India’s ‘Naxalite’ movement – to which contemporary Indian Maoists directly trace their lineage – emerged as a wildfire insurrection in 1967 in the Naxalbari area of North Bengal. That earlier movement was, however, after a few years of dramatic violence, comprehensively suppressed by 1973, with the entire top leadership of what was then the Communist Party of India – Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML) either jailed or dead. What little remained of its splintered survivor organizations was destroyed during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency of 1975.
It was in 1980, with the formation of the People’s War Group (PWG) under the leadership of Kondapalli Seetharamaiah (an erstwhile Central Organising Committee Member of the CPI-ML) in the Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh, and the reorganization of the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in Bihar in the mid-1980s, that the movement resurfaced in some strength.
Initial successes were, again, rapid, and by the mid-1980s, 31 districts in seven States were afflicted by Naxalite violence. By the early 1990s, however, the problem had been eliminated from at least 16 of these districts, bringing the total number of affected districts to just 15 in four States. The reconstruction, thereafter, was initially more continuous and systematic, with wider areas being gradually targeted and consolidated. In recent years, however, the growth of the movement has been exponential. Thus, at the meeting of the Central Coordination Committee of Naxalite-affected States at Bhubaneshwar on November 21, 2003, the then Union Home Secretary had disclosed that a total of 55 districts in nine States were affected by varying degrees of Naxalite violence. Just ten months later, on September 21, 2004, an official note circulated at the meeting of Chief Ministers of Naxalite-affected States indicated that this number had gone up to as many as 156 districts in 13 States (of a total of 602 districts in the country). By August 2007, this number had risen to 194 districts (out of an augmented 625) in 18 States. Not all these Districts and States are, of course, seething with Maoist violence. Just 62 of these were categorised as ‘highly affected’, reflecting significant levels of violence; another 53 districts were categorised as ‘moderately affected’, indicating high levels of political mobilisation and some violence; while 79 districts fell into the ‘marginally affected’ category, in which preliminary political mobilisation had been noticed. Sources indicate that intelligence estimates now put at least 220 Districts in 22 States into the sphere of varying degrees of Maoist influence and activity.
It is necessary to recognize, crucially, that the phase of violence, which is ordinarily the point at which the state takes cognizance of the problem, comes at the tail end of the process of mass mobilization, and at a stage where neutralizing the threat requires considerable, if not massive, use of force. From a preventive perspective, it is useful to notice not merely the current expanse of visible Maoist mobilisation and militancy, but the extent of their current intentions, ambitions and agenda.
The Maoist rampage has been enormously accelerated by the unification, in September 2004, of the two principal parties, the Communist Party of India–Marxist-Leninist-Peoples War (CPI-ML-PW or Peoples War Group, PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), which had long dominated – and contested control over – the purported ‘Red Corridor’, from Andhra Pradesh to the borders of Nepal, in India’s east. The consolidation of the most significant Maoist formations in the country (the CPI-Party Unity and the PWG had merged earlier, in August 1998) resulted in augmented capacities to ‘intensify the people’s war in the country’.
Significantly, the CPI-Maoist has established Regional Bureaus across a mass of nearly two-thirds of the country’s territory, and these regions are further sub-divided into state, special zonal and special area committee jurisdictions, where the processes of mobilisation have been defined and allocated to local leaders. There are at least five Regional Bureaus, thirteen State Committees, two Special Area Committees and three Special Zonal Committees in the country. This structure substantially reflects current Maoist organisational consolidation, but does not exhaust their perspectives or ambitions. There is further evidence of preliminary activity for the extension of operations to new areas including Gujarat, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Meghalaya, beyond what is reflected in the scope of the regional, zonal and state committees.
In 2004, moreover, the Maoists articulated a new strategy to target urban centres in their Urban Perspective document, drawing up guidelines for "working in towns and cities", and for the revival of a mobilization targeting students and the urban unemployed. Two principal ‘industrial belts’ were also identified as targets for urban mobilisation: Bhilai-Ranchi-Dhanbad-Calcutta; and Mumbai-Pune-Surat-Ahmedabad.
The Maoist enterprise has secured fertile ground in the administrative and political vacuum that extends over vast areas of the country, where the state is systematically and chronically failing to provide the public goods and services that it is obliged to – including security of life and property, criminal justice, and opportunities for social and economic growth. In such circumstances, it is inevitable that other individuals and entities will step in to fill the vacuum. It is inevitable, also, that in most such cases, these individuals and entities will not be constrained by the limits of law or any established procedure, in their interactions with local populations, and, consequently, that these interactions will tend to be unacceptably violent.
