Naxalites – Law and Order or Development Issue for India?

Miko Brown

Map of India's infamous "Red Corridor" of Naxalite activities; Photo Credit: WikiMedia Commons

Map of India’s infamous “Red Corridor” of Naxalite activities; Photo Source: Hunnjazal via Wikimedia Commons.

The world’s largest democracy. Rising economic engine of growth. Science. Technology. Growing population. These are just some initial thoughts that come to mind when I think of India.

However, underpinning these globalization and modernization themes is the persistence of a Maoist-inspired insurgency group within India called the Naxalites. This insurgency group is a pressing issue for India as in 2010 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared the Naxalites as India’s greatest threat to internal security. This group is not a new creation deriving from the identity and cultural tensions of a globalized world, but rather its origins are from the 1960s. During this period, in the middle of the bipolar international order of the Cold War, students who were often from elite Indian universities and institutions were enlightened by Maoist ideology and sought to bring stronger land rights to farmers in the northern states of India.

Maoist philosophy of ideals of village life and a peasant-based revolution were a romanticized zeitgeist of the 1960s and 1970s. Today, although the Naxalites claim to work and fight for India’s poor, marginalized and desolate farmers, the Naxalites increasingly resort to violence and force to achieve their aims of disrupting state power, which the insurgents’ view as controlled by corrupted elites, and establishing their own “liberated zones.” The Naxalites are thought to number 40,000 members in 21 out of India’s total 28 states.

Naxalite forces will often target local schools because police and security officials will spend the night in government schools while patrolling these rural regions, and use local schools as a base from which to plan operations against the Naxalite insurgents. In October 2013, the Naxalites targeted a school in Gadchiroli and killed three policemen who were staying inside. This kind of action increases government security forces’ brutality against the local village population, because the police forces believe that the Naxalites could not carry-out these sorts with attacks without the villagers’ knowledge and tacit acceptance. However, in addition to increased violence from both the insurgents and government police forces as a means to establish power, the Naxalites’ willingness to resort to force is detrimental to local villagers’ rights to human flourishing, such as by limiting education opportunities. With no school for the sixteen children in Gadchiroli, these children will have to walk three kilometers every day to another school in the Gyarapatti village and it is not certain they will be able to enrol in the middle of the school year.

To some extent the Naxalites may gain some sympathy and even supporters across the Red Corridor of India because the local populations often live without healthcare, good education, sanitation and clean drinking water. With the dearth of government services in these rural populations, it is often the Naxalites who will fulfil the responsibilities of government and provide medicine and education to the local villagers. However, the aforementioned violence and willingness (or commitment to ideology to counter corrupt capitalist forces) to destroy local infrastructure, such as schools, power plants or roads, and target democratically elected politicians does not help protect the rights of the local populations or provide for the underprivileged. This willingness of the Naxalites to normalize violence as a means to achieve their ends makes one question how committed to the marginalizeds’ rights the Maoist insurgency group actually is.

Furthermore, it does not help the local populations that the Indian government has chosen to treat the Naxalites as a law and order problem that can be countered with more security force. The Naxalites represent a threat to the state’s monopoly on violence and Prime Minister Singh believes the “terrorist” activities of the Naxalites will hinder Indian growth and global perceptions of India being a great power.

Ultimately, it is the indigenous Adivasi populations who are left out of the dialogue of development and security in the Red Corridor. The Indian government ought to make greater efforts to deliver (not just market a façade) poverty relief programs in the region to promote human security, rather than just the mere presence of police officials. The Naxalites still exist because of the little development in the rural tribal regions across India and lack of central government’s political will to truly engage with the Adivasi peoples. The local Adivasi, who are often subsistence farmers and only cultivate enough to feed their own families and villages when they have the means, unfortunately exist outside the Indian government’s reach. The Indian government needs to learn how to balance police security to protect the local population and infrastructure projects with genuine development and better economic inclusiveness.

Local Adivasi villagers most affected by Naxalite violence; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Local Adivasi villagers most affected by Naxalite violence. Photo Source: Yann via Wikimedia Commons.

Although in the short-term at least it is unlikely that the Indian government will seek to bolster development programs within the Naxalite-infected Red Corridor region. State-wide elections for the Lok Sabha (meaning House of the People, which is the lower house of parliament in India) will begin on the 7th of April and the voting process will take approximately six weeks to complete. Elections are a further opportunity for the insurgents to strike. During the previous 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Naxalite attacks spiked, as the insurgents sought to reinforce their claims to power within their liberated zones. Perhaps the trend from the last elections suggests a proliferation of Naxalite attacks should be expected. In order to combat this perceived threat to the central government’s control over the region, the presence of Indian security forces will increase to protect local teachers, who serve as polling officials, and schools that act as polling stations.

Effectively combating the Naxalites will take long-term planning in which the Indian governments ought to commit to sharing more of the country’s rapid economic growth in a equitable fashion. Health care, roads, education, and water – this is the true means through which to eliminate the internal security risks of the Naxalites and have a more flourishing and empowered Adivasi village population across eastern India.

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