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Naxalite Movement

Insurgency & Overview

The Naxalites (नक्सली आंदोलन) are an Indian Marxist-Leninist-Maoist political-military movement, which combines various groups and parties, among which stand out the Maoist Communist Party of India (CPI Maoist) and its armed wing, the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) (5). The movement is named after the village of Naxalbari, where a series of armed peasant uprisings broke out in 1967.

In 2006, the Indian PM, Manmohan Singh, defined the Maoist guerrilla war as "the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by [India]". At the time, the territories controlled by the guerrilla forces comprised about 20% of the entire country’s population (5).

Nowadays, Naxalites are active in almost all states of the country, with various forms and intensities. The ultimate goal of the Maoist organisation is the overthrow of state power, regarded as an imperialist and feudal force, and the subsequent establishment of socialist popular democracy.

History & Foundations

The Naxalite movement is named after a remote village in northern West Bengal, called Naxalbari. Here, in 1967, a group of peasants and fighters, in open opposition to the main communist party, launched a series of armed protests against local landowners. The insurgents demanded a fair redistribution of land and justice for exploited peasants and labourers. In this first phase, the movement was led by Charu Mazumdar, whose leadership lasted until 1972, when he died in police custody (6).

In the 1980s, the Naxalites intensified their armed struggle against the state and encouraged mass mobilization, establishing themselves massively in the most underdeveloped and impoverished Indian states. In this vast sphere of influence, the so-called Compact Revolutionary Zone (CRZ) -- also called the Red Corridor -- was established (3). Naxalites draw strength from the weakness and flaws of the governmental mechanism, which fails to be present in rural and tribal areas of the country, where wealth is poorly distributed, and exploitation is rife (3).

The main Naxalite political body, the CPI (Maoist) with PLGA, was founded in 2004 following the merger of the Maoist Communist Centre of India and the People’s War (PW) and their armed vanguards (6). Both organizations are defined as illegal terrorist groups by the Indian state. The reorganization around the CPI (Maoist) and its armed wing gave a new breath to the movement, allowing better coordination in the country. This led to a consequent increase in attacks against police forces, which have become more intense, frequent, and precise (6).

As their military skills improved, there was a desire among the Naxalist militants to transform the PLGA, the movement’s main armed wing, into a 'real People’s Army'. This step would involve numerous organizational and structural reforms, ranging from a continuous supply of modern weapons and ammunition to the need for better political-military training (4).

After the activities’ peak during 2008 and 2009, the Naxalites’ presence in the Indian peninsula has undergone a considerable reduction over a decade, passing from almost 200 districts among 20 states to 106 districts among 10 states (1). In recent years, Indian PM Narendra Modi, the undisputed leader of the Hindutva far-right, has accentuated the fight against the Naxalites, expressing the will to eradicate every "Naxalist with gun or pen" (8), denouncing an unconfirmed diffusion of Maoist thought even in urban and intellectual environments. The increase in repression, in the pursuit of “law and order”, is not in line with the desire of various actors, such as the Indian Supreme Court, who want to start a peace negotiation following international examples, such as Nepalese and Colombian cases (2).

Objectives & Ideology

Following Mao Zedong’s thought, who defined guerrilla warfare as "the art of sapping the enemy with thousands of pinpricks", Indian Maoists for decades have religiously implemented the Protracted People’s War, an armed struggle without a time limit with continuous guerrilla actions against the Indian state. Although the popular struggle is a fundamental part of the Naxalites’ ideology, the violence of the Maoist revolts is also linked with the actions of the Indian state; police forces have predominantly resorted to indiscriminate violence and fierce repression in order to counter the insurgents, fueling their perceived raison d'être of armed struggle (6).

According to the Maoists, military confrontation becomes the main tool to fight the Indian state, which -- in their view -- is a country in a semi-colonial and semi-feudal system, influenced by imperialist forces (6). From a Naxalist perspective, the direct task of the CPI (Maoist) is to organize the armed struggle of landless workers, poor peasants and various other exploited peoples against their oppressors (4). This results in the physical elimination of any supposed enemy of the peasant class and quells the numerous bloodsheds suffered by them.

The Naxalite movement, faithful to its rural origins, prefers an idea of an agrarian revolution, having as a reference isolated rural areas compared to the various urban centres (6). The main objective of the movement is the abolition of landlordism through deep agrarian reforms and the improvement of living conditions in rural areas, traditionally abandoned to themselves. This desire is historically present, in a less radical way, also in other more moderate political forces, such as the Congress Party and the Marxist Indian Communist Party (6).

Despite its intense military activity, the Naxalite movement cannot be reduced only to an armed group. Over the years, the Naxalites’ political activity has emphasized topics usually ignored by Indian politics, such as a redistribution of farmlands, fair wages, women’s rights and the elimination of the deepest regional inequalities. Especially in the mid-1990s, the Maoist movement developed a large repertoire of non-violent activities addressed to low-income people, such as popular clinics, irrigation systems for farmland, and school facilities (6).

