India – Maoist Insurgency (1980 – first combat deaths)
The Conflict at a Glance
Who (are the main combatants): Maoists (commonly known as Naxalites) seek to overthrow the current government and establish socialist-communist rule in India to address vast inequities within the population. In late 2004, the two largest Naxalite organizations – the People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre of India – merged to form the Communist Party of India (CPI-Maoist).
What (started the conflict): In 1967, a violent uprising in the West Bengal village of Naxalbari became the catalyst for the Maoist movement. In the 1990s, government policies led to a substantial increase in poverty and inequality in India, especially among indigenous populations. For example, more than 84 million Adivasis were displaced to exploit their mineral-rich lands by building iron and steel facilities. The Communist Party of India emerged to fight for those who felt betrayed by the government. Its long-term goal is to institute a socialist-communist government in India.
When (has fighting occurred): Although discontent began in 1967 and grew under the government’s neoliberal policies of the 1990s, the current Maoist insurgency emerged from the 2004 amalgamation of the People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre to form the Communist Party of India. In 1980, the PWG began guerrilla-style attacks against police, who responded with extrajudicial executions. In 2002, the state government of Andhra Pradesh banned the PWG, which responded by intensifying attacks against politicians, police officers, and land and business owners. By late 2004, Naxalites had spread to most of rural India and formed parallel governance, justice and taxation systems.
In 2005, the Chhattisgarh state government helped create a people’s militia – the Salwa Judum Movement – to oppose the insurgency. In 2008, after widespread human rights violations and mass displacement, the Movement was investigated and, in 2011, the Supreme Court outlawed such militias. Since 2011, conflict-related fatalities have declined but skirmishes remain frequent. In 2013, Mahendra Karma, founder of Salwa Judum, was assassinated. The same year, the government called for both intensive military action and increased economic development to combat the leftist insurgency.
Where (has the conflict taken place): The Maoist insurgency is active in eight of India’s 29 states and more than a third of the country’s 600 districts. As of 2011, the Maoists remained active in the states of Jharkand, West Bengal, Odisha/Orissa, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh, as well as parts of Uttar Pradesh, and Karnataka (BBC). Most of the conflict and causalities have occurred in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Bihar, but the insurgency is active in the entire Red Corridor.
2017 Government-supported actions increased pressure on the Maoists. In 2017, Maoists continued their attacks on police, although with less violence. According to the Indian government, Maoist violence was down 21 per cent from 2016. The number of Maoist attacks on police decreased from 111 in 2016 to 84 in 2017, while the number of security force deaths increased by 10.
2016 This year saw the highest number of Maoist-related incidents of the last six years (India Today). Rebels and security forces continued to clash, primarily in the states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, and Odisha. In February, police and security forces allegedly supported an anti-Naxalite demonstration in Chhattisgarh; Maoists accused them of trying to revive the banned Salwa Judum Movement. Human rights organizations remained critical of both Maoist rebels and security forces for their involvement in human rights abuses.
2015 The government of India maintained a strategy of military intervention combined with economic development to fight Maoist militants. Officials unveiled major projects in Bihar and Chhattisgarh, two states in which the Maoist insurgency has operated. Security forces continued to clash with Maoist fighters. The Maoists targeted security forces and infrastructure projects; on May 8 they kidnapped at least 250 villagers at the site of a bridge construction project.
2014 While fatalities were at their lowest level since 2005, bomb and landmine explosions as well as attacks on infrastructure continued. Observers noted Maoist expansion into southern India, including parts of the Western Ghats and the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka. The inauguration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), took place in May. Modi has adopted a zero-tolerance approach to Maoists. Election-related violence, for which Maoist rebels were held responsible, killed several soldiers and election officials in Chhattisgarh and left eight people dead from the explosion of a poll bus on April 24 in Jharkhand. On March 11 Maoists launched an attack in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, killing 16; another attack in the same district on December 1 left 14 people dead.
2013 Maoists developed new tactics in their campaign against the state, including booby-trapping the bodies of dead Indian soldiers with Improvised Explosive Devices in their stomachs. The Maoists killed Salwa Judum founder Congressman Mahendra Karma, in an attack on his convoy while he was campaigning in rural communities. Prime Minister Singh called for a two-pronged approach to dismantle the Maoist network, combining sustained and proactive military operations with efforts to build governance and development in areas with strong Maoist support. The approach was impeded by many soldiers who continued to commit serious human rights violations. The Central Reserve Police Force successfully launched a five-day interstate offensive in late December to dismantle core Maoist groups. It shut down a gun manufacturing factory and recovered numerous weapons and explosives. Remote triggering devices also were found, indicating that the insurgency is using more advanced weaponry. Naxalite-related conflict this year resulted in 421 fatalities: 159 civilians, 111 security forces, and 151 militants.
