January 13, 2009: While Maoist rebels get a lot of headlines inside India, the communist rebels have not gotten out of control. In 2008, there were 1,435 violent encounters between police and the rebels (resulting in 658 police or civilians dying). That's almost identical to the numbers for 2007 (1,420 and 636).
What's amazing is that communist rebels and terrorists are still active, 18 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War and seeming defeat of the communist movement. But there is still an energetic communist terrorist operation going on in Indian state of Chhattisgarh. These terrorists belong to the Maoist movement, an organization trying to establish communist dictatorships similar to radical communist movement of the 1960s, when Chinese rule Mao Zse Dong sought to "purify" the country. The Cambodian Khmer Rouge were the first copy-cat Maoists, and they killed over a million of their countrymen in the 1970s.
Nepalese Maoists were often in the news, as they used terror to build an army of rural youngsters, much like the Khmer Rouge did. But the Nepalese Maoists ultimately decided to play by the rules, and are now the dominant party in the elected government of Nepal.
The Indian Maoists, which are active in 13 of India's 35 states, have been active, or one degree or another, since Mao died in the 1970s. In twelve of those states, the police believe they have the Maoists under control. But in Chhattisgarh, the Maoist violence is on the increase. That's because 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 and fewer different cultures, and no tribes left 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. The tribal peoples survived by staying out of the mainstream. As happens to tribes everywhere, they got screwed, 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 their rhetoric is familiar. It's all class warfare to them, and anyone who disagrees is an "enemy of the people." The Maoists pay their way via the usual extortion racket ("revolutionary taxes.") 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 angry 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 have declared themselves in charge. That may only be a night, or when they can plant a mine in a road. 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 other provinces, the government has addressed the social issues more effectively, and offered amnesty to most of the Maoists. Many are just uneducated kids, lured into the life of Maoist terrorism by fairy tales of triumphant communism. 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.