The Naxalite insurgency has continued to defy the state for longer than any other uprising in post-independence India, leading Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to term the insurgency the “biggest internal threat that India has ever faced.” How has the Naxal uprising managed to survive the “neutralizing strategy” of the various state police forces charged with restoring law and order?

Anjana Sinha, a senior police official in the state of Andhra Pradesh, discussed the peculiarities of this insurgency and the challenges it poses to the country’s internal security. Carnegie’s Milan Vaishnav moderated.

From Local to National

  • Slow but Steady Spread: From their beginnings 42 years ago in the state of West Bengal, the insurgency is now active across a wide swath of central and eastern India, Sinha said.
  • Central Command, Local Operations: Sinha explained that although the Naxalites have developed a sophisticated national command structure, local militant bands still retain a great deal of operational autonomy.
  • Recent Expansion: The total number of deaths in the Naxal conflict has more than tripled since 2001, according to Sinha. She attributed this primarily to a Naxalite offensive that began after the group reorganized and consolidated in 2004.
  • Beyond Security Versus Development: According to Sinha, it is not sufficient to see the Naxalites purely as a security concern or as a symptom of underdevelopment. Instead, she argued that they arose in large part from a pattern of actively poor governance.

A Page from The Little Red Book

  • A People’s War: Sinha compared the insurgent strategy of the Naxalites to that of the Maoists in China, observing that they rely on non-militant supporters within their communities and stolen weaponry from national armories.
  • Violent Overthrow: The Naxalites have overtly espoused the cause of toppling the Indian state by force. Citing seized internal Naxalite documents, Sinha said that they originally intended to accomplish this by 1975 but have since compromised and now aspire to control India by 2016.
  • Mobile War: Sinha said the Naxalites see themselves as being on the offensive—past the phase of guerilla war and into more open conflict with security forces, which the insurgents call a “mobile war.”
  • Political Strategy: While repudiating India’s parliamentary system, the Naxalites do participate in electoral politics through the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Sinha discussed the group’s use of controversial populist issues to leverage local residents against incumbents.

Prospects for Neutralization

  • Going After the Roots: Citing her own experiences in Andhra Pradesh, Sinha said that one vital and largely neglected step that state governments facing Naxalites could take would be to remedy the poor civil administration that enables these militants to drum up support.
  • Terrorists or Robin Hood? Sinha noted that even some political elites and international rights groups have accepted the narrative that the Naxalites are fighting for a just social cause, which she argued hampers states’ efforts to stop the violence.
  • Coordination Problems: One of the main challenges to neutralizing this insurgency is the lack of communication and coordination between the states that are dealing with the problem, Sinha said. She noted that efforts by the Union government to facilitate a coordinated response have yet to gain significant traction.