2012 Police clashes with insurgents resulted in losses for both sides. However, the number of attacks and deaths declined from previous years, in line with the trend over the past decade. Top leaders in the Maoist insurgency were arrested or killed in action. Some internally displaced persons (IDPs) returned to their land following the banning of the Salwa Judum. The use of children in conflict was documented by the UN.
2011 An increased police presence in conflict areas significantly reduced violence. Naxalites continued to launch offensives against police and such civilian targets as schools and hospitals. In July, the Indian Supreme Court ruled the use of Special Police Officers against Naxalite insurgents unconstitutional. Koteshwar Rao, a member of the Communist Party of India and leader of the Maoist military, was killed during a firefight in November.
2010 Despite some major Naxalite offensives, the death toll fell to pre-2008 levels, with 500 to 600 killed in conflict-related violence. The government’s counterinsurgency offensive, Operation Green Hunt, was launched, with mixed results. In April, an entire government battalion was ambushed by insurgents, leaving an estimated 75 dead. The Sulwa Judum, though still active, received less press coverage than in previous years.
2009 By June, India had seen 1,128 incidents of violence relating to the Maoist conflict. The Indian government launched a number of operations and counteroffensives. The death toll was 998.
2008 Fighting between government forces and Maoist insurgents continued in some eastern states, with total fatalities increasing to approximately 800, half civilian. Reports indicated that all parties used children in armed operations.
2007 Clashes between Maoist insurgents and government forces resulted in 650 deaths. In March, more than 400 Naxalites attacked a police station in Chhattisgarh, seizing arms and killing dozens. Maoists and government forces continued to intimidate civilian populations, creating widespread fear and insecurity.
2006 Fighting continued between Maoist rebels and government security forces, resulting in 500-700 deaths. Government response toughened and expanded to include arming and training village groups to fight rebels. Despite government efforts, Maoist influence appeared to be taking hold in a number of states.
2005 Fighting escalated after the breakdown of peace talks between the People’s War Group and the Andhra Pradesh state government. In late 2004, the PWG merged with the Maoist Communist Centre of India to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist), the largest Maoist rebel group. Maoist rebels also increased cooperation with Nepalese Maoist rebels engaged in an insurgency against Nepal’s monarchy.
2004 Sporadic conflict between People’s War Group rebels and government forces continued, at a lower intensity. The conflict resulted in the deaths of at least 40 people, most police and leaders of the political party, Telugu Desam. A ceasefire agreed to by the government and the PWG lasted mere days.
2003 The conflict between state security forces and the People’s War Group intensified in 2003, resulting in approximately 300 deaths—the highest toll in three years. An PWG assassination attempt on Andhra Pradesh’s Chief Minister further hardened the government’s position against the rebels.
2002 Fighting between the People’s War Group and government security forces claimed more than 100 lives. The government renewed a ban on the PWG, jeopardizing a peace dialogue initiated in June.
2001 The People’s War Group increased attacks on the government; approximately 100 people were killed. In July, the government of Andhra Pradesh called for talks with the rebels.
2000 The People’s War Group continued attacks after three of its top commanders were killed in December 1999. An estimated 3,000 armed leftist rebels were active in Andhra Pradesh and neighbouring states. At least 50 people were killed.
1999 Police continued to employ summary executions in response to rebel violence against government forces and civilians. More than 350 combatants and civilians were killed.
1. Government of India: India has the third-largest military in the world, but its modernization has been held back by an inefficient domestic arms industry. According to the 2016 edition of The Military Balance, Indian armed forces comprise:
- Army: 1,200,000
- Air Force: 127,200
- Navy: 58,350
- Coast Guard: 9,550
- Paramilitary: 1,403,700.
From 2004 until 2014, the government was led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (Indian National Congress Party) and the United Progressive Alliance coalition. After May 2014 elections, Narendra Modi, the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, became the new prime minister. Pranab Mukherjee is the first Bengali to sit as President (2012 to present).
2. Governments of affected Indian states: Jharkand, West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Andra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.
Formerly allied with:
3. The Salwa Judum Movement: The Salwa Judum is a militia group, formerly backed and armed by the Chhattisgarh state government. Political leader Mahendra Karma helped form the militia in 2005 to counter and overcome the Maoist rebellion. Known for targeting civilians, the group was responsible for the displacement of more than 50,000 Chhattisgarhis. In 2008, after wide reports of its human rights abuses, the Supreme Court of India ordered the Human Rights Commission to investigate Salwa Judum activities. In 2011, Salwa Judum dissolved after it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. In May 2013 Mahendra Karma was assassinated by Naxalite insurgents while campaigning in Maoist-dominated territory. In February 2016, CPI-Maoist accused police of attempting to revive a Salwa Judum militia by backing anti-Naxalite protests in Chhattisgarh region (South Asia Terrorism Portal).
