World | India

Who are the Maoists?

The strengths, weaknesses and threats of the Naxalites

  • Staff
  • Published: 13:52 May 26, 2013
  • Gulf News

200

The number of districts across India in which Maoists and affiliated groups are active.

8,000

The number of people who have died in the fight for communist rule in India since 1967

Beginnings

The Maoist insurgency in India has its roots in a 1967 rural uprising in Naxalbari, a village in West Bengal, and in a simultaneous series of splits in the powerful Indian Communist party. By the early 1970s the Indian state had crushed the first wave of agitation, led largely by university educated urbanites. But violence has surged again with the unification of two extremist factions, the People’s War Group, and the Maoist Communist Centre, which formed the Communist party of India (Maoist) in 2004.

Aims

The aim of the movement, according to Indian government officials, is the overthrow of the Indian state through a protracted armed campaign lasting many decades. The Maoists’ own literature says their targets include “eco-imperialist exploitation” by multinational companies, and the “social oppression” of India’s caste system. Many of the Maoists’ recruits are from India’s marginalised tribal communities who have gained nothing from their country’s recent economic growth. The group’s leaders are largely educated and have urban backgrounds.

Strongholds

From their stronghold in the southern districts of the state of Chhattisgarh, the Maoists have been trying to expand operations into West Bengal. In all, there are believed to be several thousand hardcore Maoist fighters and many tens of thousands of active supporters. Most weapons are stolen from security forces or made in basic workshops. Some are bought on the black market. They are strongest in rural areas where security forces are isolated or are thin on the ground.

Threats

Though the insurgents appear not to be a strategic threat to such a large country, their activity worries investors and advertises India’s deep inequalities. The Maoists have won the sympathy of many leading Indian intellectuals, including the writer and activist Arundhati Roy, who have been accused of ignoring the more unsavoury aspects of the Maoist campaigns, such as the kangaroo courts, killings of alleged “informers”, and the civilian casualties. Critics also say the Maoists do not physically attack the businesses they accuse of unfairly exploiting mineral resources but extort money from them instead.

‘The Red Corridor’

India’s Maoists have asserted control over vast swathes of land in central and eastern India, establishing a so-called “red corridor”. This spans the states of Jharkand, West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh and also reaches into Uttar Pradesh, and Karnataka.

The leader

The Maoists’ military leader is Koteshwar Rao, otherwise known as Kishenji. He reportedly suffered temporary paralysis in June 2010 when a police bullet hit him in the knee. Normally a regular communicator with the press, Kishenji was little heard of until January 2011 when he issued a statement saying he expected India to succumb to a Maoist revolution by 2025.

—Sources: IANS, Guardian News & Media, BBC, DPA

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