The recent ambush between naxalites and CRPF Personnel in Chhattisgarh which led to the death of 17 CRPF jawans, paints a looming picture: that the Naxalite insurgency is still active and continues to be a dangerous internal threat to India’s security. In the words of former PM Manmohan Singh it could be termed as “the biggest threat to internal security”.
The Naxalite movement, a term derived from the origins of the peasant led movement against the government in the Naxalbari village in 1969, is not an uniform or centralised movement but has its presence across 5-6 states in India. The Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) formed in 1967, a group of far-left political radicals who believed in Mao Zedong’s communist ideology, spread the movement across 5 different states , in regions of mass poverty and lack of government access or support. The movement spread through border sharing districts in West Bengal and Orissa, from there to Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh where local peasants and tribals, already frustrated and exploited by the government officials, took up arms against the state. In such rural, less-developed regions the message of toppling the government and power positions of the upper caste and upper-class through force found its audience.
In Chhattisgarh, the movement has its epicentre in the Bastar region: a predominantly tribal region which had been ignored by governments through centuries. A huge district, the bauxite-rich and forest-covered region was exploited for its natural resources by the Kings, the Britishers and then the Indian government without providing any support and upliftment to the locals. Governance and Administration has been inaccessible in the region. There are several stories of clashes between government officials and the locals where the officials have harassed, raped, or insulted the tribals and the low-caste population in the period of 1960s-70s. The growing frustration and resentment of the population found its culmination in joining the Maowadis, and joining the Maoist or Naxalite movement.
Insurgency and guerillas turned Bastar into a burning forest. Their anti-government propaganda and methods to lure the tribal youth disrupted development in the region. Naxalites snatched control from the administration and were involved in many violent activities in their peak years of 1980-1990s. At its peak in the 1990s, the movement was successful in establishing its own government where areas were directly under the control of the Naxalites. In areas like Abuj Mad and Jagdalpur, the Indian government did not exist; rather it found itself under the insurgents’ control.
But the insurgents, who were just local leaders and strongmen were no match for Military power of the Indian State. With the dawn of the new century, the Central as well as State governments with the might of its military as well as its welfarist measures and propaganda was successful in controlling the Naxalites. Further, the Naxals were not able to bring any reform in the region, therefore the support and sympathy from the local population dwindled. They could not see the promised glorious revolution and an improved living situation, rather the local population was still trying hard to reach a hospital or send its children to school.
In 2005, the government accelerated its initiatives to fight Naxalism and secure Bastar. A local tribal leader, Mahendra Karma mobilised militia and personnel against the insurgents by training and working with the tribals. The movement ‘Salwa Judum’ meaning ‘Peace March’ in Gondi language, was a big step though it was later declared as illegal by the Supreme Court later. It was one of the first movements where the locals came together to fight insurgents while coordinating with the government. Today, the Naxalites have their administration in some small areas, like in some portions of AbhujMad which they called ‘liberated zone’ where they issue vehicle passes and charge taxes from people for using the roads or staying or doing businesses. In recent years the state administration has been very active and determined in solving the issue of insurgency and clamping down hard on violence. Yet, the problem which should have been solved after decades of sporadic attacks and fragmented leadership is still claiming lives of locals police and military personnel and politicians.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Naxalism has claimed 12000 lives in the last 20 years and around 4000 lives in the last 9 years. Of these, the most deadliest attacks and maximum casualties have been in Chhattisgarh. The most recent attack was on 22 March where 17 security personnel were killed and 14 others got injured in an ambush in the Sukma region. The CRPF men were highly outnumbered against the 300-350 Naxal men. In another deadly attack in July 2018, as many as 24 CRPF jawans had lost their lives. This comes despite the BJP administration’s continuous and focused efforts to control insurgency in the state for 15 years.
However, the violence perpetuated and the atmosphere of fear and anti-government sentiment has definitely reduced in the region. The levels of education, health care and government presence can be seen in the Naxal-hit regions but such instances of attacks, ambushes and casualties inflicted remind us that one of the longest insurgency problems in the country is still not solved. The Naxalism problem has dominated elections, politics and the face of Chhattisgarh for years now and has been on the agenda of every government at least for the last 20 years. The developmental projects of the government along with military clampdown by the state has been able to successfully tackle the problem, but not eliminate it. The naxals are still active in their strongholds- south districts of the Bastar region. There are occasional attacks on political leaders and sympathizers and reverse attacks on security personnel. The naxals make use of modern weaponry and are highly trained in guerilla warfare and using IEDs. There are reports which suggest regrouping of the groups under their new commander Nambala Keshava Rao, alias Basavaraj has instilled new confidence in the group. But this is not to say that the Naxal groups are powerful enough to take on the government and its security power, their threat is waning and rightly so. The government has plans to eliminate the problem completely and seize back control of the remaining few naxal-controlled areas. It is also important to note that the support of the local population and youth is crucial to address the problem from its root, to stabilise the region and bring in the development that came with the welfarist democratic Indian state for the rest of the country.