Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Origins of the Maoist Movement in India

India presently hosts a plethora of terrorists and insurgent outfits across the ideological spectrum. It is home to religious groups in the north, ethno-nationalist groups in the northeast and left-wing groups in the central, southern, and eastern regions. The largest insurgency outfit among them, which has been touted as the greatest threat to India’s internal security by Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh, is the Communist Party of India [CPI(M)], or simply the Maoists.  Any fruitful attempt to study the present status of the Maoists has to begin with a study on the genesis of the organization after India’s independence.

The Maoist movement in India has been punctuated by internecine conflicts, politics and splits for more than half a century. However, the growth of the movement was also marked by unifications and consolidations, even as recent as 2004, which led to its present form. The initial chrysalis and further growth in the early years of the movement can be segmented into three distinct phases of splits and disintegration, followed by two stages of consolidation and unification.

First Stage (1968-1973)

The seeds of the current Maoist movement were sowed by its predecessor known as “Naxalbari movement.” This was when Naxalism took shape in a village called Naxalbari in West Bengal. This movement was characterized by a collective farmers’ uprising against oppressive landlords. What started as a simple agrarian crisis soon assumed greater proportions and visibility among communist followers across India. This popular uprising led to the formation of All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR) in 1968. The principle tenets of this group were boycotting elections and waging armed struggle.

However, differences cropped up within this group concerning the concept of “annihilating of class enemies.” One group led by Kanhai Chatterjee believed that the annihilation process should be preceded by a mass agitation stage, while the majority of others in AICCCR preferred an armed revolution without mass support. This was the first fissure in the movement, and it led to the formation of Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) [CPI(ML)] in May 1969, which elected Charu Majumdar as its general secretary in 1970. The opposing group, headed by Kanhai Chatterjee, went on to found Dakshin Desh, which was later known as the Maoist Communist Center (MCC) in 1975. This period of struggle received tacit propaganda support from China which branded this revolution “Spring Thunder,” thus christening the birth of the Maoist movement in India. During this period, CPI (ML) assumed a pan-Indian presence. However, this sudden growth was only ephemeral. A government crackdown along with the death of Charu Majumdar in 1972 led to the disintegration of the CPI (ML).  

Second Stage (1974-1979)

This stage witnessed the creation of new entities and further splits within the Maoists. A group led by Jauhar, alias Subrata Dutt, formed the CPI (ML) (Liberation) in 1974, which was termed a “course correction.” This organization stressed mass agitations by agrarian proletariat to encompass Marxism, Leninism and Maoism locally along with armed struggle. Each of these movements started to emerge with more organized and cohesive internal structures. Organizational re-structuring and expansion began to take shape during this phase. CPI (ML) liberation spread to Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Bihar.

However, ideological differences led to further splits in this group, which led to the formation of CPI (ML) (unity organization) headed by N.Prasad and CPI(ML) Peoples War Group (PWG) led by Kondapalli Seetharamiah in 1980.

Third Stage (1980-1990)

The third stage is characterized by further splits due to rectification campaigns undertaken to correct past errors. Most significant among them was the embracing of mainstream politics by CPI (ML) liberation in 1982, which registered for its first electoral victory in 1989 in Bihar. This reflects a clear shift away from their earlier stand against the electoral process. This created deep schisms inside CPI (ML) liberation.

During this period, the first signs of the unification process started to appear, though it was still in an early stage. An organization known as the CPI (ML) party unity (PU) came into existence as the result of a merger between CPI (ML) (unity organization) and the remnants of Charu Majumdar’s CPI (ML).

At the end of this period, the Naxalite (Maoist) movement was spearheaded by three different organizations in India. While the PWG focused on Andhra Pradesh, CPI (ML) PU focused its activity on Bihar. However, these organizations strived to gain footholds in other regions, which forced them to reconsider unification plans to bring all the groups under a single umbrella. It was estimated that there were around 30 smaller communist groups in existence during this time.

Fourth Stage (1990-2000)

The first phase of the unification process began in the late 1990s .Though this process was initiated as early as 1993 between CPI (ML) PW and CPI (ML) PU, ideological differences between the two groups served to delay the process. This unified party was known as CPI (M-L) PW. Post-merger, this movement operated with combined strength in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, and in central India. A joint declaration also showed the clear intent of the PW to further unite existing movements under one single umbrella. The joint declaration stated that:

“The emergence of the united Party – the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (People’ War) - does not mark the completion of the process of unification of the genuine communist revolutionary forces in India.”

