China and Neighbourhood

Grievance, Mobilisation and State Response: An examination of the Naxalite Insurgency in India

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In the decades following the end of the Cold War, civil and ethnic wars have become more prevalent than traditional inter-state war. The motivations for and the methods used to engage in civil conflict have altered.



Scholars across different disciplines have not yet reached a comprehensive definition of civil war, nor come to a formal agreement on the total number of civil wars, due to lack of universally accepted characteristics. Civil warfare is generally funded through different mechanisms from inter-state war; unless there is third party interference or diaspora support, rebels must fund their own war efforts using methods such as capture of natural resource rents, support from local populations or extortion of businesses and other criminal activities.

A long-standing left wing extremist (LWE) insurgency across India has led to the deaths, injuries or displacement of thousands of people, whilst being mostly overlooked by Western theorists. Many academic analyses dealing with revolutions, insurgencies, and civil war do not mention the Naxalites whatsoever. The Naxalite conflict would likely be more well-known if global attention were less focused on events across the border in Pakistan and Afghanistan, or if a number of foreigners had been killed. The insurgency started in the town of Naxalbari in West Bengal state, and thus the rebels are often known as ‘Naxalites’ (interchangeably with ‘Maoists’, ‘extremists’, ‘rebels’, or ‘insurgents’). While all figures of the total number of combatants must be regarded as approximations, the BBC claims there are between 10,000 and 20,000 armed Naxalite cadres.

India has struggled with violent separatism in Kashmir and the North-East states, Islamic terrorist groups and communalist Hindu-Moslem conflicts, all of which have made the international headlines and received much more scholarly and media attention but the Maoist Naxalites have engaged in a civil conflict with severe impacts since 1967. What started as a localised uprising in a single town has now spread to influence or affect twenty states in India, covering two hundred and twenty-three districts. The exact number of affected areas is contentious, given that LWE-hit districts receive central funds for Security Related Expenditure. In 2011, the Government of India’s own figures were revised down to 83 affected districts from a high of 180 in 2009. Ajit Doval, the former director of the Intelligence Bureau, estimates Naxalite activity has affected 40 per cent of India’s territory and 35 per cent of its population (thus more than 420 million people). An insurgency on this huge scale deserves more rigorous analysis.
Economic costs are high; from 1980 to 2000, LWE-affected states lost an average of 12.48 per cent of per capita net state domestic product. There is a serious paucity of research and empirical data on specific elements of the Naxalite conflict. Research that focuses specifically on the Naxalite insurgency tends to be analytically restricted to issues of domestic politics and inequality, but a purely economic examination of conflict causation may be too narrow. Grievances, inequalities and drivers for conflict vary hugely over a country as big and heterogeneous as India. Successive Indian governments have resisted calling the Naxalite insurgency a ‘civil war’ and term it a law and order problem due to political and policy implications. All this takes place in a complex environment of multiple and conflicting stakeholders, reducing the validity of purely quantitative analyses of conflict causation.
In a startlingly frank admission from a head of state, the Indian Prime Minister stated in September 2009 that the country is losing the battle against the Naxalites. The Naxalite insurgency deserves wider international scholarly attention; India is the world’s largest democracy and its second most populous country. There has been a movement towards mergers and consolidation of various LWE groups under the Naxalite banner. The largest merger was in 2004 when the People’s War (PW) and Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI) merged to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist), also known as ‘CPI (M)’, but this pattern of mergers and splits has occurred numerous times since 1967. The Maoist insurgency is unusual for its long duration and the low intensity mortality rate. This however has reached cumulatively high numbers of deaths over the last decade, and become more indiscriminate.

*Published in Journal of Conflict Transformation & Security (JCTS) Vol. 2 | No. 1
© Copyright 2012 by CESRAN

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