Naxalism in India


What is Naxalism or Left Wing Extremism (LWE):

The term ‘Naxal’ derives its name from the village Naxalbari of district Darjeeling in West Bengal, where the movement originated in 1967 under the leadership of Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal.

It refers to the use of violence to destabilize the state through various communist guerrilla groups.

Philosophical background of Naxalism:

Naxalism in India, like any other leftist movement around the globe draws its ideological basis from the Russian revolution wherein Lenin successfully fought against the Czar through a combination of peasant movement and an armed struggle. The prime intent was to bestow power in the hands of the exploited and marginalized and enforce societal control over governance and nation building.

After the success of the Lenin-led revolution in Russia, the intellectual class in many countries started thinking of ushering in a change in their respective nations. Prominent amongst them were Fidel Castro and Mao Zedong.

In China, Mao Zedong used this philosophy successfully which led to the origin of ‘Maoism’. Maoism is a doctrine that teaches to capture State power through a combination of armed insurgency, mass mobilisation and strategic alliances. Mao called this process, the ‘Protracted People’s War’. ‘Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’ is the key slogan of the Maoists.

Naxalites are far-left radical communists who derive their political ideology from the teachings of Mao Zedong.

History and evolution of Naxalism in India:

Background (The run-up to the Naxalbari uprising):

 Tebhaga movement: It was the first communist movement which started in West Bengal in 1946 with the intention of getting the land revenue reduced from ½ to 1/3rd. This movement turned violent as the farmers started an armed fight against the landlords.

 Telangana Movement: Telangana movement which was led by the people of Telangana in the period of 1946-51 against the atrocities of the Nizam rule also acquired radical dimensions as it progressed.

1959: Kisan Sabhas were started by CPI (Communist Party of India) as an informal peasant movement with the intention of finding a political solution to the problems faced by farmers.

1962: When Indo-China war broke out, majority of CPI leaders viewed it as struggle of a socialist country against Capitalist India. Consequently, they supported China’s cause, and faced mass arrests.

1964: Further, there was growing dissent in party for party’s diversion toward democratic state which was contrary to Communist principle of armed struggle to overthrow the state. This finally led to a split in the party in 1964 which resulted in new party called Communist Party of India (Marxist).

1967: CPI (Marxist) participated in polls and formed a coalition United Front government in West Bengal. This leads to schism in the party with younger cadres, including the “visionary” Charu Majumdar, accusing CPM of betraying the revolution.

Naxalbari Uprising (25th May,1967): The rebel cadres led by Charu Majumdar launched a peasants’ uprising at Naxalbari in Darjeeling district of West Bengal.

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The CPI (M)-led United Front government cracked down on the uprising and in 72 days of the rebellion, a police sub-inspector and nine tribals were killed. The incident echoed throughout India and naxalism was born.

The spread and growth of Naxalism in India can be broadly divided into three phases or stages as described below:

The first phase of Naxalism:

In response to the crackdown by the Government, revolutionary leaders fled the area and declared armed struggle against state of India. Under the leadership of Charu Majumdar, they formed a new party Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in 1969 which was motivated and influenced deeply by Communist Party of China.

After Charu Majumdar’s death, the CPI (M-L) was deprived of any credible central leadership and the party withered away to be finally reborn as CPI (M-L) Liberation in 1974.

The movement faced a severe blow during emergency when around 40,000 cadres were imprisoned in 1975.

The Second Phase of Naxalism [Steady growth of the Naxal movement across different parts of the country]:

The movement arose again in a more violent form after the emergency. It continued to widen its base as per the strategy of ‘protracted war’. Their base grew from West Bengal to Bihar to Odisha and also to Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

CPI(ML) was converted into People’s War Group (PWG) in 1980 which had its base in Andhra Pradesh and struck heavy casualities among police personnel.

Simultaneously, Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI) grew in strength in Bihar and carried out large scale attacks on landlords and other upper caste outfits.