Fifth and Final Stage (2000-present)

The final phase was marked by the formation of CPI (Maoists) [CPI (M)] (referred to as Maoists) in 2004 by merging the MCC and the CPI (ML) PW. The formation was based on ideologies propagated by Marxists, Leninists and Maoists. This unified entity was against feudalism, imperialism and capitalism. Rejecting the earlier principle of following agrarian revolution alone, the new outfit advocated a mass revolution by the proletariat, from farmers, tribals, adivasis and the backward community in India. The most important objective of the CPI (M) was to seize political power through Protracted People’s War (PPW) - armed insurrection. 

Structure and Strength 

The organization is governed by a central committee that laid down five important documents during the time of the merger. They are Hold High the Bright Red Banner of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, the Party Programme, Strategy and Tactics of the Indian Revolution, the Political Resolution on the International and Domestic Situation and the Party Constitution. These documents outline the Maoists’ objectives, strategy and tactics.

The organizational structure of Maoists is highly hierarchical. According to the party’s constitution, the highest decision-making body is the central committee (CC), which is elected in a party congress held once every five years. According to the party constitution, the political structure of the Maoists are arranged vertically under the Central Committee, which are as follows:

Special Area Committee/Special Zonal Committee/State Committee; 
Regional Committee; 
Zonal Committee/District/Divisional Committee; 
Sub-Zonal/Sub-Divisional Committee; 
Area Committee; local-level committees such as village/basti/factory/college party committee. 

The military setup is headed by the Central Military Commission (CMC), which is constituted by the CC. The CMC is primarily in charge of continuing the Protracted People’s War through the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA). The PLGA is arranged to closely resemble a standing professional army with formations of platoons, companies and divisions. According to the party document titled Strategy and Tactics of Indian Revolution, the PLGA is constituted by three force levels. They are:

The primary force, which is constituted by platoons, companies, central/state special action teams, which move anywhere to participate in the war depending on the needs of the movement under the instructions of the commissions/commands. 
The secondary force, which is constituted by local guerilla squads, special guerilla squads, platoons and district/division level action teams.
The base force is the people’s militia, which forms the bulk of their strength and is constituted by tribals and adivasis.

The present force levels of the Maoists are not known. However, open source data indicates the number to be around 6500-9500 troops, mostly carrying small arms. The Maoists have been responsible for more combatant deaths in India than any other terrororist or insurgent group. (See Table 1)

Table 1:
Deaths and violence due to insurgency and terrorism in India (2009-2012)
North East Groups
Jammu and Kashmir groups


Source: Annual Report 2012-2013 Ministry of Home Affairs, India. 
Note: Deaths related to northeast and J & K groups pertain to civilian and security forces only, though no such division is available for deaths caused by Maoists in the MHA report.

According to the document titled Strategy and Tactics of the Indian Revolution, the Maoists have segregated their operational areas, or stages of the revolution, into three broad classifications based on their strength, the strength of their enemy and the mass support for the movement. They are: Resistance Zones, Guerilla Zones, and Liberated Zones.

Resistance Zones, also known as Red Resistance Zones, are characterized by building the basic foundation for the movement in the form of mass support from women, youth, tribals, the backward community etc. The Maoist doctrine for these zones emphasizes the annihilation of class enemies like landlords. It also stresses building up the people’s army, guerilla squads, etc., along with nurturing armed revolution among the proletariat. Armed attacks against the state will come in waves, providing the Maoists with maneuvering space to consolidate and attack again. The broad presumption of the Maoists under this stage is that state machinery is more powerful, requiring its negation by force of powerful mass support. The primary objective is to gain a foothold among the masses to preserve the underground movement.