Military Capabilities

The movement has a well-defined hierarchical structure, with the Central Committee and the Politburo at the top. The organization is then developed regionally through regional and state bureaus, with Special Committees for the Red Corridor’s areas. Over the years, the joint guerrilla warfare with Nepalese Maoists has led to the establishment of a Compact Revolutionary Zone (CRZ) or the Red Corridor, a vast territory conquered by Naxalite forces. Following the original project, the CRZ should have included the areas from the Nepalese border to the region of Kerala (3). The CRZ includes some of the territories considered the Maoist political-military guerrilla’s strongholds, such as the state areas of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Jharkhand (1).

At the village-level, there are units called "Sanghams", including local activists (3). Several sources calculate the capacity of the Naxalites at around 25,000 units, 10,000 of these which belong to the PLGA, divided into heavily armed platoons, companies, and special forces, plus about 50,000 village-level members (7).

It can be said that the main source of weapons and equipment for the Nazalite Movement is the Indian state itself -- over the years, the Naxalites have made up for the need for armaments by exploiting the weakness of the police forces, stealing a large amount of military equipment. In 2008 in Nayagarh, in the Orissa region, more than 1,000 weapons of all kinds were stolen during a PLGA raid, while, in 2010 in Dantewada, a 76-man-company of a Central Reserve Police Force was ambushed and killed by Maoists, who stole all the equipment (2). Actions and ambushes against police are carefully planned and carried out only if they have a high chance of success (4).

By rough estimation, the Maoists generate about 500 to 700 crores of rupees annually, corresponding to about 60 to 85 million USD, which are then invested in the Protracted War (3). In the Indian states under Maoist influence, the Naxalites hold the monopoly of a wide range of illicit activities and bank robberies, and a widespread system of 'taxation' and extortion, especially for industrialists, businesses, political leaders, and landowners. Kidnappings are also an important weapon: seizing prominent political or military figures has been used as an effective strategy to obtain the release of political prisoners or to obtain a ransom. In addition, Maoist groups produce and smuggle opium and other natural products (3).

Approach to Resistance

For decades, Maoists have been religiously implementing the Protracted People’s War, an unlimited armed struggle with continuous guerrilla actions against the Indian state. Raids towards strategic targets are a common practice in Maoist warfare and are not only intended to hit opponents but also to take possession or damage their equipment (4). When actions are carried out, they have to be precisely planned for months and conducted by a large number of fighters. For instance, in the 2009 attack against the mines of Panchpatmali in Odisha state, there were several hundreds of fighters who were employed and placed on 'standby'.

Although the PLGA troops have access to modern and heavy weaponry, they are unable to operate with military precision. Nevertheless, the Maoists continue to learn from every incident or mistake, through reports of their military actions (4).

Ambushes are another key component of the Maoist repertoire. Either conducted individually or in conjunction with raids, these ambushes are exemplifications of the movement's objectives to have the dual purpose of hitting the enemy both militarily and psychologically (4). Much of the Naxalites’ paramilitary repertoire is closely related to the use of IEDs. Over the decades, Maoists have become experts in handling explosives, causing severe losses to Indian security forces (4).

International Relations & Alliances

Over the years, the Indian Maoists’ military activity has seen collaboration with their Nepalese counterparts. Numerous reports testify to the ideological and strategic alliance between the Naxalites and the Nepalese Maoist Communist Party (CPN-M), consolidated through common training and joint actions in Indian territory (5). Both organizations are part of the "Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organizations of South Asia" (CCOMPOSA), an umbrella organization comprising various Maoist-inspired movements and parties in South Asia (5).

It is believed that in the mid-2000s, the Naxalites received logistical training on creating and using IEDs from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a nationalist group once active in Sri Lanka (5). In addition, according to the Indian government, the Maoists are also in contact with organizations responsible for insurrections in other regions of the country, such as in the Northern territories of Kashmir and the Eastern territories of Assam, given the common goal of overthrowing the Indian Central Government (5).

Works Cited (Chicago-style)

(1) - Al Jazeera. “India’s Maoist Rebels: An Explainer”, April 26, 2017.

(2) - Al Jazeera. “No End In Sight for India’s Bloody Maoist Conflict”, May 9, 2017.

(3) - Awasthi Sonali & Mishra Ayush, (2018), “The Naxalite Movement in India”, International Journal of Law Management and Humanities, Volume I, Issue IV.

(4) - Chhikara Rishi, (2012), “People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army of CPI (Maoist)”, Manekshaw Paper, No. 35.

(5) - European Foundation for South Asian Studies, “An Historical Introduction to Naxalism in India”, December 17, 2019.

(6) - Harriss John, (2010), “The Naxalite/Maoist Movement in India: A Review of Recent Literature”, National University of Singapore, Institution of South Asian Studies, No. 109.

(7) - Sundar Nandini, (2013), “Insurgency, Counter-insurgency and Democracy in Central India”, pp. 149–168, in Robin Jeffrey, Ronojoy Sen, and Pratima Sen, eds., “More than Maoism: Politics and Policies of Insurgency in South Asia”, New Delhi: Manohar.,%20Live/Sundar/Insurgency,%20Counter-insurgency%20%26%20Democracy.pdf

(8) - Opindia. “‘Naxalism with gun or pen must be uprooted’: PM Modi in his address to MHA’s Chintan Shivir”, October 28, 2022.

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