“Maoists are the biggest internal security threat.” – Indian Prime Minister, 2004
Maoists, popularly known as Naxals, Naxalites or left wing extremists, are at war with the Indian State since 1967. They have succeeded in carving out a large chunk of area in the countryside, labeled by the media “Red Corridor,” along the eastern coast of India from Nepal border in north to Karnataka in the south, covering about 92,000 sq km. They are active in over 200 districts and have influence in about one-third of the geographical area of India. These are predominantly tribal areas. In brief, in the “red corridor” region the state administration or its machinery has been virtually absence and the rich and the powerful freely exploited poor farmers and tribal people.
In recent years the news of Maoist violence has become quite common so is their clashes with police or security forces, besides the usual kidnappings or killings. Maoists are the most misunderstood group by the ordinary people except for their negative image. Since the Maoists activities are concentrated in the tribal areas, city dwellers automatically tend to believe that the tribals are either Maoists or their supporters. Maoists are regularly painted as enemies of “development” by the government and highlighted by the media. Another widespread perception is that the Maoists are simply terrorists.
Then there are those who see Maoists as champions of the cause of out-castes and marginalized and voiceless tribals and dalits, or as protectors of their rights. There is certainly utter poverty, deprivation, and lack of development in areas where Maoists operate but it is wrong to conclude that they are there with a mission to eradicate these conditions. On the contrary, the history of past half a century testifies to only one thing: these conditions provide ideal fertile ground for their activities to both to sustain and flourish. They do occasionally take up the cause of exploited poor, but that is more to serve their cause and to win sympathy for their ideology – to overthrow the Indian State through protracted armed struggle. However improbable that might seem, but that is exactly what their ideology is.
A 2006 status paper of Home Ministry sums up the Maoist activities very succinctly:
“The naxalites operate in the vacuum created by absence of administrative and political institutions, espouse the local demands and take advantage of the disenchantment prevalent among the exploited segments of the population and seek to offer an alternative system of governance which promises emancipation of these segments from the clutches of ‘exploiter’ classes through the barrel of a gun.”
Origin of Maoists’ Uprising
Although the Maoist violence is generally traced to an incidence of 1967 in the Naxalbari village of West Bengal – a violent clash between the landless farmers and powerful landlords – ideological roots date back to the Telangana Movement of the late forties (1946 – 51) which was an effort to copy Mao’s peasant revolution of China. Maoists pick up different local issues in different regions. Thus, the Maoist struggle came about caste conflict in Bihar, got connected to land issues in Andhra Pradesh, and tribal exploitation provided them grounds to spread roots in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. They appear to be supporting separatism in J&K and in the Northeast. However, regardless of the causes they may appear to be fighting for, their ultimate ideological goal remains the same – to throw out the Indian State and establish a people’s State.
A Brief History of Evolution of Maoist’s Struggle
All shades of leftist parties in India are off springs of the Telangana Movement around the time of India’s partition – over 2500 villages in Andhra were organized into “communes” as part of the peasant struggle in 1948. The movement leaders’ strategy was based on Mao’s New Democracy. It ultimately gave birth to three branches of communism in India – one favored the Russian type revolution, another opted for the Mao’s Chinese model, and the third decided to go along the parliamentary democracy.
The idea of armed struggle to achieve the goal got a boost from an incidence twenty years later – in the Naxalbari village in the Darjeeling area in 1967. A land dispute between a poor farmer and landlords provided opportunity to a section of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) led by Charu Mujumdar to initiate a violent uprising. It soon spread to other neighboring areas and landless farmers picked up arms against landlords. It resulted in the formation of the All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR) in 1968. The AICCCR adopted two basic principles for its operations – allegiance to the armed struggle and non-participation in the elections.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) CPM (ML)
In 1969 the AICCCR formed the Communist Party of India (Marxist- Leninist) CPI (ML). The following year, CPI (M-L) elected Charu Mazumdar as its general secretary. Inspired by Mao’s doctrines Charu Majumdar provided ideological leadership to the movement until his death in 1972. He advocated that the oppressed peasants and lower class tribals should overthrow the rule of upper classes by force. Many intellectuals were also attracted to the ideology, which spread through Majumdar’s writings, particularly the “Historic Eight Documents” which formed the basis of Naxal ideology. Charu’s departure led to the collapse of the central leadership the CPI (ML) and the saga of splits and attempts for unification started which continued for next several years; many opted out of the idea of armed struggle along the way. It is a fact that practically all naxal groups have originated from the CPI (ML).
The Communist party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation
In 1974 the CPI (ML) was reorganized and renamed as the CPI (ML) Liberation. It offered Indianized version of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism: limited role for armed struggle and greater emphasis on mass peasant struggles. Its activities were brought into open for the first time during the post-emergency phase of 1977, when most leaders of the Communist movement were released from jail. It launched its political wing – Indian People’s Front (IPF) – in 1982 with a view to participate in the electoral process. The IPF recorded its first electoral victory under the banner of the IPF in 1989 and the Ara Lok Sabha constituency in Central Bihar sent the first “Naxalite” member to Parliament.
In 1992, the CPI (ML) Liberation group decided to start functioning openly and disbanded the Indian People’s Front in 1994. The Election Commission recognized the CPI (ML) in 1995. Though the CPI (ML) Liberation started functioning overtly within the parliamentary democratic setup, it could not completely give up the path of armed rebellion. This is a peculiar dilemma within the ultra left movement which has time and again reflected the unpredictable character of the leftist’s movement.