Guerilla Zones are areas where the Maoists perceive themselves to be relatively better off than their earlier status, if not equal to the state-enforcement apparatus. The guerilla warfare in these areas will be increasing in intensity in a bid to destroy state power or symbols of state power in the form of government buildings, communication stations, police stations, etc.  Maoist doctrine advocates dual power theory which assumes that the two warring parties are on an equal pedestal with respect to their political and mass strength, and numerical strength of their forces. Hence, concomitant functioning of administration in Maoist-controlled areas is more visible in Guerilla Zones. The Revolutionary People’s Committee (RPC) functions as a quasi-administration and judicial system within these areas. The Maoists also stress establishing guerilla bases within Guerilla Zones, which provide a protected sanctuary for group member. This measure assumes significance as it is an important step and one of the primary objectives to advance to the next level, Liberated Zones.

Maoist doctrine states that Liberated Zones are areas where the writ of the state machinery does not rule the constituents anymore. This phase advocates mobile guerilla warfare, where the state machinery is considerably weakened politically and militarily. The Revolutionary People’s Committees will be transformed into Revolutionary People’s Councils. There is deliberate attempt on the part of Maoists to harness resources in urban centers situated at the fringe areas of their guerilla or liberated zones. The objective is to function as a government in the vacuum created by a withdrawal of government influence.

Areas of Influence, Funding, and Weapons

According to the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Maoists have a major presence in as many as nine states, namely Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Apart from these, Maoists are known to have presence in the fringe areas of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Assam. As of June 2012, 173 districts spanning 13 states have been identified by MHA as either affected by Maoist violence or under Maoist influence.

Maoists derive most of their funding from extortion or a levy called the “Revolutionary Tax,” which is extracted from contractors, industries and illegal mining companies in areas under their control. They also receive voluntary donations from members and sympathizers. It is believed that tendu leaf-pickers (tendu leaf is used to wrap beedis, an Indian-made cigarette packed with tobacco) contribute to their coffers. The Maoists have been instrumental in increasing the daily wages of these tendu leaf pickers by intimidating the wealthy tendu leaf contractors. These wage earners in turn contribute a day’s wage to the Maoists coffers. Maoists tacitly allow large-scale poppy/ganja cultivation in their areas in order to collect money from the drug trade. These funds are used to buy sophisticated weapons. However, it is also a known fact that Maoists loot state armories and snatch weapons from security forces in ambushes.

Open-source reports indicate that Maoists have modern weapons including AK series assault rifles, Universal Machine Guns (UMG), Medium Machine Guns (MMG), Light Machine Guns (LMG), Sniper rifles, INSAS rifles, indigenously-developed rocket launchers, etc. Most of these weapons are procured by the Maoists from groups in Southeast Asia via insurgents operating in the northeast.

External Linkages and Affiliations

In 2009, then-Home Minister P. Chidambaram categorically stated that the Maoists have been procuring weapons from groups in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal. Maoists are known to have external linkages with other terrorists and insurgent groups in India and outside. It is believed that experts from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been instrumental in training the Maoists in the making of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED). There is also evidence of connections between the Maoists and northeastern insurgent outfits like the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA).

The Maoists also have close links with Maoist organizations in the Philippines and Turkey. It is a member of the Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organizations of South Asia (CCOMPOSA). Maoist campaigns have been supported by various likeminded organizations in Germany, France, Italy, Holland and Turkey.

The Maoists also envisage establishing a Compact Revolutionary Zone (CRZ) from Nepal to India along with the Maoists in Nepal.


Characterized by innumerable splits and conflicts in their earlier years, the Maoists have managed to consolidate through mergers in recent times, giving them breathing space with which to mount an effective campaign against state authority. This constant evolution in form and content is the most important factor aiding their survivability.

Having seen the growth trajectory of the Maoist movement over the last 30 years, it would be very safe to assume that the intensity of their activities and actions will escalate further in years to come. This will be among the greatest challenges facing Indian policy planners. The Maoists represent a clear and present danger to the democratic values of the Indian government.

The Indian government has its task cut out for it. However, military measures may not be able to provide any long-lasting solutions to the problem. Calculated investment into development, infrastructure and the eradication of socio-economic imbalances among the most backward classes will undermine the mass support Maoists enjoy to some extent. However, notwithstanding the above, Maoists have sustained their campaign for a long time, outliving successive governments. They in turn have inherited the knowledge needed for survival and longevity which places them on a higher pedestal than other groups, and makes them a force to be reckoned with.

By V.Balasubramaniyan contributor to Geopoliticalmonitor.com

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