The Third Phase of Naxalism:

2004: Andhra Pradesh’s PWG and Bihar’s MCCI merged to form CPI(Maoist). CPI (Maoist) is the major Left Wing Extremist outfit responsible for most incidents of violence and killing of civilians and security forces. It has been included in the Schedule of Terrorist organisations under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967.Over 13 LWE groups are currently operating in the country.

The movement’s capacity to challenge the state has increased enormously considering the incidents of violence and casualities resulting from them. E.g. the 2010 Dantewada ambush in which 76 CRPF armed personnel were killed.

2013: The LWE movement made international headlines when naxalists killed 27 people, including some high level politicians, in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh.

But violence cannot be the only yardstick to measure Maoist expansion. Maoists are also expanding in terms of indoctrination and consolidation. They are also trying to spread their ideology in the Bhil and Gond tribes dominated area, the ‘golden corridor’ stretching from Pune to Ahmedabad.

As of February 2016, 106 districts in 10 States have been identified by the Government of India as Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected districts in the country. More details regarding the same can be found here.

Left wing extremism

Estimated to be 40,000 strong, the Naxalites have been a strain on the country’s security forces and a barrier to development in the vast mineral rich region in Eastern India known as the ‘red corridor’. It is a narrow but contiguous strip passing through Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha.

July 2016: The Union government plans to reduce the number of Maoist-affected districts by about a fifth. This decision has been taken on the basis of the districts’ violence profile, an assessment of the kind of logistical and other support provided to armed Maoist cadres by their sympathisers and “over ground workers”, and the kind of positive changes brought about by development work that these districts have seen.

Most of the worst affected districts fall in the Dandarkaranya region which includes areas of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. Maoists have been running a parallel government and a parallel judiciary in these regions.

Modus Operandi of LWE

  • Frontal Organisations of LWE

The Maoists use their front organisations like Revolutionary Democratic Front, Democratic Student Union etc to generate people’s sympathy through persistent pursuance of propaganda on issues like human rights violations by the security forces.

  • Guerrilla warfare tactics
  • Powerful propaganda machinery which is active in all major towns as well as in the national capital. They even have their supporters in the media.
  • Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign (TCOC):

Maoists carry out violent activities called TCOC which run from March to early Monsoon in July. The Maoists usually resort to TCOC every year to put the security forces in disarray so that they can go on a recruitment drive.

  • Fresh strategy of Maoists is to expand outside forests into the urban areas to win over non peasant classes and other social groups.
  • The Maoists have also maimed and murdered those they suspect of being ‘informers’.

Sources of funding and linkages with organized crime:

The main source of funding of the LWE movements is extortion from government projects as well as from corporate companies working in their areas of influence. Most of the time, it is in the form of protection money. LWE is most intense precisely in areas which are rich in mineral resources. It therefore provides them enough scope for extortion.

Sometimes, they also resort to kidnapping and killings to terrorise and extort money.

Factors responsible for the rise and spread of LWE:

1. India’s Land Reform Policy

 Post independence, the land reform policy of India could not be successful in some parts of the nation, leading to the birth and growth of naxal movement in India.

2. Development Projects and Tribal Alienation

The tribals are driven by grievances with the Indian Government over decades long resource mismanagement and systematic marginalisation beginning with a series of development projects in the 1980s that removed tribals from their lands in the name of public good. The conflict between economic progress and aboriginal land rights continues to fuel the Naxalite’s activities.

Arundhati Roy, a Naxalite sympathiser said that the tribal forestlands should be called a “MoUist Corridor” instead of the “Maoist Corridor” as the people of these tribal forest lands have been wrestling with “memorandum of Understanding” (MoUs) of the mining companies.

The sociologist Walter Fernandes estimates that about 40% of all those displaced by government projects are of tribal origin.

3. Forest Protection Act of 1980

Although the legislation was an attempt to protect country’s natural resources from exploitation, the law essentially outlawed the existence of many tribal villages that had been in place for centuries. As areas were delineated as reserve forests, traditional occupations of even gathering twigs were forbidden. People who earned their livelihood through access to forest resources in a sustainable manner suddenly found themselves outside the law.

