Homeland Security

Naxalism: Revisiting the Principles of Fourth-Generation Warfare
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Issue Courtesy: Aakrosh | Date : 18 Jul , 2011

All warfare is guided by certain principles and established rules, and asymmetrical conflicts like Naxalism are no exception. A critical analysis of the tactics and strategy pursued by the Naxalites of India reveals that they are emulating the principles of asymmetric warfare so eloquently enunciated by the theorists of fourth-generation warfare1. This article is an attempt to trace the tenets of fourth-generation warfare, or asymmetrical conflicts, in the Naxalite movement of India.

Their strategy is to first build up bases in rural and remote areas, which would gradually be converted into “liberated zones,” where they would be running their parallel government.

The principle of fourth-generation warfare seems to guide the strategy and rules of conduct of the Naxalites. It is said that to defeat an enemy, one first needs to understand its strategy, determining its strength and weaknesses, such that one can formulate ones fighting strategy accordingly. Naxalites have thoroughly studied the weaknesses and strengths of the Indian Union and have accordingly prepared themselves, which is responsible for their success to a great extent. The forces fighting the Naxalites also need to understand the principles guiding the functions and organisations of the Naxalites. Such understanding of the principles governing the Naxalite movement is critical for evolving the best practices of counterinsurgency.


One of the basic arguments of the theory of fourth-generation warfare is that conventional warfare would be replaced by conflicts between states to conflicts between states and nonstate actors. Further, the theory says that in a fight between states and nonstate actors, one needs to be aware of the issues for which the actors profess to fight and the objectives which they intend to achieve because these two factors guide the strategy of nonstate actors. This in other words means that “at the core of Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) is a crisis of the legitimacy of the state, and counter-insurgency cannot address that crisis,”2 which means that there needs to be something more than the attitude of treating counter-insurgency as a fight between the state and the nonstate actors.

The ideology of Naxalism is a deadly combination of the ideology of Marxism, Maoism and Leninism.

There is the need for understanding the basic strategy of Naxalite fighting, which is quite different from the strategy guiding conventional warfare. According to the theorists of fourth-generation warfare, this kind of warfare is based on dispersion, or decentralisation, of command and control, which makes the concept of battlefield quite vague. The warfare is not attached to any “theatre”; rather the attack is aimed at culture and the media, with the intention of collapsing the enemy’s will to fight. In fourth-generation warfare, the aim of the adversary is not to get decisive results; rather the aim is to prolong the conflict to exhaust the resources of the states. Thus, in fourth-generation warfare, the enemy never attacks from the front but from the rear, never relying heavily on centralised logistics.

Basic Premises or Strategies of Waging Fourth-Generation Warfare

The theory of fourth-generation warfare has clearly laid down that irregular warfare has made the world cease to think of warfare “exclusively as conventional clashes of massive, sophisticated weapons on the battlefield, and reverted to seeing war in its rawest, truest and oldest form, characterised by small groups of warriors striking by surprise, or at night, against the actual or psychological rear of the enemy. Ravaging defenceless civilians, hit-and-run raids, sudden assaults on ill-defended places, hiding in inaccessible lairs, all these and more are the centuries-old elements of irregular warfare, of a strategy of the snare and of refusal to meet the main military strength of the enemy in open battle. The specific ancient rule the terrorists followed is to avoid the enemy’s strength and strike at weakness.”3 In the light of the principles cited by the theorists of fourth-generation warfare, Indian rural hinterland presented the ideal ground for the Maoists of India to follow the ideology of Marxism-Maoism-Leninism, since it had all the ingredients required for playing the rules of asymmetry successfully.

The Naxalites have a well-laid-out plan for how to achieve their stated objective.

It was Marx who showed the way of bringing revolution through organised proletariats,4 and the idea has been used by different revolutionaries, including the Indian Maoists, moulding it to suit their prevalent social, economic and political scenario. Both Lenin and Mao used Marx as a base for bringing in revolutions. Mao Tse-Tung propagated the theory of organised peasant insurrection, in which political power is captured through protracted armed struggle through the strategy of guerrilla warfare.5 The idea of Mao was used by Lenin to capture power in Russia but through an innovation of using a tight party structure for the purpose.6 Naxalites in India have combined the ideologies of Marx, Mao and Lenin to achieve their objective of creating “people’s government” through “people’s war.” The Naxalites have a well-laid-out plan for how to achieve their stated objective.

Their strategy is to first build up bases in rural and remote areas, which would gradually be converted into “liberated zones,” where they would be running their parallel government. They intend to further extend their liberated zones to urban power centres. The worst thing is that Naxalites are succeeding in their objectives, and the main reason for this has been that those who know very little about the Naxalite movement know that its central slogan has been “land to the tiller” and that attempts to put the poor in possession of land have defined much of their activity. This fact has even been cited as the main structural cause for the growth of Naxalism in the Indian rural hinterland, in the 2008 report of the Planning Commission on Naxalism. The report, providing statistics of 125 districts from the Naxal-affected states, had concluded that the state bureaucracy has pitiably failed in delivering good governance in these areas.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Vinita Priyedarshi

Vinita Priyedarshi is a well known research scholar who is presently, doing research on fourth-generation warfare and case studies of counterinsurgency in Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Northern Ireland.

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