Maoists and Naxalites are extreme left-wing activists who usually subscribe to Maoism – an ideology that stems from the violent communism propounded by Mao Tse Tung, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China. The cornerstone of such activism stems from perceived or actual injustice meted out to poor people by the government. The activism is further bolstered by a consensus that the common people are exploited for profit and the state machinery (government, courts etc.) adds to their misery by not helping them.
Naxalism originated in the Naxalbari village in West Bengal when a group of peasant leaders killed policemen who had come to diffuse a situation where the landlord’s agents tried to ambush the peasants. Therefore, both Maoism and Naxalism adhere to violence against the state as a means to bring justice to an otherwise marginalized and voiceless group of poor people, especially the tribal people. However, their tactics have been widely seen as a disruption of the Indian democracy because they willfully ignore and fight against the democratically elected government. Moreover, their agenda has brought little relief to the injustices and problems faced by the people living in infiltrated areas and their recklessness has further marginalized such people from mainstream Indian society. The biggest threat of such insurgents is that the democratic process in affected areas is being gravely undermined, as will be discussed in the paragraphs below.
The Maoist-Naxalite insurgency has caused great friction between the state and the insurgents. The insurgency, however, has ensured that the affected districts are one of the most backward in their respective states. In districts like Bijapur, Narayanpur, Kankar, Dhantar, Dantewada, Bastar, Koriya, Sarguja and Korbahave, there has been a substantial decrease in the population over the last three decades. The experts also add that migration may not be the only cause for the decrease in population, because of the constant fear that people have to endure may have negative effects on fertility. Such a decrease in population may also have an indirect bearing on democracy and the functioning of the Constitution in these areas.
The decrease in population may be symbolically seen by the insurgents as a submission of the local people to their will. Moreover, insurgents actively coerce people from not voting in elections, thereby denying their constitutional rights. This may also amount to disregarding and undermining the constitutional framework. Reports of NDTV from the 2018 Chhattisgarh assembly elections suggest that local people in affected areas remove the electoral ink from their fingers in fear of retribution from the insurgents. There have also been cases where locals have been threatened that their fingers will be chopped off if they are found violating the orders of the insurgents. In such circumstances, it is considered wise by the few remaining residents to forego voting than risk their lives. During the same elections (2018 Chhattisgarh Assembly Elections), the Election Commission had to relocate seven booths to a different location away from the core affected areas so as to encourage more people to vote without fear. Another indirect consequence of Maoist-Naxalite insurgency is that it disproportionately affects tribal people and other backward communities, who already face marginalization from mainstream Indian society.
In a different setting, the Jharkhand elections in 2015 saw a high voter turnout of 62% in affected areas. This has been variously attributed to the awareness campaign of the Election Commission and the people’s resolve to disregard the decade-long elections boycott proclaimed by the Naxalites. The political parties that were fearful of campaigning in such dangerous areas used large billboards to convey their agenda to the constituents, instead of holding rallies and speeches. Also, the security forces numbering to 1.25 lakh provided robust security arrangements in and around the affected areas. Although the insurgents tried to intimidate citizens by exploding improvised explosive devices, there was no reported casualty or harm.
The tactics of the insurgency such as recruitment of youth, intimidation, preaching about government injustices and retribution for government actions, and a propaganda strategy depicting their activities as a ‘people’s war’ has failed to garner support for the insurgents. A positive development is that between 2007 and 2013, the insurgency has been contained and now largely affects only three states – Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa, and insurgency in Karnataka, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana has considerably reduced in the same period. The contrast between insurgent affected areas wherein one election people are hopeful of being able to cast their votes, while in another they are terrified to venture out of their homes during the elections show how precarious the situation is and how unpredictable it can become even after years of progress in curbing insurgency.
The government of India and the government of the states have adopted reconciliation and not retribution as a strategy to prevent young people from joining the insurgency and to also rehabilitate current insurgents into a life of normalcy. The governments have also taken measures to develop affected districts so that the Maoist-Naxalite rhetoric of non-development does not sway the local youth to take up arms against the state. Moreover, the target of the insurgents is the state and as such around 3500 members of the Central Reserve Police Force have lost their lives while fighting insurgents.
Despite the decreasing levels of the insurgency, the Maoist-Naxalite insurgency remains a great challenge for Indian democracy and will continue to remain a threat, at least in the near future. Solutions to the problems of the insurgency are better said than done due to the complex intersectionality of poverty, injustice and vengeance that inspires insurgents to blame the state for their misery and the misery of the locals whom they claim to represent. For now, the strategy adopted by the government seems to be working in reducing insurgency in affected areas and preventing their spread into newer areas. Whether this strategy will be sustainable in the future remains to be seen.
(2018, November 14). After Naxals' "Chop Finger" Threat, Chhattisgarh Voters Busy Removing Ink. NDTV. Retrieved from https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/chhattisgarh-elections-2018-after-threats-by-naxals-voters-remove-ink-1947022
(2017, October 1). Fatalities in Left-wing Extremism: 1999-2018* (MHA). South Asia Terrorism Portal. Retrieved from http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/maoist/data_sheets/fatalitiesnaxalmha.htm
Gupta A. (2015, July 4). Jharkhand polls: Naxalite-affected areas record high voter turnout in phase 2. Down to Earth. Retrieved from https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/jharkhand-polls-naxaliteaffected-areas-record-high-voter-turnout-in-phase-2-47689
Moini M. (2015, August 17). Naxal-hit areas of Chhattisgarh see sharp decline in population. Down to Earth. Retrieved from https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/naxalhit-areas-of-chhattisgarh-see-sharp-decline-in-population--44683
Image credit: My nation
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