Versus Maoist rebels:
According to 2010 reports, Maoists operate in 20 of India’s 28 states, or 223 of 600 districts (Forbes). The Naxalite movement is dominated by the People’s War Group (PWG) and the Maoists Communist Centre, which merged to become the Communist Party of India, but also includes autonomous groups, such as the Revolutionary Youth Forum and the Parakala Dalam.
4. The Communist Party of India (Maoist): Created in 2004 by the merger of the long-standing People’s War Group (PWG) and the Maoists Communist Centre, it became the largest single Maoist group in India. Rebels call themselves Naxalites, after the Indian town of Naxalbari, where the movement began 50 years ago. Reports from 2011 estimated that there were 10,000 to 20,000 active fighters in India (BBC), with up to 100,000 reservists.
5. People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI): Formed in 2007, PLFI is one of several factions that has splintered off the Communist Party of India. The People’s Liberation Front is led by Dinesh Gope and has conducted widespread operations in Jharkhand state.
2017 Low-intensity fighting continued throughout the year, with more significant incidents in the spring. Confirmed or suspected Maoist attacks killed 12 members of India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in March and 26 CFRPF members in Sukma district in April.
2016 Maoists continued to strategically target police, political figures, and landlords. Most violence occurred in Chhattisgarh, Bihar, and Odisha states (Human Rights Watch) and Chhattisgarh security forces were accused of human right violations. In January, 13 women accused police of rape and sexual assault during anti-Maoist raids in Chhattisgarhi villages (Reuters). In March, security forces arbitrarily arrested tribal villagers, alleging that they were Maoist sympathizers (Human Rights Watch). In July, five Odisha villagers, including a two-year-old, were shot dead by security forces; the National Commission of Scheduled Tribes argued that the villagers were deliberately targeted (Human Rights Watch).
Clashes between security forces and Maoists in the Red Corridor occurred in all months except February and August (International Crisis Group). The biggest clash occurred in October, when security forces attacked a Maoist camp in Odisha, killing 24 militants (Al Jazeera). The Maoists used improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and landmines against security forces.
2015 Maoists continued to target police, especially in the first six months. Violence increased in April; one Maoist attack in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh state killed seven and wounded 10 Special Forces officers (International Crisis Group). In August authorities dispatched 5,000 Indo-Tibetan Border Police to Chhattisgarh to reinforce operations against Maoist militants. On May 8 Maoists kidnapped at least 250 villagers in Sukma district to protest the construction of a bridge (International Crisis Group).
Twenty Maoists surrendered to police in June in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. Security forces killed a number of Maoist leaders in 2015. Silvester Minz was killed in July; Sonadhar, the alleged mastermind of an attack that killed 30 Congress leaders in 2013, was killed in September. Another leader, Eruvu Sivareddy, was arrested in October.
2014 Fatalities related to left-wing extremism, at 324, were at their lowest level since 2005. The Hindu noted Maoist expansion into southern India, including the Western Ghats, the Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka states. Attacks on infrastructure continued. In March, Maoist militants burned a portion of a conveyer belt intended to move raw materials from a mine in Chhattisgarh. The incident delayed a major project to expand mining operations in the area. On March 11, an attack by more than 200 Maoist militants in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district left 15 security force members and one civilian dead. Also in Sukma district, Maoist militants killed 14 police officers and injured 13 others on December 1. A spokesperson for the Maoists claimed that the attack was in response to the government’s policies of selling natural resources to “big corporate houses.” Election officials and security forces were targeted in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand in election-related attacks. Thirty-nine bomb blasts killed four and injured 36; 19 landmine explosions left 42 dead and 58 injured. A former Salwa Judum leader, Bodhiram Machhi, was killed by Maoist militants in the Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh on January 28. On July 23, Maoist Commander Vishal, also known as Tulsi andTadit, was killed in the Khunti District of Jharkhand during an encounter with security forces.
2013 The Maoist insurgency continued to operate in 223 districts due, in part, to protection provided by indigenous groups and rural communities. The insurgents became more aggressive despite a decline in incidents from 1,415 in 2012 to 1,129 in 2013. They used new tactics, such as planting Improvised Explosive Devices in the bodies of dead soldiers to create booby traps. In response to talks among states aimed at intensifying efforts against them, in June insurgents stole weapons from Railway Protection Forces by attacking a train in Jamui district. A hundred Maoists fired upon the train and threw crude bombs, with passengers becoming collateral damage. Four days later 70 Maoists attacked the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Gaya district.
The Indian government arrested Maoist leader Umesh Yadav and Yasin Bhatkal, leader of the Indian Mujahideen (IM). (The IM and Maoists were assumed to be cooperating with each other.) In December, the CRPF conducted a five-day interstate offensive to dismantle core Maoist groups, then a raid on a camp in Simdega district in Jharkhand to shut down a gun manufacturing factory. The raid, which seized 1,900 items for gun production, 72 kilograms of explosives, and remote triggering devices, revealed evidence that the Maoists have acquired more advanced weaponry.
