Among the security perils that afflict India internally, the gravest and most alarmingly burgeoning is left-wing extremism (LWE), commonly dubbed as the Naxal-Maoist threat. Alluded to as being the most serious internal security challenge by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on more than one occasion, the LWE threat currently spans nearly 170 districts spread over 16 states, with a wide swathe running in the centre of the Indian hinterland from the Nepal-Bihar border to the Karnataka and Kerala borders in a south-west orientation referred to as “The Red Corridor.” This vast region traverses a geographical expanse also referred to by some as “from Pashupatinath in Nepal to Tirupatinath in Andhra Pradesh”! That these extremists have unambiguously and frequently pronounced their objective to seize power in India by a protracted war against the Indian state must never be underplayed. That some areas within the “Red Corridor” are already totally bereft of any governmental presence and control, referred to as “liberated zones” by these militants should be a cause of serious concern to the governments both at national and state levels. That this serious challenge to India’s security has well-established and deliberately planned cross-border linkages compounds the already serious ramifications of LWE in India.
It is evident that LWE operations will be well planned and executed as part of a coordinated strategy by the LWE leadership.
The term “Naxalism” refers to the LWE movement, which traces its origins to the May 1967 peasant uprising at Naxalbari, in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal. This movement was initially spearheaded by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) leaders Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal to primarily address the local problems of landless, marginal farmers and farm labour from rapacious feudal landlords. In April 1969, a split occurred in the party and a more radical platform was adopted by the new formation, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI-ML), which drew its inspiration and ideology from the thoughts of Mao-Tse-Tung, with Charu Mazumdar proclaiming its mission as the “physical annihilation of class enemies.” Though initially it spread to a large number of districts of West Bengal and some tribal belts in other states, especially the Telengana region in Andhra Pradesh, strong police action and the death of Charu Mazumdar in 1972 led to the movement losing its initial momentum.
However, the Naxal movement in India entered a decisive phase of transformation with the merger in September 2004 of the two leading leftist extremist organisations, namely the People’s War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI), metamorphosing into the Communist Party of India (Maoist) (CPI-Maoist). Today, these militant groups are together taking on the Indian state in the pursuit of their secessionist and violent agendas in the garb of fighting for the rights of the tribals and other deprived sections of society. In June 2009, the Government of India banned CPI-Maoist under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act as a terrorist organisation. The group was charged with running an extortion economy in the guise of a popular revolution and extorting money from mining companies and various businesspersons apart from blowing up schools, police posts and scantily guarded railway stations and targeting governmental functionaries and local police personnel to scare them away from their areas of responsibilities.
Over the years, after embracing Naxal, Maoist, CPI-ML and PWG cadres, LWE has now grown into a widely dispersed yet interlinked, vehemently anti-democratic and gruesomely violent movement that aims to overthrow democratically elected governments and all state institutions all across the country. The Central Committee (CC) of the party formulated its plans for reorganising its structure at the 9th Unity Congress held in January–February 2011.1 According to some estimates, CPI-Maoist has surreptitiously established four regional bureaus for the country’s landmass and these regions are further subdivided into state, special zonal and special area committee jurisdictions – a well-established network to dispense immediate justice to the common folk through its janathans sarkars (people’s courts), collect/extort money and plan and implement its violent agendas against the state. In “the military realm, on the analogy of Regional Bureaus, the CC also has established two Regional Commands(RCs) to undertake and coordinate large scale operations over and above the State Level Military Commissions.”2 Thus, it is evident that LWE operations will be well planned and executed as part of a coordinated strategy by the LWE leadership.
By conservative estimates, this movement has nearly 50,000 highly motivated armed cadres, many well-trained in the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and landmines and equipped with sophisticated smuggled small arms automatic weaponry from China (across the Indo-Myanmar border); from Bangladesh; and, importantly, from across the Indo-Nepal border, from ISI-sponsored agents. In addition, media reports quoting both Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Military Intelligence (MI) sources confirm the linkages of Naxal-Maoists with insurgents from Manipur, militants residing in Myanmar with Chinese links and ULFA militants in Bangladesh and, above all, extremely close all- embracing linkages with Nepalese Maoists.3
Reportedly, the LWE hierarchy has a budget, based on an extortion economy of over 1,500 crores, to propel its violent struggles against the Indian state. Overall, LWE has by now unmistakably developed into a malignant cancer engulfing in varying intensities nearly one-third of the country. Not less than 48 districts in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar and Maharashtra have been more than seriously affected. LWE has even spread its tentacles to the faraway Assam. It has also come to light that Naxal outfits plan to use the Western Ghats straddling the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala to create another Compact Revolutionary Zone (CRZ) on the lines of the main one created along the eastern corridor of the country.4
…the Naxal ability to strike at will or carry out abductions of governmental functionaries and destroy schools/railways and communication infrastructure remains as potent as earlier.
