Two Indian police officers were injured over the weekend when Maoist insurgents detonated a landmine below their convoy. In an email interview, P.V. Ramana, a research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, discussed the insurgency of Maoist groups, also known as Naxalites, and the Modi administration’s response.
WPR: What is the current status of the Naxalite insurgency in India?
P.V. Ramana: The Communist Party of India (Maoist) was banned in 2009 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967. The Maoist insurgents have a presence to varying degree—intense to negligible—in 182 districts across 20 states. However, of the 182 districts where they have a presence, only 76 districts have witnessed violence. The states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha account for an overwhelming majority of the violence committed by the Maoist insurgents. Not a day passes without some act of Maoist violence reported from one part of the country or the other, given their geographic spread. Nevertheless, there has been a perceptible decline in Maoist violence over the past four years, though their pan-India influence may not have been drastically reduced. Over the past year, the Maoists have not staged any massive attack.
This is, in part, because the security forces have maintained constant pressure on the rebels. The Maoists have been completely driven away from their flagship guerrilla zone, North Telangana in South India, and have merely a negligible presence in the northern-most pockets of what is now the state of Andhra Pradesh. Similarly, several Central Committee members of the Communist Party have been either arrested or killed in encounters with the police over the past seven years.
WPR: What is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy toward the Maoists and does it represent a shift from that of the previous administration?
Ramana: According to Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju*, “the government believes a combination of calibrated police action, focused developmental efforts and improvement in governance are effective instrumentalities” in dealing with the Maoist insurgency. Prime Minister Modi himself asked the Maoists to shun the path of violence and join the national mainstream. During his Independence Day address on Aug. 15, Modi called upon “misguided youth who had taken to terrorism or Maoism to give up violence and return to the national mainstream.” Before his election as prime minister, Modi said at an election rally, “Don’t arm the gullible youth with guns . . . Instead, pick up the plough and distribute it among youngsters for you need to feed scores of people who sleep hungry in this country. Also ensure the youth picks up the pen as only education can lead to progress and development in the villages.” However, the Maoist insurgency was not a major issue in the recent general elections of 2014.
WPR: Does the election of Modi change the Maoists’ view of the Indian government and are the Maoists likely to adapt their insurgency in light of the new administration?
Ramana: The Maoists have consistently held that elections are a sham and have never participated in any election at any level of government. Their avowed objective is the armed seizure of political power. These twin aspects of their ideology have never changed and will never change irrespective of which political party heads the government. The Maoists are quick to adapt their strategy and tactics depending upon the government’s policies and actions. Presently, they are adopting a wait-and-see strategy before planning their next moves. Hence, there is a certain stalemate in the insurgency and counterinsurgency operations.