The Naxal movement that began as a peasants’ uprising against exploitation by rich landlords and money-lenders, has now got converted into a ruthless killing spree; a menace that has become the biggest threat to the nation’s internal security
In about a year-and-a-half, Bharat will observe the grim 50th anniversary of the Naxal movement that continues to be the biggest case of insurgency and threat to internal security that the country has not been able to tackle in nearly seven decades of Independence.
The Naxals have killed more than 12,000 people, including the security forces personnel, in the past 20 years alone. That’s a tremendous loss of life to a movement that is no longer what it had begun for. The far-Left radicals, who follow the Maoist ideology of Communism, have been on a relentless, futile war with the Bharateeya state for the past 50 years, for which the common people have paid a heavy price.
It all began in an obscure village called Naxalbari in North Bengal on March 3, 1967, when three share-croppers backed by a section of CPI (M) followers, armed with party flags, lathis, bows and arrows attacked the granary of a jotedar (landlord) and lifted an entire stock of paddy. It was led by Charu Majumdar, Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal. This led to the beginning of Naxalbari movement in the form of peasant uprising and the term Naxalite originated from Naxalbari. Kanu Sanyal stated it “an armed struggle, not for land, but for state power.”
The father of People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong provided ideological leadership for the Naxalbari movement, advocating that Bharateeya peasants and lower class tribals should overthrow the government and upper classes by force. A large number of urban elite were also attracted to the ideology, which spread through Charu Majumdar’s writings, particularly the ‘Historic Eight Documents’, which formed the basis of Naxalite ideology. Majumdar took the stand that “Mao Thought is the highest form of Marxism-Leninism” and the agrarian revolution was the only path for the liberation of the country.
In November 1967, a group, led by Sushital Ray Chowdhury, organised the All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR). Violent uprisings were organised in several parts of the country. In 1969, on the 100th birth anniversary of Lenin, the AICCCR gave birth to the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).
Over the years, the Left-Wing Extremism (LWE) witnessed splits and formation of various other outfits—of which the People’s War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI) were the two largest and powerful groups. The MCCI was formed in 1975 and the PWG was formed in Andhra Pradesh in 1980 by Kondapalli Seetharamaiah. The credit for the claim of the Naxals to be running a parallel government mostly goes to the PWG, whereas the MCCI resorted to violent armed struggle and waged a protracted guerrilla war against the State.
Enormity and Expansion of Left-Wing Extremism
The threat from LWE has always been a serious security concern, but it assumed menacing proportions from 2004 onwards, when the MCCI and People’s War (PW) merged to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist) [CPI (Maoist)]. From 2004 onwards, the number of fatalities per year in violence perpetrated by the Maoist cadres increased multifold.
Over the years, the Naxal movement that began as a peasants’ uprising against exploitation by rich landlords and money-lenders, has now got converted into a ruthless killing spree; a menace that has become the biggest threat to the nation’s internal security.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2006 called the Naxalites the “single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country.”
According to a central government report, the Maoists are now active in almost 200 districts (out of 602) in 17 states, along the Red Corridor of 92,000 sq km that runs from the Nepalese border to Bharat’s southwest coast.
The Red Corridor is expanding, as the Maoists want to fulfill their dream of having the corridor from Pashupatinath in Nepal to Tirupati. In recent years, the Maoists have stepped up operations aimed at spreading their influence beyond eastern Bharat and into the country’s premier industrial states of Maharashtra and Gujarat in the west. Intelligence sources say they are infiltrating the region quickly. Now they have moved beyond Bengal and entered the North-East (NE). After being beaten down in Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, the Maoists have moved into Kerala. A large part of the command of the Maoists has, in fact, moved into Kerala with the intention of strengthening the movement.
“The Maoists have successfully made their entry in the NE and are now spreading across South Bharat. They are also gradually spreading towards Western Ghats, which is a matter of great concern,” says Prakash Singh, former chief of Border Security Force and an expert on Naxalism.
Initially, the Dandakaranya forests in Bastar (Chhattisgarh) was the hiding ground of the extremists. Now they have turned into their nucleus—a centre of operation. In the name of ‘Jantana Sarkar’ or Revolutionary People Council of the Maoists, they are running a parallel government in some pockets. A Chhattisgarh local daily has recently reported that in Abhujmarh, in the constituency of Chhattisgarh’s Education Minister Kedar Kashyap, the Maoists have been running classes for the tribal girls in the dilapidated school buildings, teaching them the Maoist ideology.
The Maoists have kept the police and the Central Para-Military Forces (CPMFs) on tenterhooks through their effective intelligence network that has penetrated deeply amongst the tribals. So strong is their network that a Maoist gets to know about each and every movement of security forces and this helps them to chalk out their counter-offensive. The security forces are yet to have an effective penetration and control into the deadly ‘Maoist Liberated Zone’. The ambush at Sukma in the Maoist-hotbed in south Bastar in 2015 is a case in point.
“It’s the fear factor that compels the tribals and villagers to support the Maoists. No one dares to go against them or else one would be ruthlessly eliminated,” said Chhattisgarh Police IG, Pawan Deo, who had worked in the Maoist belt for a considerable period.
“Besides their efficient intelligence network, Maoists got training from ex-LTTE cadre on ambush and high-level of guerrilla warfare in lieu of providing the latter safe sanctuary in the jungles, when they were on the run,” says counter-terrorism analyst Anil Kamboj.
