Counter-Terrorism: The Bloody Legacy Of Maoism


January 30, 2014: India has been fighting leftist (Maoist) rebels since the 1970s. In the last decade the Maoists have been losing ground but remain a threat in rural areas of eastern India. The years of losses have caused the leftist rebels to be less effective and frequent in their attacks on economic targets and to be more often fighting internal dissidents. In Jharkhand state, where the Maoists have been most active the Maoists lost 57 men in combat in 2013. But only 21 percent of those were lost fighting the police, the rest were victims of internal feuds between different Maoist factions. During 2013 the Jharkhand Maoists killed 195 people with 62 percent of them civilians, 23 percent other Maoists and 15 percent police. The Maoists lost hundreds to desertion and arrest and spent most of their time avoiding the growing number of police patrols. 

Over the last few years the intensified campaign against Maoist rebels taking place in 13 (of 35) Indian states has made some progress. In the last six years the number of districts suffering from Maoist activity has been reduced 22 percent (to 173). The Maoists still have about 7,000 full time armed men and over 33,000 less well armed part-timers in those areas. The comes to 40 or so full time rebels per district and that translates into one or two separate Maoist “gangs” operating in what are usually thinly populated rural areas. Once the police hunt down and destroy (kill or capture) that gang, or chase them into another district you have one less area suffering from Maoist violence. At least until the several hundred Maoist supporters in that district recruit and arm another gang. The real threat comes from these (usually) non-violent Maoist supporters, most of whom have real grievances (and not just an ideological affection for Maoism).

Since 2006 the Maoists have lost (dead, captured or surrendered) over 16,000 members. The losses were heaviest in 2010 (3,354) and lowest in 2007 (1,987 members lost). The Maoists are still recruiting, but they are on the defensive and have been increasingly avoiding battles with the police. The Maoists have adapted, by building their camps in more remote areas and using roadside bombs to attack military convoys or patrolling troops in vehicles. This is done after carefully determining where nearby police units are, because the paramilitary police will quickly go after Maoists who have just ambushed convoys or patrols.

The anti-Maoist campaign is largely a police operation, with little military involvement. The air force has, after years of cajoling, finally provided some helicopters. The military prefers to stay out of any war on internal rebels. Kashmir was considered an exception because most of the Islamic terrorists were trained and armed in Pakistan then sneaked across the border. The military quite accurately see the Maoists as largely the product of corruption and bad government in the affected states. Since Indian states have a lot of autonomy, each of the states with a Maoist problem is under pressure to improve social and economic conditions for the populations who feel angry enough at the government to support, and often join the Maoists.

The police have made inroads in damaging Maoist fund raising and weapons purchasing. This has led to more senior Maoist leaders being arrested or at least identified (which makes it more difficult for these people to travel freely).

The current offensive began back in 2010 when India sent a force of 75,000 paramilitary policemen to eliminate the communist (Maoist) rebels. These communist rebels and terrorists have been at it since the 1970s and are still going strong after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, and seeming defeat of the communist movement in 1991. These Indian terrorists belong to the Maoist movement, an organization trying to establish a communist dictatorship similar to the radical communist movement of the 1960s, when Chinese ruler Mao Zse Dong sought to "purify" the country with a lot of chaos and millions of dead. The Cambodian Khmer Rouge was the first copy-cat Maoists, and they killed over a million of their countrymen in the 1970s.  The Communist Party of India is a powerful political force, and supports the Maoists, while officially disapproving of the Maoist terrorism. Thus many Indian leftists see dead Maoists as victims.

In most of the states with a Maoist problem the police believe they have the Maoists under control. But in Chhattisgarh State the Maoist violence has been intense because of the unique population patterns there. Chhattisgarh is different. With a population of 22 million, it has the highest proportion (about a third) of tribal peoples of all the states of India. Now most people don't think of tribes in India but this is a complicated country. With over a billion people, and 19 major languages, India is more complicated, culturally, than Europe (which has half as many people, fewer different cultures, and no tribes still active). While India eliminated most feudalistic practices half a century ago, after the British left, there were still a lot of old customs left that rankled, especially out in the countryside. The tribal peoples survived by staying out of the mainstream. As happens to tribes everywhere, they got screwed by the non-tribal folk and the Maoists found this fertile ground for their radical ideas about how to make everything better. Actually, the Maoists do not have a large following among the citizens of Chhattisgarh. But it's enough to enable the Maoists to raise several thousand dedicated followers, many of them armed. The Maoists are communists and to them it’s all about class warfare and anyone who disagrees is an "enemy of the people." The Maoists pay their way via the usual extortion racket (revolutionary taxes) and theft (from class enemies like the government and businesses that won’t pay for protection). The Maoists also play Robin Hood, battling the local landlords and power brokers. If some big shot screws the little guy, he can expect a visit from armed and deadly Maoists. But the local swells know who they are up against and most maintain large security forces.

In some of the more rural areas, the Maoists declared themselves in charge. That was often only at night, or when they were planting a lot of mines on the roads. The Maoists have to be careful with this tactic, as if a busload of civilians comes along, instead of the truckload of soldiers or an SUV belonging to a capitalist, the Maoists lose a lot of fans.

In the states free of Maoist activity, the government has addressed the social issues more effectively and offered amnesty to Maoists in the area. Many are just uneducated kids, lured into the life of Maoist terrorism by fairy tales of triumphant communism and the need for a job. And that's what Maoist terrorism is all about, getting guns, fantasy, bad government, and real grievances mixed up all together. This is a deadly mixture and should be avoided.

The anti-Maoist offensive combined more armed police with more attention to the social and political problems in the rural areas where the Maoists had so much support. There is still a lot to complain about in these areas but less reason and opportunity to support armed Maoists.

Since 2008 the Maoists have become more of a problem than Islamic terrorism in Kashmir. As a result the government has moved many of the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force, a paramilitary organization that deals with terrorism) battalions from Kashmir to areas in eastern India where the Maoists operate.


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