The unfortunate reality is that the entire structure of rural administration in the Naxalite-affected areas has been wholly emasculated, or has simply not evolved beyond the primitive structures of colonial governance, or has, through a combination of factors, including primarily the incompetence, corruption and criminalisation of the political leadership, deteriorated to the point of paralysis. The problem is compounded manifold in tribal and forest areas by an ill-conceived policy of isolation that, under the influence of possibly well-intentioned European social-anthropologists, was adopted throughout the country shortly after Independence, with the intention of ‘protecting’ the culture and interests of the tribal population. This policy has, regrettably, failed comprehensively, and is now overdue for a thorough re-examination, as the system has kept the tribals poor and outside the ambit of development, failed entirely to protect them from exploitation and abuse, and deepened conditions of economic deprivation through a progressive alienation of their rights over forest produce and wealth. The vulnerabilities of the Indian state have been compounded further by decades of mis-governance in ever-widening areas of the country, and the steady erosion of the integrity and efficacy of established institutions of administration and justice. Processes of liberalisation and globalisation, over the past decade and a half, have also unleashed a new and fractious dynamic, provoking or intensifying conflict between the beneficiaries of the new economics and those who have been further marginalised by it.
These structural vulnerabilities of the Indian system have enormously assisted the Maoist’s in securing their tremendous and cumulative successes – despite the occasional reverses, as presently in Andhra Pradesh.  These successes are, however, underpinned by the extraordinary strategic and tactical coherence of their movement, which remains little understood within the echelons of power in India, and within a large proportion of the security establishment itself. No effective response to the Maoist challenge in India is possible unless this strategic and tactical understructure is fully documented and understood.
"A Revolution is not a Dinner Party" 
A crucial point that requires recognition is that violence in general and terrorism in particular, are integral elements of the Maoist ideology and not mere tactical expedients. "Political power", as Mao expressed it, "grows out of the barrel of a gun." And extreme, even terrorist, violence, more specifically, is at the heart of this paradigm. Mao notes in "The question of going too far":
To put it bluntly, it is necessary to create terror for a while in every rural area, or otherwise it would be impossible to suppress the activities of the counter-revolutionaries in the countryside or overthrow the authority of the gentry. Proper limits have to be exceeded in order to right a wrong, or else the wrong cannot be righted.
India’s Maoists are explicit in their insistence that violence is the only instrumentality through which their revolution can be realised. Muppala Laxmana Rao aka Ganapathy, General Secretary, CPI-Maoist, argues,
…the question of armed struggle… is independent of one’s will. It is a law borne out by all historical experience. It is a fact of history that nowhere in the world, nowhere in historical development of the class society, had the reactionary ruling classes given up power without resorting to violent suppression of the mass protests… until they are thrown out by force.
Another commentator in People’s March contends,
The question is not of violence vs. non-violence but whether it is just to take up arms against a most violent and brutal state… The Maoists say it is just to take up arms as part of the overall process to change a brutal and violent system.
Many in the mainstream leadership in India have articulated the hope that the decision of the Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (CPN-M) to join the democratic process could serve as a future model for their Indian ideological brethren, tempting them away from their current commitment to violent insurrection. Such hopes are entirely misplaced. For one thing, the Indian Maoists have explicitly rejected the CPN-M’s "present tactics" warning that these could set in motion "an irreversible process of losing all the revolutionary gains achieved till now", and contemptuously reject any suggestion that they could choose, at any point in the future, to participate "in the parliamentary pig-sty in India".
India’s Maoists are, of course, yet to decide whether the CPN-M’s engagement with democracy is a ‘betrayal’ or a tactical innovation leading to an eventual and total seizure of power. If it is the former, the CPN will be seen simply to have joined the ranks of the many ‘revisionists’ and ‘right opportunists’ that have corrupted the movement through its history. If it is the latter, this new stratagem will be studied with care to determine its utility and the conditions in which it would apply. Such an approach, however, holds little promise of any early abandonment of violence by the CPI-Maoist. If the CPN-M is, in fact, able to secure an absolute seizure of power through it ‘present tactics’, it will only be because it had already created a situation of extraordinary disruptive dominance across wide – indeed overwhelming – geographical areas in Nepal. The CPN-M’s ‘present tactics’ can only be relevant to India in some future situation where the Maoists have already secured comparable disruptive dominance, and the existing political and administrative order has been pushed to comparable conditions of decay and disintegration – a still-distant possibility in this country.
