India Insight

Who are India’s Maoists and why they are in the news

By Shashank Chouhan and Sankalp Phartiyal

Here’s a ready reckoner on the Maoist movement in India.


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.

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.

It is difficult to arrive at an exact number but government data shows nearly 8,000 people have been killed between 2001 and 2012.

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.

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.

India needs a tough hostage policy

The abductions of two Italians and two government officials by Maoist guerrillas in just over a month must have left Indian authorities with a sense of déjà vu as they search for ways to end the cycle of negotiations and eventual accession to demands made by the rebels.

For the Maoists, who say they are fighting for people left out of India’s economic boom, the tactic of taking hostages instead of engaging soldiers brings huge dividends — obtaining freedom for jailed comrades and suspension of military ‘combing’ operations in areas controlled by them.

The method is not new, with government records showing hundreds of kidnappings since 2008 by Maoists, who have fought for decades in a wide swathe of central and eastern India including many resource-rich regions. Authorities stumble along on a case-by-case basis because there is no set procedure on how to handle such situations.