That in the “Red Corridor,” even newly well-equipped police detachments trained to combat LWE have taken large casualties is nothing surprising. Over 11,000 civilian and police fatalities have resulted in the last five years owing to LWE violence. The Dantewada massacre in April 2010 in Chhattisgarh, which resulted in 76 casualties to security personnel, is a classic case of the reach of the militants and equally the lack of operational preparedness of our counter-insurgency police forces. From 2001 to 2012, about 5,772 civilians and 2,065 security personnel have been killed in India owing to Naxal-Maoist violence.5 A majority of the civilians killed are tribals, and many are from the underprivileged sections of society, often branded as “police informers.” Overall, however, the number of Naxal-related incidents and casualties has gone down owing to better coordination between the centre and states and a substantial number of personnel/units from the central police organisations having been deployed in the affected areas. Nevertheless, the Naxal ability to strike at will or carry out abductions of governmental functionaries and destroy schools/railways and communication infrastructure remains as potent as earlier.
LWE in Urban Centres
Though LWE has energised itself primarily in forest areas and areas characterised by lack of governance (countless that there are), the Naxal-Maoist leadership felt that urban centres have remained largely untouched by LWE. In January 2009, LWE’s Central Committee had prepared an Urban Perspective Document for extending its reach to urban centres where a growing number of the urban poor, especially the youth, are afflicted with poverty, unemployment and general disaffection and thus are a natural reservoir for recruitment into the Maoist cadres.
LWE’s new strategy focuses on a six-stage approach dubbed “SAARC,” namely, survey, awareness, agitation, recruitment, resistance and control. The Maoist document “Strategy and Tactics of the Indian Revolution” (STIR) opines that “Work in the urban areas has a special importance in our revolutionary work. . . . [I]n our revolution, which follows the line of protracted people’s war, the liberation of urban areas, will be possible only in the last stage of the revolution.”6 It can thus be surmised that if the nation and its security organs are not vigilant, it is a matter of time that LWE will stir credible trouble in urban areas in the coming years.
Causes: Growth of Naxal-Maoists in India
As the nation braces to get rid of this scourge, it will only be prudent to introspect the reasons of growth of LWE insurgency in India. By any reckoning, LWE in India has materialised in its present alarming dimension owing to a variety of reasons since independence. These are lack of a clear national policy in combating indigenous insurgencies; political differences between many states and the national government; woefully poor intelligence, especially at the ground level; ill-equipped, under-trained, and poorly motivated police and central police forces; lack of coordination among state and central security agencies; and, above all, a total neglect of locally significant development and legal issues in the insurgency-infested regions.
…even after 65 years of our independence, there are thousands of villages in the hinterland without any road connectivity, clean drinking water facility, schools, hospitals, post office, police station or other government institutions! This vacuum has been filled by the Naxals…
The most state governments have not implemented the various forest laws and the land ceiling laws enacted as early as in 1955 to safeguard the basic rights of tribals and the poor in rural areas has compounded and fuelled the problem of growing insurgency in the extremely poor regions of the country. It is not surprising that even some well-educated young men and women have been drawn to the Naxal movement, more on idealism or romantic grounds, in total ignorance of the stark facts that exist about this otherwise extremely violent and seditious struggle against the Indian state.
It is important to understand the nuances of the Fifth and Ninth Schedules of the Constitution enacted in 1950. The Fifth Schedule had stipulated that governors of the states would administer the tribal areas in their respective states by appointing Tribal Advisory Councils. The Ninth Schedule dealt with the equitable distribution of cultivable land by enacting land ceiling laws and distributing surplus land among the landless labourers. Amazingly, only three states –Jammu and Kashmir, West Bengal and Kerala – have implemented this constitutional imperative. This means that “all the actions taken by the states through the Forest Department in granting mining leases in forests where Adivasis were living in their state are illegal and unlawful and ultravires of the Constitution of India.”7
Among the other major causative factors for the growth of Naxal-Maoism are that since India’s independence, the fruits of development have not trickled down to the vast marginalised sections of Indian society and the disparity in living conditions in the vast layers of our society is not only huge, inhuman, inexplicable and growing but unbridgeable. The state is seen by many among the poor as exploitative of their interests while safeguarding the well-being of a few. In addition, India’s ancient caste system has also led to social discrimination, economic exploitation, the practice of bonded labour and the use of people belonging to the so-called lower castes in some areas of the nation for purely menial tasks, which creates a natural breeding ground for the spread of left-wing ideology. Nevertheless, the major singular factor unmistakably is the total lack of development and governance in some of these now Maoist-Naxal-infested regions in the country. Surprisingly, even after 65 years of our independence, there are thousands of villages in the hinterland without any road connectivity, clean drinking water facility, schools, hospitals, post office, police station or other government institutions! This vacuum has been filled by the Naxals, who run a near-parallel administration and go around dispensing immediate justice, levying collection and recruiting many willing and unwilling heads into their leftist fold to take on the police-landlord-politician-contractor nexus.