The Conflict at a Glance
Who (are the main combatants): The governments of India and the affected states are allied with the Salwa Judum Movement (although restrictions have been placed on this movement for violations of human rights). Their main opposition is the Communist Party of India (also known as Maoists and Naxalites), which seeks to dismantle the current government and address the vast inequity among Indians.
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. Conflict fatalities have declined since 2011, but fighting is still frequent.
Where (has the conflict taken place): The insurgency has largely occurred in districts of India collectively known as the Red Corridor, which span the states of Jharkand, West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Andra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Karnataka.
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: President Pranab Mukherjee was elected to office in 2012. He is the first Bengali to become President. Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office in May 2014, succeeding Manmohan Singh.
India has the third largest military in the world. Modernization has been delayed by an inefficient domestic arms industry. According to The Military Balance, Indian armed forces comprise:
- Army: 1,150,900
- Air Force: 127,200
- Navy: 58,350
- Coast Guard: 9,550
- Paramilitary: 1,403,700
2. Governments of affected Indian states: Jharkand, West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Andra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.
3. The Salwa Judum Movement: Formed in 2005 by Mahendra Karma, the Salwa Judum Movement is essentially a militia group, backed and armed by the government, which aims to crush the Maoist rebellion. Since its formation, the Salwa Judum has been cited for numerous human rights abuses. Known to target civilians, it has been responsible for the displacement of more than 50,000. In 2008, the Supreme Court of India ordered the National Human Rights Commission to investigate Salwa Judum activities. In 2013, Mahendra Karma, while campaigning in Maoist-dominated territory, was killed when his convoy was attacked by insurgents.
4. The Communist Party of India (Maoist): Created in 2004 by the merger of the People’s War Group (PWG) and the Maoists Communist Centre, it is the largest Maoist rebel group in India. Members call themselves Naxalites, after the Indian town of Naxalbari, where the movement began more than 25 years ago. There are an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 Naxalites in India, more than half inactive. They operate in 20 of India’s 28 states (223 of 600 districts). The Naxalite movement includes autonomous groups such as the Revolutionary Youth Forum and the Parakala Dalam.
5. People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI): Formed in 2007 by Dinesh Gope, this is a breakaway faction of the CPI-Maoist.
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: At least 9,000 people have been killed in the last 20 years as a direct result of the conflict. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, left-wing extremists killed 6,886 people between 2005 and 2015 (South Asian Terrorism Portal).
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.”
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.
Described by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as his country’s greatest internal security challenge, India’s Maoist rebellion has grown from a local, left-wing uprising to an insurgency movement spanning 20 of the country’s 28 states.
Indian Maoism can be traced to a violent uprising in 1967, which began in the West Bengal village of Naxalbar; hence the name Naxalites. Although eventually quelled, the revolt spawned an insurgency that effectively controls vast swaths of land in Central and Eastern India, the so-called Red Corridor. The Corridor runs through Jharkand, West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Andra Pradesh and reaches into Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.
Led by Koteshuar Rao (also known as Kishenji), who was killed in November 2011 in a firefight with Indian security forces, the Naxalites advocate peasant revolt against oppressive landlords and an indifferent government. They claim to represent the rights and interests, including concerns over land ownership and distribution of resources, of the rural poor and indigenous tribes-people. The Naxalite manifesto has support in some of India’s poorest states. But with little or no police presence in the Red Corridor, the rural population may have little choice.
In 1980, the militant People’s War Group (PWG), a major Naxalite faction, began guerrilla-style attacks against the state police, who responded with extrajudicial executions of suspected Naxalites. In 2002, the state government of Andhra Pradesh banned the PWG. In response, the PWG intensified 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 a parallel justice system and taxation.
In 2005, the state government of Chhattisgarh armed a civilian militia group called the Salwa Judum, which proceeded to attack and kill suspected Naxalite sympathizers. In 2008, reports of abuses grew to the extent that the Supreme Court of India ordered the National Human Rights Commission to investigate Salwa Judum activities. Meanwhile, civilians continued to be intimidated by both sides, causing widespread fear and insecurity.
In 2005 the state government of Chhattisgarh armed a civilian militia group called the Salwa Judum, which proceeded to attack and kill suspected Naxalite sympathizers. In 2008 reports of abuses grew to the extent that the Supreme Court of India ordered the National Human Rights Commission to investigate Salwa Judum activities. In 2011 the Supreme Court issued a ruling effectively outlawing civilian militia groups.
In 2013 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for a dual strategy of intensive military operations against Maoist militias and increased opportunities for governance and economic development in states with a strong Maoist influence. The following year newly-elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi continued his predecessor’s two-pronged approach.
Although India has a significant domestic arms industry, it also imports a large volume of arms. Deliveries in 2011 included 37 combat aircraft, 10 of 80 ordered helicopters and 100 tanks. In 2012, India commissioned a nuclear submarine from Russia. In 2013, India received shipments of weapons from Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States, which has identified India as a long-term strategic partner. India’s largest arms supplier is Russia.
Naxalites steal most of their weapons from state police during raids. Weapons are also purchased from 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 between 2009 and 2012 the Indian state severely damaged their political and military intelligence units, central magazine department, central weapon manufacturing and supply departments and international departments.
India’s defence budget increased from $36.1-billion in 2011 to $38.5-billion in 2012. According to The Military Balance, India’s defence budget continued to grow, from $41.9-billion in 2013 to $46.5-billion in 2014 and just under $48-billion in 2015 (The Military Balance, Vol. 116, 486).
The initial Naxalite rebellion was inspired by Chinese leader Mao Zedong and his ideals surrounding 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 conflict has spread to 20 of India’s 28 states. Some human rights observers claim that government action has gone beyond the suppression of Maoist elements to include the forceful displacement of tribal people from their land, to allow commercial development.
Government officials are divided in their response to the insurgency. Those who see the Naxalites as merely insurgents tend to advocate a strict military response. Those who acknowledge the economic claims of the Naxalite manifesto argue that the Naxalites feed on the grievances of impoverished tribal inhabitants and that the movement will only fade when the affected regions experience tangible development.
Naxalite activity is hampering economic growth in the Red Corridor. As long as rebels continue to destroy infrastructure and attack facilities, the mineral-rich forests of Eastern India will remain closed to business.
map: CIA Factbook