It was only in 2008 that amendment to forest rights act recognised the tribals’ rights over forest land and forest produce but animosity towards the government had already grown substantially exacerbated by the lack of basic development support to tribal villages.

4. Developmental Deficit and economic inequality

Tribal poverty today is worse than that of Scheduled castes and on par with those of sub-Saharan African countries.The districts that comprise the red corridor are among the poorest in the country.

A key characteristic of this region is non diversified economic activity solely dependent on primary sector. The region has significant natural resources, including mineral, forestry and potential hydroelectric generation capacity E.g. Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, and Jharkhand account for approximately 85% of India’s coal resources. Exploitation of the natural resources for the economic progress of the country, ironically, has led to displacement and deprivation of the tribals, further leading to a feeling of alienation.

5. Social Conditions:

The area encompassed by the red corridor tends to have stratified societies, with caste and feudal divisions and violence associated with friction between different social groups.

6. The governance deficit:

  • Lack of education facilities and basic sustainable employment
  • Lack of basic healthcare facilities
  • Infrastructure deficit
  • Issues related to law and order, grievance redressal
  • Lack of routine administration and poorly motivated public personnel
  • Mismanagement and corruption in government schemes like Public Distribution System.
  • Poor implementation of special laws
  • High handedness of the local administration

7. Geographical factors:

The terrain in these areas is suitable for guerrilla tactics.

It is also because of the terrain that the reach and spread of governmental programmes has been slower in these areas.  In these remote upland areas, public officials are unwilling to work hard, and often unwilling to work at all and these postings are often termed as ‘punishment postings’. On the other hand, the Maoists are prepared to walk miles to hold a village meeting, and listen sympathetically to tribal grievances.

The Maoists live among, and in the same state of penury as, the tribals. Also, some of their actions have sometimes helped the adivasis. This is especially the case with rates for the collection of non-timber forest produce, such as tendu patta, which have gone up by as much 200% in areas where the Naxalites are active and the contractors fearful of their wrath.

8. Inability of the tribal leaders to get their grievances addressed by the formal political system.

Naxalite movement: the biggest internal security threat to India:

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described Naxalism as the most significant threat to internal security being faced by the country. This proposition is true as it highlights India’s interior weaknesses, which make India vulnerable to external threats. It affects several areas including the economy, security and foreign affairs, its citizens and the rule of law:

1. Impact on security and foreign affairs: Links with other terrorist organisations and foreign countries:

The CPI(Maoist) has frequently expressed solidarity with the Jammu and Kashmir terrorist groups and north-east insurgent groups. The CPI(Maoist) has also had close links with foreign Maoist organisations like Turkey, Phillipines,South asian countries     etc.

2. Impact on economy: More the Maoists concentrate in the poor and marginalised regions of India, the more the economic development (which is imperative to improving these regions) will be hampered. The Naxalite activities are using up scarce resources on defence and internal security when it should be spent on areas such as social development.

3. Impact on citizens and the rule of law: Not only has there been a great loss of life since the conflict between the guerrillas and the military, but addressing the problem through violence risks polarizing people further and driving them to subservience.

Guerrilla warfare is a threat not only to citizens’ lives but also to their property. Too impatient and desperate to wait for government intervention, civilians such as landlords are taking matters into their own hands.

As writer Navlakha noted , by portraying the Maoists as a ‘menace’ and separating the movement from socio-economic causes, it “allows the rich and poor divide to impose itself on a formal democratic structure”. Navlakha gives the example of Bihar where Naxalite groups are banned under the Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act, yet a majority of the massacre were committed by landlord armies which were not considered an act of terror under the law. Such treatment for the upper class only serves to threaten the rule of law, state legitimacy and democracy as the political norm.

