Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Red storm rising - India's intractable Maoist insurgency

India's Maoist movement is expanding its operations as its People's War develops along ideological and pragmatic lines. Dr P V Ramana looks at the rise of the rebellion and the country's poorly co-ordinated counter-insurgency strategies.

While discussion of the threat posed to India by radical Islamist violence tends to dominate security assessments, the country's Maoist insurgency has been steadily expanding its areas of influence and building up its military capability. This expansion has been so great that in 2007 Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the Maoists as the "single biggest internal security challenge facing India".

The proscribed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) was founded on 21 September 2004, following the merging of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People's War, also known as the People's War Group, and the Maoist Communist Centre of India - two of India's most prominent insurgent groups.

The CPI-Maoist is the largest group of a wider communist insurgent movement, known as Naxalites after the village of Naxalbari in West Bengal, the site of a revolutionary rural uprising in 1967. The CPI-Maoist has a presence in 185 districts in 17 out of India's 28 states, exerting varying degrees of influence in these areas. Chhattisgarh is currently the state worst affected by the insurgency, particularly its southern Bastar region, which was referred to as a "war zone" in July 2007 by state police chief Vishwaranjan. Other states affected by Maoist violence are Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal and Maharashtra. Andhra Pradesh - where the insurgents are currently on the retreat - has been affected for the longest period of time - since 1964, when radical elements of the political Communist Party of India (Marxist) waged a rebellion called the Srikakulam armed struggle.

Prior to the forging of the CPI-Maoist in 2004, the Naxalites' four-decade campaign of violence had been confined largely to rural India, with their support base comprising landless labourers and marginalised tribal and lower-caste people. However, since the formation of the CPI-Maoist, and in particular since 2006, there have been two major shifts in the Maoists' operational strategy, increasing the security risks posed by the insurgency: targeting infrastructure; and the expansion of its geographical focus to include urban areas.

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