Who are India’s Maoists and why they are in the news
By Shashank Chouhan and Sankalp Phartiyal
WHO ARE THE MAOISTS?
The Maoists, also known as Naxals in India, are inspired by the political philosophy of China’s late Chairman Mao Zedong. They say they are fighting for the rights of poor farmers and landless labourers. In 2004, several Maoist groups merged to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist), which is now the largest left-wing extremist organization in the country. Their aim is to overthrow the state and usher in a classless society. The Maoists are banned in India. They are not to be confused with the mainstream communist parties in India who regularly get elected to legislatures and parliament.
ARE THEY GETTING STRONGER?
The May 25, 2013 ambush was perhaps their most brazen attack on politicians. On June 13, 2013, Maoists attacked a passenger train in Bihar, killing three people. On April 6, 2010, the rebels killed at least 75 policemen in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh. The same year, Maoists were blamed for a sabotaging a crowded train in West Bengal, with around 100 passengers killed when it derailed. Maoists have also kidnapped bureaucrats and foreigners to force their demands on the state. Government data shows they have also destroyed hundreds of schools and infrastructure such as telephone towers.
HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE DIED SO FAR?
It is difficult to arrive at an exact number but government data shows nearly 8,000 people have been killed between 2001 and 2012.
HOW DID THIS MOVEMENT BEGIN?
The peasant movement in Andhra Pradesh just after India’s independence was a precursor to the rise of Maoist thought. But it was an attack on a tribal man in the Naxalbari village of West Bengal on March 2, 1967 that sparked the violent, extremist left-wing movement. A police research paper says the movement was subdued for two decades till 1991.
ARE MAOISTS GETTING FOREIGN HELP?
Media reports suggest the Maoists may be getting training and support from China. There are also reports of their links with Maoist cadres in Nepal, the Philippines and Turkey.
IS THE WHOLE OF INDIA AFFECTED?
No. Maoists are mostly active in what has come to be known as the “red corridor” from Andhra Pradesh in the south to West Bengal in the east. But they do have some sort of presence in 21 out of 28 states in India.
ARE SOME AREAS UNDER MAOIST CONTROL?
Some small remote regions in eastern India are under Maoist influence. Many officials do not want to be posted in Maoist-dominated areas. The government has repeatedly referred to areas being reclaimed from Maoist control. In these “liberated zones”, Maoists run their own people’s court (62 Jan Adalats were held last year) and levy taxes on traders.
HOW MANY MAOIST REBELS ARE THERE?
Various estimates suggest Maoist rebels could number up to 40,000. Of these, thousands may be armed with weapons ranging from AK-47s to light machine-guns raided from police stations or bought from dealers in Nepal. The cadre mostly comprises farmers, landless labourers, tribals and the extremely poor, including women and children.
WHAT IS BEING DONE ABOUT THIS PROBLEM?
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has repeatedly referred to Naxalism as India’s single biggest internal security challenge. Governments – both state and central – are tackling the problem on two fronts: development in remote areas and security. While law and order is essentially a state issue, the central government has a Naxal Management Division that provides funds, additional security forces, logistics and coordinates between states. The government’s strategy has been criticised as being weak, ill-conceived and even unsympathetic towards tribals. There is debate over involving the army and the air force to drive out Maoists hiding in dense forests.
IS THE GOVERNMENT TALKING TO THE MAOISTS?
The Andhra Pradesh government initiated peace talks in 2004 but the ceasefire did not hold for long. The Maoists made an offer in 2010 but the central government rejected it.