2012 Fatalities were the lowest since 2005. State forces were engaged in operations against the Naxalites in eastern India. There was no army presence in the Naxalite region of West Bengal, although other central and state forces (e.g., police) were deployed. Eighteen hundred and eighty-two Naxalite insurgents were arrested and 440 surrendered. Although both sides were accused of human rights violations, no prosecutions were instituted. The insurgents kidnapped government officials, civilians, and foreign tourists. An administrative services officer and two security officers were abducted, but released, even when the government refused to agree to Maoist demands. All civilians and tourists were eventually released. The Maoists achieved some of their objectives, including the prison release of a top leader and the temporary suspension of armed activities. In June insurgents beheaded three kidnapping victims.
Top Maoist leader ‘Anandji’, zonal commander of Latehar, Garwah, and Palamau districts of Jharkhand, was arrested on December 6. Police also believe that a top cadre member of the Communist Party of India, Narmada Akka, was killed December 4.
2011 An increased police presence in conflict areas significantly reduced violence. Naxalites continued to attack civilian targets such as schools and hospitals and were held responsible for most civilian fatalities. But Naxalite supporters blamed Special Forces for some civilian fatalities. Naxalites continued to launch offensives against police, frequently using landmines. In February, Naxalites kidnapped two Indian government officials, demanding a halt to military offensive Operation Green Hunt; the government agreed. The Maoists also demanded the release of seven top imprisoned leaders in exchange for the two officials. After a May Maoist attack, 10 bodies of policemen were found dismembered in dense forest. Koteshwar Rao, a member of the Communist Party of India and leader of the Maoist military, was killed during a firefight in November. The year saw some successes for the Indian government and notable losses for the Maoists.
2010 A massive offensive, spanning five states, was launched in mid-January. In March, the government launched Operation Green Hunt, which added some 50,000 paramilitary troops to existing state security forces. The operation sent troops into former no-go zones deep in the forests to rid them of militants; following this the troops were to build schools, hospitals and other infrastructure. But the troops struggled against local guerrilla forces. In April, insurgents ambushed 80 troops in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, killing an estimated 75, in what was called the worst attack on Indian security forces since the insurgency began. Insurgents continued to target government security forces, but civilians were the hardest hit. Insurgents derailed an overnight passenger train in West Bengal, killing 145 and wounding more than 200. Insurgent bombs killed more than 40 villagers. A number of suspected police sympathizers were abducted and killed. In December, the Maoists abducted and killed 120 Marxists.
2009 From January to June, India saw 1,128 incidents of violence related to the Maoist insurgency. The first major violence came in April, during the country’s month-long elections, and ended on May 16. Maoists called for an election boycott, set off landmines, snatched ballot boxes and destroyed voting machines. In June, Maoists took control of Lalgarh region in West Bengal. The government responded with Operation Lalgarh, which was largely unsuccessful. On October 9, the government announced a new anti-Maoist offensive. Maoists continued to launch attacks on trains, railways and other infrastructure.
2008 Civilians continued to bear the brunt of fighting between Maoist rebels and government security forces. Of the 16 states touched by this conflict, Chhattisgarh and Jharkland were most affected. Fatalities in Chhattisgarh, though high, were significantly down from 2007. Andhra Pradesh, the state with the most Maoist activity a few years earlier, also saw a drop in fatalities. Conditions worsened in Orissa.
2007 Fighting continued between Maoists and government security forces. Most hostilities took place in Chhattisgarh; more than 400 Naxalites attacked a Chhattisgarh police station, seizing arms and killing dozens. Civilians were coerced by both Maoist insurgents and the Salwa Judum.
2006 Maoists attacks continued, primarily on government and police targets. Landmine attacks on railway cars and truck convoys also caused civilian casualties. In clashes between state police and rebels, police, rebels and civilians died. In Andhra Pradesh, security forces had some success in maintaining control and combating Maoist rebels. The other state most affected, Chhattisgarh, saw increased violence between Maoist rebels and villagers supported by the government.
2005 Violent clashes between Maoist rebels and state security forces and paramilitary groups increased following the breakdown of peace talks between the People’s War Group and the government of Andhra Pradesh. Rebels continued to employ low-intensity guerrilla tactics against government institutions, officials, security forces and paramilitary groups; for the first time in recent years, Maoist rebels also launched two large-scale attacks. Fighting was reported in 12 states in South, Central and North India.
2004 There was sporadic, low-intensity fighting between the People’s War Group and government forces. PWG is believed responsible for attacks on police and Telugu Desam Party officials. A three-month ceasefire between the government and PWG, announced in late June, proved short lived.
