The Indian government and security officials perceive left-wing extremism in India as “Red Terror” but Maoist sympathizers and some social activists think of Naxals as an important cog in the wheel of the “Red Revolution”.
Many experts believe that the threat posed by gun-wielding Naxals can only be tackled with “better governance”, “dialogue” and a “humane approach”. But others are strongly in favour of relentless military action against them.
On Saturday, a group of about 250 heavily-armed Maoists had ambushed a convoy of Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh — a separate state formed in November 2000 by partitioning the Central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh — killing at least 27 people including the state Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel, his son Dinesh, and Congress leader Mahendra Karma.
Quoting eye-witnesses, several media channels said that Maoists celebrated with a macabre dance of death after killing Karma — a man widely believed to have spearheaded the controversial anti-Naxalite movement ‘Salwa Judum’.
The Salwa Judum (‘peoples’ resistance movement’) by a group of local tribals or a civilian militia mobilised to assist security forces in their anti-insurgency operations — was declared illegal and unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of India in July 2011. The apex court ordered its disbanding in Chhattisgarh. In the Gondi language (a South-Central Dravidian language), spoken roughly by two million people – chiefly in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh – Salwa Judum means ‘peace march’ or ‘purification hunt’.
India’s Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh described the latest attack as a “dastardly act”. On previous occasions, Dr. Singh has maintained that left-wing extremism is India’s “biggest internal security challenge”.
Pranab Mukherjee, India’s President expressed his shock over the attack. “I’m deeply shocked and dismayed at the wanton violence unleashed by Maoists. I condemn this incident,” Mr. Mukherjee said in his statement.
Meanwhile, a team from India’s National Investigating Agency (NIA) is conducting a probe into the incident to establish if there were any security lapses.
Naxalites have an uncanny knack of catching Indian security forces unawares. Their sudden lethal attacks always come unexpectedly, after which they become inactive for a while only to plan and repeat more attacks on troops and some politicians they perceive as their enemies.
Who are Naxals? Maoists? How to they operate? Which areas are their strongholds? What are their demands?
Naxals, Naxalites, Maoists, Naksalvadis and Maovadis are generic terms which refer to different armed Communist groups operating in many parts of India, especially in states like Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odhisa and West Bengal.
Defence experts like Rahul Bedi say that the threat posed by these well-equipped groups is “steady”, which is “eating into India”.
“As many as 630 districts in the country are Maoist-infested in some way. Out of which between 280-300 districts are either partially or fully controlled by them. Their influence is in areas like education, revenue, movement of people, and even politics,” Bedi told Dawn.com via telephone.
They (Naxals) do not hold any territories like the Taliban militia do in Afghanistan, but have very heavy concentration in many areas in India where they wield substantial influence.
Their modus operandi, experts say, is to attack and disperse and then regroup after a while.
Is Naxalism the offshoot of mis-governance and snatched rights?
“You must realize that Naxal violence stems from mal-governance, mis-governance, corruption, nepotism, rights abuses, and in some cases state repression against the under-privileged class of the society. It will flourish as long as corrupt practices continue,” Bedi argues.
Some social activists in India advocate “meaningful and sincere dialogue” with the Maoists. Swami Agnivesh, prominent social activist and spiritual guru, is one among them.
While condemning the violent attack, Agnivesh held Chhattisgarh’s Chief Minister Raman Singh and Governor Shekhar Dutt responsible for their “failure” to provide security to the people. “Countering Naxals with brute force and military violence is no solution. The government should talk to them and listen to what they want,” he told news channel NewsX.
But many security experts argue that Naxals do not deserve any mercy and need to be wiped out.
The Naxal movement in India originated from eastern Indian state of West Bengal, where the Communist Party of India (Marxist), CPI (M), ruled for nearly three decades. Hugely popular Communist leader, the late Jyoti Basu, served as the state’s chief minister from 1977 to 2000.
The Naxals or Maoists are considered far-left radical communists who propagate Maoist political ideology. They are believed to have started their movement from Naxalbari, a small hamlet in West Bengal. The violent uprising erupted in 1967.
The movement then quickly spread into less developed areas of rural and southern India. According to a rough estimate, by 1980, around 30 different armed Naxalite groups were believed to be active in India with a combined membership of over 30,000.
According to some analysts the “brute force” used by the security forces to counter Naxalite violence often proves counter-productive.
“Complaints of human rights excesses during counter-insurgency operations only lead to more violence. It has become a vicious cycle. Where the state fails to deliver in governance, the Maoists fill the vacuum. They thrive in under-developed areas,” defence analyst Rahul Bedi told me.
The long term cure, in Bedi’s opinion, is “better governance”. Over the years, he believes, rights of tribal people in India have been slowly eroded. “Their rights over land, forest areas and other basic rights have been snatched, which is the primary reason behind their violent resistance.”
“See, it is not a law and order problem alone. There is political bankruptcy and lack of governance. The government needs to resolve this crisis through a multi-pronged strategy.”
Whether the Naxalite movement is actually a genuine resistance commonly referred to as “Red Revolution” against suppression and violation of basic rights or simply motiveless violence, aka “Red Terror”, is a difficult question to answer. The debate, therefore, continues.
The state of Chhattisgarh is among the worst-affected by Maoist violence. Many parts of it are under the control of the left-wing extremists.
Since 2008, as per media reports, the Naxalite violence has consumed about 1,000 persons, which include 400 security personnel and over 550 civilians.
In June 2010, Naxalites killed 26 personnel of India’s paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh.
In April 2010, Maoists launched their deadliest attack in the history of their violent movement by killing over 75 troopers.
Gowhar Geelani is a writer/journalist with international experience. He has served as Editor at Deutsche Welle (Voice of Germany) in Bonn, Germany. Previously, he has contributed features for the BBC. Feedback at (firstname.lastname@example.org).