Maoist Communist Centre (MCC)
A few months after the birth of CPI (ML) the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) was formed in 1969 by Kanhai Chatterjee, who supported the Naxalbari struggle but did not join CPI (ML) due to some differences. The MCC evolved out of the Dakshin Desh group. It stood apart and retained its identity when other groups were going through metamorphosis in the later years. Right from its inception, the MCC stood for taking up armed struggle as the main form of resistance and waging a protracted people’s war as the central task. In 2003, MCC merged with the Revolutionary Communist Centre of India-Maoists (RCCI-M) to form the Maoist Communist Centre-India (MCC-I). It would later merge with People’s War in 2004 to form the formidable CPI (Maoist).
Peoples War Group (PWG)
If today the left-wing extremists’ violence has grown to the extent to be declared “the greatest internal security threat” and if the Maoists got to be in the position to be running parallel government in different parts of the country, the credit mostly goes to the PWG – formally the Communist Party of India – Marxist-Leninist (People’s War Group). It was formed on Lenin’s birth anniversary on April 22, 1980 by Kondapalli Seetharamaiah, one of the influential Naxalite leaders from Andhra Pradesh.
Since its inception the activities of PWG were confined to Andhra Pradesh, while the CPI (ML) Liberation continued to carry on its operations in Bihar. During the nineties, militarization became the characteristic feature of the PWG. In 1999, the CPI (ML) People’s War Group became People’s War after absorbing the CPI (ML) (Unity Organization) which was focused in Jehanbad-Palamu region of Bihar and some other groups with it. The merger allowed PWG foothold outside Andhra Pradesh and it gradually gained strength in different areas of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra.
Formation of the Communist Party of India (Maoist)
In 2004, the Naxal movement in India entered yet another phase of organizational transformation resulting in creation of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) or simply CPI (Maoist). It was a result of merger of two of the principal armed organizations – People’s War (PW) and the Maoist Communist Centre – India (MCC-I). It gave a significant boost to the morale of the Maoists struggle by giving enhanced ideological and operational synergy.
On the occasion of its formation the CPI (Maoist) announced that it aims to establish a compact revolutionary zone, stretching from Nepal to Bihar to Andhra Pradesh and beyond. It ultimately wants to establish a people’s democracy by seizing power through protracted armed struggle. The rebels reject participation in elections or involvement with any established government, because they see the state as ineffectual and ignorant to the needs of the poor.
Indian Government’s flawed Response
Hence, the major threat is from Maoists’ ideology; violence, kidnapping and other tactics are just means to achieve it. An ideological movement can’t be treated as merely law and order problem, nor can it be taken as a mere development issue.
Indian government’s strategy to counter Maoists is flawed. Since 2009 is handing over the troubled areas to security forces for combing operations under the unpublicized “Operation Green Hunt” in order to restore law and order. Simultaneously, it is handing over lands and resources of the regions to MNCs and corporate houses for physical development and alienating or displacing people. The government does not have a solution that considers the local people and put them at the center of attention. It is here that the correct solution of the “Red” problem lies – winning over the historically ignored and marginalized people. It necessarily implies providing exploitation and corruption free governance in these areas.
The shortcomings of Indian government’s counter Maoist response are apparent already. Its military strategy is grossly jeopardizing the well being and lives of the local populace. The combing operations harass more innocent people than capture the real Maoist ideologues. Even those “Maoists” who are caught fighting, took up arms either through compulsions or because they were led to believe that there is a better life after overthrowing the callous administration. Maoists on the other hand target and kill innocent people merely on suspicion of being “police informers.” The net result is further alienation of local population which has become disposable pawns for the two warring forces.
Likewise, the “development” initiative is also filled with serious pitfalls, particularly in the manner it is being undertaken currently. In the current liberalization, privatization, globalization regime development only means driving away local population so that the cash rich corporations can freely exploit the natural resources. Here again the local people are secondary and sacrificial goats. Left to defend themselves against the combined might of corporate-State they are doing everything to protect their lands and livelihoods. By favoring MNCs and big industrial houses in the name of economic reforms the government and its machinery has acquired the same image as the British in colonial times.
Although the “development” approach is better than the military route if it is implemented with informed consent and involvement of the local population, but by openly siding with corporate lobby the government is defeating its own purpose and allowing the Maoists to yet again appear as champions of the cause of the poor and neglected people. Driving away tribals and handing over their lands to business houses at throw away prices is not something any civil society can accept.
Learn from US’s Failure in Afghanistan
It is important to understand the difference between an ideological struggle and a fight against injustice, though they often appear same or similar. The conviction of ideology can be far too long lasting than the struggle for justice that only demands removal of injustice. The neighboring Afghanistan provides a textbook example of American failure to win the battle against Taliban and Al Kaida despite decade long occupation.
The US has failed to comprehend the power of ideology behind the two organizations and still sees their terror activities merely as crime and violence that must be punished. To its misfortune, every act of “punishment” for over a decade has only strengthened and propagated the ideology farther; even the killing of Bin Laden failed to kill the ideology. The rest of the world has witnessed the spread of anti-American wave from Iraq and Afghanistan to the whole Muslim world. Even the most arrogant American can’t claim that he or his country is safer today despite squandering away hundreds of billion dollars and decimating thousands of human lives over a decade of misadventure.
The Indian government must learn from the US folly and not compound the Maoist problem by over-indulging in the military solution or arming another section of society against the Maoists as the Chhattisgarh government did (created Salwa Judum) and got reprimanded by the Supreme Court. It must resist pressures from the business lobby for quick military solution. It should deny the Maoists the reasons for their existence by connecting directly with the local tribals and poor farmers and helping them stand on their own feet and govern themselves.
Therefore, the only correct option the government has in the “Red Corridor” is to go for the political solution which means winning-over its historically neglected citizens. All it has to do is to honestly implement the Panchayat Raj Act of 1992 and the PESA Act of 1996 by strengthening the PRIs and the Gram Sabhas to strengthen grass-root democracy.