2003 The conflict in Andhra Pradesh intensified as Naxalite rebel groups, in particular the People’s War Group, continued guerrilla attacks on police and government targets, while government security forces stepped up counterinsurgency efforts. In October, an assassination attempt was made on the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Nara Chandrababu Naidu.
2002 The People’s War Group intensified attacks on politicians, police officers and land and business owners after the Andhra Pradesh government banned it in July. The government responded by tightening security, allegedly ordering attacks on suspected PWG members by state police and the Green Tigers. Police forces continued to enjoy impunity for the murder and torture of PWG rebels. The Maoist Communist Centre rebels intensified their armed campaign against Indian security forces after their leader was killed by police in December.
2001 The People’s War Group increased attacks on the government.
2000 The People’s War Group continued its attacks. An estimated 3,000 armed leftist rebels were active in Andhra Pradesh and neighbouring states.
1999 Police continued to respond to violent actions by rebel groups against government forces and civilians with summary executions. Three top PWG commanders were killed in December.
Total: According to South Asia Terrorism Portal, the conflict resulted in the deaths of 7,314 people between 2005 and 2016 (South Asia Terrorism Portal). Other sources indicate at least 9,000 people had been killed in the last 20 years.
2017 In 2017, there were 332 conflict-related deaths, including those of 109 civilians, 149 terrorists, and 74 members of security forces.
2016 The year saw 430 conflict-related deaths, including 130 civilians, 66 security forces, and 244 Maoist forces (South Asia Terrorism Portal).
Refugees and IDPs: The CIA World Factbook reported 612,000 IDPs in India from both armed conflict and communal violence (Central Intelligence Agency). These figures are from 2015; no updated information has been reported.
2015 The South Asia Terrorism Portal recorded 251 conflict-related deaths, down from 314 in 2014. All states except Chhattisgarh (+7) experienced a decrease in conflict-related deaths. Jharkhand saw the greatest decrease—from 97 to 58 (South Asian Terrorism Portal).
Refugees and IDPs: According to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, there were 10,359 refugees and 22,414 asylum seekers originating from all causes in India (UNHCR). The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimated that Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Telegana—three states hit by Naxalite violence—were home to a combined total of 70,060 internally displaced persons in April 2015 (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre).
2014 The South Asia Terrorism Portal reported 314 conflict-related deaths: 128 civilians, 87 security force personnel, and 99 Maoists/left-wing extremists. As in the previous year, most deaths took place in Chhattisgarh (113) and Jharkhand (97). There were 41 deaths in Odisha and 30 in Maharashtra.
Refugees and IDPs: The UNHCR does not provide separate cause-related counts of refugees and IDPs in India. In July 2014 there were 11, 155 refugees and 13, 684 asylum seekers from India.
2013 According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal database, 421 fatalities were related to the Maoist conflict: 159 civilians, 111 security forces and 151 militants. Most deaths occurred in Jharkhand (131) and Chhattisgarh (128). Other states in the Red Corridor had relatively high death rates: Odisha (54), Bihar (48), Maharashtra (45) and Andhra Pradesh (13). West Bengal only had two.
The Times of India has slightly different statistics, reporting 1,129 Naxalite-related incidents resulting in 394 deaths. Of these, 115 were security forces and 279 were civilians, with no mention of militant deaths.
Refugees: The UNHCR does not disaggregate the number of refugees arising from each of three ongoing conflicts in India. In total, there were 11,784 refugees and 6,193 asylum seekers from India as of mid-2013.
2012 The South Asia Terrorism Portal database reported 368 deaths: 118 militants, 104 security force personnel, and 146 civilians. These figures compare to 602 reported deaths in 2011.
Other sources provide figures of conflict-related deaths in the following ranges:
- All: 354-522
- Civilians: 146-300
- Combatants: 188-222
2011 According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, fatalities included 275 civilians, 128 troops, and 199 Naxalites, for a total of 602.
2010 According to International Crisis Group and various news sources, between 500 and 600 people were killed; approximately 366 were civilians, 188 government troops and police, and 27 Naxalites. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal and government sources, the total was more than 1,000 and included 277 security forces, 277 Naxalites, and more than 600 civilians.
2009 The South Asia Terrorism Portal reported 998 deaths: 392 civilians, 312 security forces and 294 rebels.
2008 South Asia Terrorism Portal’s fatality count across the six states that saw the most fighting (Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Maharashira, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh) was 794: 399 civilians, 221 security force personnel and 174 insurgents.
2007 Six hundred and fifty died: 240 civilians, 218 security personnel and 192 militants.
2006 It is estimated that between 500 and 750 people died–fewer than half Naxalites and approximately one-third civilians.
2005 More than 700 people were reported killed; more than one-third were civilians.
2004 More than 500 people were killed in sporadic, low-intensity fighting. Most were police officers or members of the Telugu Desam Party (a regional political party).
