The Naxals of India represent the deprived classes comprising tribals, dalit and landless workers. Their goal is to dismantle the current system of governance and establish a true people’s government and a classless society.
The Naxalites are Coming!
The Naxalite movement is getting stronger by the day.
Are the Naxalites expanding into the Indian Punjab? This question is being heatedly debated in various Indian thinktanks currently. Kobal Ghandy, a known Naxal leader who was arrested by the Indian security forces in 2009, admitted that the Naxalites consider Punjab a fertile ground and that in 2006 they conducted a detailed reconnaissance of the Indian state. Various Indian media reports voiced this fear and a commentator stated that with several arrests in the past two years, these fears have been confirmed. A senior Indian Punjab Police official has been quoted as stating that Naxalites have established around 17 front organizations. It is also believed that there is an ongoing attempt to revive the Khalistan movement and that there might be a link between the two. To address these concerns, it is reported that a Naxal cell has been created which is headed by a SP rank officer.
The Naxalite-insurgency is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, ac- tive conflict in the world. The Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, in one of his statements has declared it as the biggest internal security challenge to India.
The Naxal, Naxalite or Naksalvadi movement has its origins in the village Naxalbari in West Bengal. It was started by Charu Majumdar, Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal in 1967. Inspired by Mao Zedong’s teachings and writings, the movement aimed at uniting the Indian peasants and lower class citizens and overthrowing the govern-
ment and enforcing the Mao version of communism. Majumdar produced a number of writings, including ‘The Historic Eight Documents,’ which is considered his magnum opus and an important document of the Naxalite movement. However, differences emerged within the leadership in 1971 when a group led by Satyanarayan Singh questioned Majumdar policies and parted ways. In 1972, Majumdar was arrested and died in jail. At present, there are many factions of the Naxalite movement. The prime amongst them is CPI (Maoist) which was created in 2004 by two groups, the People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre.
It was estimated that by the 1980s, almost 30 Naxalite groups with an active cadre of almost 30,000 guerrillas were active in various parts of India. Today, although no authoritative and reliable figure is available, sources close to New Delhi claim that there are 9,000-10,000 armed fighters, with access to about 6,500 firearms. They also claim that there are a further 40,000 full-time cadres.
Even today, Maoism is the driving force of the Naxalite movement. Although it is not clear how Maoism is taught to the recruits and how much of the literature they actually read. It continues to be a highly disciplined, motivated and well-organized movement. It is reputed for conducting extensive and comprehensive homework of the target area before launching an operation.
The Naxalites are active in at least 200 districts in India. Their area of concentration stretches from Karnataka to Nepal. They are operationally active in what is known as the Red Corridor which includes Jharkhand, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal. However, Chhattisgarh could be considered its area of gravity or the epicenter. They are in control of almost 92,000 square kilometers which makes 40 percent of the total Indian territory. This area is mostly poor despite having an abundance of resources. It is interesting to note that although the Naxalites’ claim on the one hand that the government is not developing the area and considers them second class citizens, hence the armed struggle, on the other, when the government attempts to start any developmental project, it is claimed that the purpose is not to improve the lives of the common people but to rip them off of their resources.
To counter the Naxalites in Chhattisgarh, New Delhi has established a rival militia group, Salwa Judum. While New Delhi strongly denies any involvement in the creation of Salwa Judum, the fact-finding mission of the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC) claims that it is a result of a spontaneous reaction by tribals against Maoist atrocities perpetrated against them. Whether New Delhi’s creation or a local reaction, it has done nothing except increasing the miseries of the local people.
Last year, in a show of force, Naxalites conducted what has been declared the biggest and the most daring attack of the movement when, on April 6, 2010, almost 1,000 Naxalite guerrillas attacked and killed 76 CRPF personnel and wounded 50 in the jungle of Dantewada in Chattisgarh.
Over the years, the Indian government has taken several steps to eliminate the Naxalite threat which has failed. However, a closer look at the measures taken by India to address this problem makes one wonder whether these attempts were serious or were just for public consumption. Creating and supporting militias like Salwa Judum has created more problems than it has solved. It is busy conducting its own war and looting and plundering. In fact, Salwa Judum has provided the Naxalites a reason to justify their actions. Policing is becoming an overly difficult profession in the Naxalite controlled area. Unlike the normal average of 55 policemen for every 100 square kilometers, in Chattisgarh, there are only 17 policemen for 100 square kilometers. Another major problem is the provision in the Indian Constitution that security is a provincial or state matter and not that of the centre. And the state has, over all these years, failed to solve the problem.
While India has failed to eliminate the Naxalite threat, the Naxalite movement has its own limitations. Many in New Delhi and elsewhere in India are concerned with the possibility of a Naxalite presence in Punjab and Kashmir. Naxalite sources have also hinted upon expanding their area of operations though the fact of the matter is that this is easier said than done. Moving away from their power base will require a new strategic mindset and outlook. It would be away from its sanctuaries and supply lines and the Indian response would be much different in these areas than in those where the Naxalites are currently operational. This is not to underestimate the capabilities or resolve of the Naxalite movement, which has over the years demonstrated on so many occasions that it is a serious, well-equipped and disciplined insurgent force, yet, whether it can achieve a support base in the new areas which are beyond its comfort zone remains to be seen.