Securing these conditions of decay and disintegration is, in fact, the objective of the Maoist ‘people’s war’, and its principal instrumentality is the strategy of protracted war. As the Programme and Constitution of the PWG’s People’s Guerrilla Army (PGA) declared, "The line of protracted people’s war is our military strategy", and further, "The PGA firmly opposes the pure military outlook which is divorced from the masses, and adventurism. It will function adhering to the mass line." The ‘mass line’ rejects the ‘Left adventurism’ often attributed to the earlier Naxalite movement of the 1967-73 phase, and insists that the military aspects of the revolution are contingent on mass mobilisation. Mao, in "On Protracted War", notes, "we see not only weapons but also people. Weapons are an important factor in war, but not the decisive factor; it is people, not things, that are decisive."
The idea of protracted war clearly recognizes the strengths and superiority of the state’s present forces and alignments, but recognizes, equally, its vulnerabilities. Mao declares,
The enemy is strong and we are weak, and the danger of subjugation is there. But in other respects the enemy has shortcomings and we have advantages. The enemy's advantage can be reduced and his shortcomings aggravated by our efforts. On the other hand, our advantages can be enhanced and our shortcoming remedied by our efforts. Hence, we can win final victory and avert subjugation, while the enemy will ultimately be defeated and will be unable to avert the collapse of his whole imperialist system.
Thus, the CPI-Maoist document on Strategy & Tactics notes,
However strong the enemy’s military power may be and however weak the people’s military power, by basing ourselves on the vast backward countryside – the weakest position of the enemy – and relying on the vast masses of the peasantry, eager for agrarian revolution, and creatively following the flexible strategy and tactics of guerrilla struggle and the protracted people’s war – as a full meal is eaten up mouthful by mouthful, exactly in the same way – by applying the best part of our army (a force few times stronger than that of the enemy) against different single parts of the enemy forces and following the policy and tactics of sudden attack and annihilation, it is absolutely possible to defeat the enemy forces and achieve victory for the people in single battles. It is thus possible to increase the people’s armed forces, attain supremacy over the enemy’s forces and defeat the enemy decisively.
The strategy of protracted conflict, in other words, "postpones the decisive battle and calibrates its challenges to a calculus of risks – until the balance of power has shifted overwhelmingly to the side of the revolutionary forces."
"Seas become mulberry fields" (4)
The Maoists believe that there is, at present, an "excellent revolutionary situation in India", and have clearly declared that "the seizure of state power should be the goal of all our activity". After their 9th ‘Unity’ Congress in January-February 2007, they outlined an inventory of "immediate tasks", to include, among others, the following:
- Coordinate the people’s war with the ongoing armed struggles of the various oppressed nationalities in Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and other parts of the Northeast.
- Build a broad UF (United Front) of all secular forces and persecuted religious minorities such as Muslims, Christians and Sikhs…
- Build a secret party apparatus which is impregnable to the enemy’s attacks…
- Build open and secret mass organisations amongst the workers, peasants, youth, students, women and other sections of the people…
- Build the people’s militia in all the villages in the guerrilla zones as the base force of the PGA (People’s Guerrilla Army). Also build armed self-defence units in other areas of class struggle as well as in the urban areas.
The Maoist strategy is clearly to fish in every troubled Indian water, and to opportunistically exploit every potential issue and grievance to generate a campaign of protests and agitations. The principal vehicles for these ‘partial struggles’ are ‘front’ or ‘cover’ organisations of the Maoists themselves, on the one hand, and a range of individuals and organisations best described, in a phrase often (incorrectly) attributed to Lenin, as "useful idiots" – well intentioned and gullible people who are unaware of the broader strategy and agenda they are unwittingly promoting through their support to specific and unquestionably admirable causes. As the Political and Organisational Review of the erstwhile PWG noted,
Cover organisations are indispensable in areas where our mass organisations are not allowed to functions openly…There are two types of cover organisations: one, those which are formed on a broad basis by ourselves; and two, those organisations led by other forces which we utilize by working from within without getting exposed.
This strategy has already contributed to abrupt and unexpected violence in a number of cases in the recent past, with the role of Maoist provocateurs often discovered much after the event. Two of the impeccable causes that were embraced in this cynical strategy include the caste conflict in Khairlanji and the escalating tensions and violence over the displacement and Special Economic Zones (SEZ) issues, including Singur and Kalinga Nagar. Current Maoist debates and documents condemn the "second wave of economic reforms" as a "violent assault on the right to life and livelihood of the masses", and call for "an uncompromising opposition to the present model and all the policies that are coming up." Internal debates on the issue have further underlined the "need to build a huge movement against displacement and the very model of development itself", and to unite all "genuine democratic and anti-imperialist forces… to create a tornado of dissent that forces the rulers to stop this juggernaut".
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