2003 As many as 500 people were killed, half Maoist rebels.
2002 An estimated 140 people were killed in fighting between the PWG and government forces. According to government reports, there were 482 conflict-related deaths.
2001 According to media reports, an estimated 100 people were killed. Government reports recorded 564 deaths.
2000 At least 50 people were killed.
1999 More than 350 combatants and civilians were reported killed.
1998 At least 300 were killed, according to police and press figures.
1997 One report recorded at least 350 deaths.
1996 Police reported 156 deaths from 800 “violent incidents.”
2017 There were unsupported claims that Maoist leader Ganapathy would be replaced by his military chief, Nambala Keshav Rao (Basavraj).
The Home Ministry raised concerns that the reported numbers of Maoists who had surrendered in some states had been inflated to include individuals who were not members of the Maoist movement.
India’s human rights watchdog accused police and security forces in Chhattisgarh state of raping and beating 16 women from tribal communities.
2016 The central government’s ban on Maoist organizations was renewed for another year in Chhattisgarhi (International Crisis Group). Local media outlets reported the surrender of several hundred Maoists in Odisha; the government claimed its demonetization of 500 and 1,000 rupee notes, which hurt Maoist activities, helped spur their surrender (International Crisis Group). The CPI-Maoist party accused state security forces of supporting anti-Naxalite protests in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarhi and contributing to a revival of the Salwa Juddam Movement (Human Rights Watch). Reporting a decrease in Naxalite-military violence, the government announced its intention to reduce troop numbers in some areas of the Red Corridor (First Post).
Chhattisgarhi officials threatened, arrested, and laid criminal charges against journalists who reported on human rights abuses committed by security forces in the region; they accused journalists of assisting unlawful organizations and thus violating India’s counterterrorism laws. Human rights organizations were critical of the application of the laws and accused security forces of targeting tribe members, journalists, and political opponents. The Editors Guild of India accused the Chhattisgarhi government of trying to silence the local media (Human Rights Watch).
2015 Prime Minister Narendra Modi promoted economic development to erode support for Maoist insurgents. In June he visited Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region to launch two major infrastructure projects. Maoist rebels protested the visit by kidnapping 250 local villagers. Modi also announced a major development package for Bihar, a state that has experienced a high level of Maoist activity in the past.
Chhavindra Karma spearheaded an effort to re-launch Salwa Judum, an anti-Maoist movement, even though the movement was banned by the Supreme Court. India’s National Congress claimed that it had no part in Karma’s plan (News 18). Maoist militants vowed to kill Chhavindra and brother Deepak Karma, should the Salwa Judum be revived.
2014 Narendra Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), became India’s fifteenth prime minister. Before April elections, the government announced that it would send more than 6,000 extra paramilitary troops to Odisha to quell fears of increased Maoist attacks. In May, a new anti-Naxalite joint operation by police and paramilitary forces was launched in the Saranda forests in the West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand. In October, the Home Ministry issued a new policy to deal with Maoists, allowing the government to “use any element of its national power.” The policy stated that the government would prioritize winning the support of tribal populations and other marginalized groups—a strategy that supports development in areas affected by Maoist activity. It also stipulated that the government would consider talks with the CPI (Maoist) Party if they renounced violence and demonstrated confidence in the democratic process.
2013 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh repeatedly called the ongoing conflict with the Naxalites the “greatest internal security threat that India faces.” The insurgency severely damaged economic structures in Central and Eastern India. In June Singh called for a two-pronged strategy to dismantle the Maoist network, combining sustained and proactive military operations with efforts to build governance and development in areas with strong Maoist support. The Maoists responded with attacks against political officials. In May, the convoy of Congressman Mahendra Karma, founder of the Salwa Judum movement, was attacked by hundreds of Maoists; 24, including Karma, were killed. The insurgents threatened to incite violence during the Chhattisgarh election. Extra pre-election security measures were implemented; security forces recovered 52 Improvised Explosive Devices and 400 wooden spikes. The election was relatively peaceful, although it was suspected that the Maoists had influenced the vote.
2012 Strong criticisms were leveled at the government’s approach to counterinsurgency operations. Weak intelligence frequently undermined Special Forces operations.
Maoist activity declined after several senior leaders were lost, possibly due to an overly ambitious plan to operate in urban areas. Insurgents subsequently retreated to areas of traditional strength, the ‘Red Corridor’ states. Evidence indicates that the number of Maoist insurgents increased from 7,200 in 2011 to approximately 8,600. By July, in response to the 2011 Supreme Court ruling that the Salwa Judum was unconstitutional, most of the approximately 50,000 villagers displaced by the Salwa Judum had returned home.