Challenges in dealing with Naxalites:

 1. Expansion in adjoining areas due to hard combat:

Hard combat against the Naxals pushes them out temporarily but they use other states to regroup and rearm. This can be associated with the Andhra Pradesh model, where the intensive use of Greyhounds had led to a lot of spillover to other states.

2. Expansion due to increasing association with Anti-state forces:

New territory in new states may result in a corridor for Naxals to collaborate with other insurgent groups who are essentially ideologically different but are anti-state. There has been increasing collaboration between the naxals and the pro-Azadi leaders in J&K and ULFA training  the naxal cadres.

3. Expansion of Naxal activities due to international collaboration:

The likely collaboration with international maoist movements, may give it a much more dangerous dimension, to tackle which India seems to be unprepared. There is also an increasing threat of rising terror outfits’ support to the naxal operations in India.

 4. Administrative hurdles in dealing with LWE:

  • Poor infrastructure, lack of communication and shortage of manpower
  • A virtual parallel government run by Maoists in Dandakaranya region
  • Poor coordination among various state police forces
  • Lack of proper understanding between the central and state forces

5. Intellectual support to naxalism:

Top intellectuals like Arundhati Roy and Binayak Sen regularly support naxalism, advocating an egalitarian society, human rights and tribal rights. But use of violent means cannot be supported to achieve a noble cause in a democratic setup. Rather than a blind support, the intellectuals should also encourage Naxals to eschew violence, fight elections, join mainstream society and learn the art of give and take of democratic bargaining without aggression.

The Government’s strategy to address Left Wing Extremism (LWE)

1. Ban on CPI Maoist, along with all its formations and front organizations under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

2. Assistance to LWE States: ‘Police’ and ‘Public order’ being State subjects, action with respect to maintenance of law and order lies primarily in the domain of the concerned State Governments. However, the Central Government closely monitors the situation and coordinates and supplements their efforts in several ways to deal with the LWE problem. These include:

  • providing Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) and Commando Battalions for Resolute Action (CoBRA),
  • setting up of Counter Insurgency and Anti Terrorism (CIAT) schools;
  • modernization of the State Police and their Intelligence apparatus etc.

Assistance is also provided by the central government under the following schemes:

  • Security Related Expenditure Scheme (SRE)
  • Special Infrastructure Scheme (SIS)
  • Central Scheme for assistance to civilian victims/family of victims of terrorist, communal and naxal violence
  • Civic Action Programme (CAPs)

3. Action Plan: The Government has formulated National Policy and Action Plan adopting four pronged strategy in the areas of security, development, ensuring rights & entitlement of local communities and management of public perception.

4. Strengthening the intelligence mechanism: This includes intelligence sharing through Multi-Agency Centre (MAC) at the central level and State Multi Agency Centre (SMAC) at the subsidiary level on 24×7 basis.

5. Better inter-state coordination by way of frequent meetings and interaction between the bordering districts of LWE affected states.

6. Media plan: The media has proved to be a potent instrument in creating awareness among the target population about the socio-economic developmental schemes of the Government and their rights & entitlements. The media has also helped to highlight LWE activities to make people aware as to how LWE violence is preventing implementation of the welfare and development schemes, policies and initiatives of the Government.

7. A Surrender and Rehabilitation Policy for LWE cadre surrenderees.

8. Roshani Scheme (Ministry of Rural Development): It is a placement linked skill development scheme for rural and tribal population, in worst affected districts. It emphasizes on special efforts to proactively cover the particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) on a priority basis.

A few success stories in the fight against Naxalism

Sandesh( Bihar)

Sandesh block in Bihar has seen a gradual elimination of Naxalites. The most important factor which proved instrumental in dismantling naxal dominance was the panchayat elections initiated in Bihar. It created a significant distance between the Naxal leaders and the local community. Social pressure forced many naxalites to switch over to farming and shed off their association with naxal outfits.

