakulam," he said.
Rebels outstay their welcome in Andhra Pradesh
Besides furthering their quest to establish a "Red Corridor" in India, the Maoists may have a more immediate motive in their push to expand. The militants, experts say, need to make up for damage sustained when a growing public outcry against their violent tactics forced them from Andhra Pradesh.
Kidnappings, murder, extortion and sabotage have long been the armed insurgents' stock-in-trade. With government development programmes starting to have an impact, the Maoists' support base in the state dwindled as locals grew fed up with violence and intimidation.
"As the economic condition of the people improved, they lost interest in the Maoists and even shunned them in numerous places. The state witnessed a public outcry, which compelled the ultras to restrict their operations and seek shelter in other states," said Ajai Sahni, founder of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management.
"What the state government did was undertake massive irrigation programmes, construction of roads as well as welfare measures that led to employment generation, as well as income that the youths who were unemployed till then lost all interest in Maoism," he told Khabar.
Former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister K Rosaiah raised wages for labourers, lowered rice prices, and initiated various welfare projects while in office in 2009-2010, Sahni noted. "All this and the growing incidents of violence by the Maoists gave rise to a mass protest against the extremists in Andhra Pradesh."
Sitaram Shastri, a former Maoist ideologist now engaged in social work, told Khabar that more effective law enforcement also played a role.
"Rosaiah sanctioned 37,000 new police posts and set up a police academy in the state to counter the Maoists," he said. "While introduction of the latest and most sophisticated technology helped the police in better communications, the government also developed a solid system of roads, schools, police stations and miscellaneous offices in the forest areas in the northern districts bordering Chhattisgarh."
"Simultaneously, the government also announced rehabilitation programmes, implemented them for the Maoists who gave up arms, and created new jobs for them," he added.
No room for complacency
Whether the story will repeat itself in other parts of India where the insurgents are making their presence felt is an open question. According to Shastri, the militants must not be underestimated despite the setbacks they have endured.
"The Maoists are capable of sustained efforts," Shastri told Khabar. "They may have suffered reverses, their important leaders may have been killed in encounters, yet they can strike back with renewed vengeance. There is no place for complacency."