According to the 2012 UN report on children and armed conflict, Maoist insurgents recruited and indoctrinated children, and formed children’s squads. In June there was a report of children being used as human shields. Three children were killed by the Central Reserve Police Force during a clash with Maoist insurgents. The CRPF later admitted that the children might not have been operatives, but human shields used against their will.
2011 In July, the Indian Supreme Court ruled the use of Special Police Officers against Naxalite insurgents unconstitutional. The Special Police Officers had been accused of violations of human rights in the past, as had all parties in the conflict. The tactics employed by peaceful activists such as Dr. Binayak Sen were largely ignored or suppressed. Sen was in jail for helping banned militant groups, despite demands by Amnesty International, a group of Nobel laureates and Human Rights Watch for his release.
2010 In June, the Naxalites offered to negotiate a ceasefire agreement, but the government declined, citing the short-lived ceasefire of 2004. In response to the killings and arrests of some of their leaders, the Naxalites called for a boycott of November state legislative elections. There was still a 50-per-cent turnout in the districts of Aurangabad and Gaya.
2009 India’s Congress party won May general elections amid violence involving Maoist rebels. On June 22, the new government declared the Maoist Communist Party of India a terrorist group. This move gave Indian police the power to detain members of the party even if they were not involved in insurgent activity. In December 2009, Maoists urged a boycott of Jharkhand state elections. The government saw the 58-per-cent voter turnout as a rebuke of the Maoists.
2008 In Chhattisgarh state elections the Bharatiya Janata Party and Chief Minister Raman Singh were reelected. The government’s strong response to Naxalism was reportedly a reason for the victory. The Sulwa Judum movement, which Indian and Chhattisgarh state authorities maintained was a “voluntary and peaceful initiative by local people against Naxalites,” was a major issue in the campaign. Human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, cited evidence of human rights abuses by Sulwa Judum. In April, the Supreme Court of India ordered the National Human Rights Commission to investigate.
2007 Civilians continued to be caught in the crossfire between Maoist insurgents and government security forces. Intimidation on both sides caused widespread fear among local populations in Chhattisgarh state. Conflict over resources continued; 85 per cent of India’s coal reserves come from the five states most affected by the Naxalite uprising.
2006 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared the Naxalites, “The single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country.” The government began arming and training vigilantes to fight the rebels. Salwa Judum, a government-backed group that recruited villagers to fight the rebels, appeared in the state of Chhattisgarh. The government of Andhra Pradesh extended its ban on the Maoists to August 2007. The Maoist leadership was substantially weakened by the arrest of one major party leader and the deaths of two others.
2005 Peace talks between Maoist rebels and state officials in Andhra Pradesh broke down after continued police attacks on rebels. Maoist rebels in India and Nepal increased cross-border cooperation. In response to an increase in the intensity and territorial reach of rebel activity, the Indian government announced a counter-strategy, which included plans to increase interstate police cooperation and funding for poverty reduction in rural India, where extreme socioeconomic inequality and poverty provide recruits for the rebels.
2004 The lifting of a government ban on the People’s War Group and a three-month ceasefire failed to lead to a formal peace agreement. Late in the year, the two largest Maoist groups–the People’s War Group and the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army of the Maoist Communist Centre of India–merged to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
2003 The peace process initiated in 2002 proved to be short-lived as relations between the Naxalites and the state government of Andhra Pradesh worsened. In October an assassination attempt was made on the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Nara Chandrababu Naidu. Naidu announced his intention of “crushing” the Naxalites if he were reelected in 2004 state elections. The rebels further disrupted the political process by hindering the movement of election officials in remote areas. Meanwhile, the state government of Bihar indicated a willingness to hold talks with the People’s War Group, which welcomed the invitation.
2002 In May, the People’s War Group agreed to a month-long ceasefire to facilitate a peace process, which was launched in early June. However, in July, the Andhra Pradesh state cabinet extended a 10-year ban on the PWG for another year, a move that seriously jeopardized peace talks.
2001 In response to an upsurge in violence, in July the government of Andhra Pradesh said it was willing to hold talks with the outlawed Maoist People’s War Group. The government stated that problems connected to the violence, such as rural poverty and unemployment, must be addressed.
India’s Maoist movement can be traced to a local, left-wing uprising in 1967 in the West Bengal village of Naxalbar. Although eventually quelled, the revolt grew and spawned an insurgency that came to control vast swaths of land in Central and Eastern India, spanning 20 of the country’s 28 states. The so-called ‘Red Corridor’ runs through Jharkand, West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, and Andra Pradesh, reaching into Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. The movement was originally led by Koteshuar Rao (also known as Kishenji), who was killed in a November 2011 firefight with Indian security forces. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (2004-2014) described it as his country’s greatest “internal security threat” (Al Jazeera).
The Naxalites advocate peasant revolt against oppressive landlords and an indifferent government. They claim to represent the rights and interests of indigenous peoples and the rural poor, particularly their concerns over land ownership and the distribution of resources. Naxalites have support in some of India’s poorest states, but with little or no police presence in the Red Corridor, the local population might face coercion.