Aasdwar project in Jehanabad (Bihar)

Under this project, 5 Naxalite affected panchayats (Jehanabad district of Bihar) are witnessing a flurry of development activities on a war footing e.g. construction of cement lanes, link roads, drains, buildings for schools and anganwadis, individual toilets etc. The people, at large, seem to have embraced the programme in a big way. So, as this case study amplifies, Naxalism can be defeated and eliminated by the process of development and a new social order but the change has to come from within.

AP greyhounds model

Andhra Pradesh’s Greyhound naxal fighting force along with infrastructure development and effective surrender and rehabilitation policy has also proved effective.  Other elements in the Andhra Pradesh model include:

  • Culture of police leadership
  • Sound knowledge of local terrain
  • Incentives to police for good work
  • Operations based on local intelligence
  • Grass roots involvement in anti-Naxal operations

The way forward:

Naxalism is not merely a law and order issue. To truly eliminate naxalism, we must undercut its raison d’être, its reason for existence. While the methods of Naxalites may be abhorrent, most of their goals (apart from overthrowing the government) are not. The government must fulfill these goals for them so that they have nothing to fight for.

The government must adopt a multipronged composite strategy. We can broadly divide the strategy as follows:

1. Development strategy:

  • Better infrastructure in core naxal areas
  • Special forcus on political security and accelerated socio economic development in a holistic manner
  • Political parties must strengthen their cadre base in naxal areas
  • Decentralisation and participative democracy
  • Better implementation of government schemes

2. Security strategy

  • Promote local resistance groups on lines on ‘village defence committees’ in J&K
  • Formation of specially trained special task forces on the pattern of Greyhounds in affected states
  • Professional dominance by security forces with primacy of state police at all levels
  • Modernisation and upgradation of state police infrastructure, weapons and technical equipment
  • Strengthening local intelligence units
  • Tightening control on availability of explosives
  • Posting of competent and motivated police officers in LWE affected areas

3. Psychological Operations

  • Administration should engage with public at large, civil society, NGOs to restore people’s faith and confidence in the government machinery
  • Media and public perception management

4. Other measures

  • The doors for peace talks should always be open
  • There should be genuine attempts to win the hearts and minds of people
  • Time-bound conviction of arrested cadre must be ensured through vital reforms in criminal justice system
  • Effective surrender and rehabilitation policy ensuring proper safety and care of their families
  • Better adherence to law legislated for protection and development of tribals

5. Understanding the tribal psychology and addressing their concerns:

Efforts should be made to better understand the tribal psychology e.g. the tribals having been left out of the development process are also oblivious to the potential enhancement in the quality of life if the growth process were to touch them. If they knew the potential benefits of growth, they would realize the futility of violence and see reason to participate in the growth process and become part of the mainstream without losing their identity and culture.

Another example:The tribals’ opposition to part away with their land is not only due to livelihood concerns, but also their shield against a system they are unfamiliar with. The fear of not being fit enough to participate in a system alien to them also adds as a disincentive to give up their land. This, in the end, results in a conflict as there is a clash of ideas that ultimately drives the tribals further away from the mainstream and the reach of the Indian State.

Efforts should therefore be made to better understand the tribal psychology and address their concerns.

6. Need for policy changes:

Nanadan Nilekani in his book ‘Imagining India’ argues that empowering local tribal communities to take decisions on forest resources and environment through PESA and the Forest Rights Act can enable them to leverage their lands for economic gains. Nilekani argues that the challenges posed by climate change have actually opened up the possibility of integrating the unorganized economic activity of the tribals. He adds that once resource rights are established, rural and tribal communities can earn incomes by participating in carbon cap and trading schemes with businesses and industries. Connecting these tribal groups (in the same way NCDEX has connected India’s farmers to commodity markets) would bring these communities into our markets in big way.

But, measures such as these require drastic policy shifts at the very top. An environment policy for the future could indirectly bring the historically marginalized citizens of India i.e. the tribals into the mainstream facilitating participation in the larger growth process of an economically resurgent India.


Deepak Dutt Mamgain

M.Sc.(Maths), MBA

Ex Employee Min. of Science & Technology


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