While, ambushing the police and security forces, the hardcore Maoist cadre is using poor tribal villagers as human shield, which makes it difficult for the former to encounter them. As a result, the Maoists safely escape, while tribals and cops get killed.
According to sources, in a bid to strengthen itself, the CPI (Maoist) has plans to establish a Compact Revolutionary Zone by using the Western Ghats covering Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala. The aim is to establish strategic and tactical bases, which would provide safe sanctuary from security forces, and will act as an alternative to the existing Red Corridor.
Arms, Ammunition and the Unholy Nexus
Recent studies reveal that the Naxals have well established linkages with other insurgent groups and a few Muslim Fundamental Organisations (MFOs). Besides psychological support and perception building by a few NGOs, these linkages help Maoists to procure money and weapons.
“Besides, there are many powerful NGOs in civil society, who still consider the Maoists as nothing more than modern avatars of Robin Hood,” observes Gen (retd) VP Malik, former Chief of Army Staff, in one of his articles.
Unlike in the past, the Maoists have no dearth of weapons at present, which they have collected through snatchings from police and security forces, and through smuggling. But, at present getting ammunition has become difficult for them.
“Today they have 303 SLR, AK-47 in abundance, besides LMG, Carbine and latest ones like Israel’s X95 assault rifle. They are getting explosives and gelatin sticks from mines and mineral companies working in Maoist belts. They either purchase or extort these sticks. They have a technically sound cadre that is making IEDs, landmines and even rocket launchers. They have procured these weapons from Veerappan gang, ex-LTTE cadre and North East insurgents like the ULFA, or those in Manipur, Nagaland, etc. Even Maoists are in touch with Bihar and Jharkhand modules of MFOs. It’s a dangerous cycle,” says Kamboj, an ex-senior fellow, Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis.
“The main source of funds for the Maoists includes extortion from Tendu-patta contractors, development work contractors, businessmen and corporate houses, and robbing of public property. This money is utilised for purchase of arms, equipment, explosives and for carring out their activities,” he says.
Policy: Countering Naxal Strategy
The government’s strategy is to deal with the LWE insurgency in a holistic manner by addressing the areas of security, development, promoting good governance and facilitating capacity building of the state governments.
However, the experts feel that this is not in sync with the objectives — right from policy to combat strategy.
“There’s an absence of national-level integrated policy and due to which every state tackles the menace as per its understanding and interests. We need a multi-pronged approach, and the Centre has to take the lead. Intelligence sharing mechanism has to be upgraded,” adds Prakash Singh.
“There is a need to deploy highly trained specialised force dedicated to take on LWE and guerilla warfare in difficult forest terrain,” adds Defence expert Maj Gen (retd) Dhruv C Katoch.
“An aggressive psychological operation needs to be carried out to counter the Maoists totally. An ideological battle can be countered only by ideological counter narrative,” opines Alok Bansal, director, Centre for Security & Strategy, India Foundation.
Surrendering of Ultras
The Maoist infested states like Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, etc have initiated surrender policies to bring back the ultra-Left extremists into the mainstream. In December 2015, 70 Maoists including 15 women cadres surrendered in Sukma district in Chhattisgarh under ‘Jan Jagran Abhiyan’ (Public Awareness Campaign), while eight others have surrendered in Bijapur district on January 19.
“Government is trying to bring tribals who had joined Maoist cadre back home,” a Chhattisgarh police official said.
Similarly, three hardcore Maoists surrendered in Bihar’s Aurangabad district last December under ‘Operation Vishwas’.
However, opposition parties and activists have cried foul and questioned the surrenders.
After the surrender of 70 Maoists, Chhattisgarh State Congress president Bhupesh Bhagel had demanded an explanation.
Manish Kunjam, a local tribal leader in Bastar, said, “Some of those who surrendered are not even the cadres of CPI (Maoist) and are innocent villagers.”
While, the need of the hour is to take stringent action against the Maoists, it’s equally important for the state to take ample precaution so that the laws meant to curb Naxal menace are not misused.
The arrests of two Bastar-based local journalists Santosh Yadav and Somaru Nag under Chhattisgarh Jan Suraksha Adhiniyam or Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act led to massive protests by journalists and civil rights groups across Bharat.
Both Amnesty International India and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) condemned the arrests under the law, stating that “the draconian laws are being used to silence journalists reporting from the areas of conflict, which is a disturbing sign”.
It’s imperative on the part of state governments to see if the laws are misused — it would bring a bad name to government’s intentions on one hand, and on the other it would arm human rights activists with opportunities to malign the government.
Though centre and state governments have been fighting the LWE menace for decades, coordinated action has been worked out during the last two-three years only, especially after the present government assumed power, making a pitch for coordinated response, with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) taking the lead.
The ministry has focused on delivery of the developmental initiatives as well as upgradation of counter offensive capabilities of the forces and streamlining of special intelligence structure.
“A visible focus can be seen on building of critical roads and bridges in LWE affected states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha as well enhancing the mobile connectivity in the entire LWE region. A large number of developmental projects has been completed under special schemes for LWE-affected regions in 2014-15. There has been a decline in fatalities in last two years, with deployment of additional CPMFs,” claims an MHA source.