In 1980, the People’s War Group (PWG), a major faction of the Naxalites, began guerrilla-style attacks against the state police, who responded with extrajudicial executions of suspected militants. In 2002, the state government of Andhra Pradesh banned the PWG, which responded by intensifying attacks against politicians, police officers, and land and business owners. In October 2003, an assassination attempt on the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Nara Chandrababu Naidu, was blamed on the PWG.
In late 2004, the PWG merged with the Maoist Communist Centre of India to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist). By this time, Naxalite fighting had spread to most of rural India, with significant conflicts in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Bihar. In large parts of rural India, the rebels formed a parallel government, including justice and taxation systems.
In 2005, Chhattisgarh State armed a civilian militia called the Salwa Judum, which attacked and killed suspected Naxalite sympathizers. In 2008, reports of abuse grew so extreme that the Supreme Court of India ordered the Human Rights Commission to investigate Salwa Judum activities. Meanwhile, the Naxalites and Salwa Judum continued to intimidate ordinary people, causing widespread fear and insecurity. In 2011, the Supreme Court effectively outlawed civilian militia groups.
In 2013, the Prime Minister called for a dual strategy to combat the insurgency: intensive military action and increased opportunities for governance and economic development in Naxalite states. Upon coming to power in 2014, Prime Minister Modi continued this two-pronged approach.
Naxalites acquire most of their weapons by raiding state police facilities. Weapons are also purchased in foreign bazaars and smuggled across India’s poorly defended borders with Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and China. Some sources also report a domestic manufacturing capability. Maoists have admitted that the Indian state severely damaged their political and military intelligence units, and central weapon manufacturing, magazine and supply departments between 2009 and 2012.
Recently, India’s defence budget has been increasing each year. The budget was $36.1-billion in 2011, $38.5-billion in 2012, $41.9-billion in 2013, $45.2-billion in 2014, $48-billion in 2015, and $51.1 billion in 2016; figures include civil defence estimates such as military pensions (The Military Balance, 2016, 250; 2017, 289). In July 2016, the government agreed that states most affected by the left-wing insurgency, including Chhattisgarh and Odisha, would receive new army battalions to combat the rebels (International Crisis Group).
India has a significant domestic arms industry, but also imports a large volume of weapons, mainly from Russia. Between 2008 and 2014, India moved away from producing domestic military goods and bought from foreign suppliers (Small Arms Survey, Small Arms of the Indian State, 2). Deliveries in 2011 included 37 combat aircraft, 10 helicopters of an 80-helicopter purchase, and 100 tanks. In 2012, the Government of India commissioned a nuclear submarine from Russia. In 2013, India received weapon shipments from Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which identified India as a long-term strategic partner. In 2014, the newly elected government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiated its ‘Make in India’ campaign, promoting domestic production, including the Indian arms industry (The Military Balance, 2016, 227). By the end of 2015, 64.29 per cent of all outstanding Indian arms contracts were with domestic firms, with a further 10.71 per cent of contracts involving a dual Indian-Russian partnership. India still imported weapons in 2015, with France, Russia, and the United States major suppliers (The Military Balance, 2016, 301-02).
India’s defence budget for 2016-2017 was US$52.2-billion.
The 1967 Naxalite rebellion was inspired by Mao Zedong’s ideas about collective land ownership and equitable resource distribution. Modern Naxalites continue to advocate for peasant rights, including the right to land and a share in India’s recent economic boom. The interior has rich deposits of coal and bauxite, but many Indians do not believe that its resource wealth has trickled down to the country’s poor (Forbes).
Government officials are divided in their attitudes to the Naxalites. Some view the insurgents as a violent problem that must be militarily extinguished. Others acknowledge the Naxalites’ economic claims or argue that, since the Naxalites feed on the grievances of the impoverished, the movement will only fade once the poorest regions experience tangible economic development. According to some human rights reports, the government has moved beyond the suppression of the insurgency and is engaged in the forceful displacement of tribal peoples from their land to fuel India’s industrial development. Naxalite attacks on roads, railways, and other infrastructure continue to hamper economic growth in the mineral-rich Red Corridor (The Economist).
In 2006, the government assessed Maoist-affected districts in the Red Corridor and assigned each one a violence profile. Starting in 2014, the government began a re-assessment of districts on their affected list, causing some districts to fear the loss of development aid. In mid-2016, a senior Home Ministry official indicated that up to one-fifth of states may no longer be affected by left-wing violence (The Hindu). In late 2016, Odisha state requested central government funding for increased telecommunications infrastructure (mobile towers, Internet connectivity, ATM networks) to further economic development at the heart of the insurgency (New Indian Express).
map: CIA Factbook