February 7, 2013: India is winning its four decade war with leftist rebels. While these “Maoist” rebels get a lot of headlines inside India, the communist rebels have not gotten much attention outside the country. Even for a country as big (over a billion people) as India, the Maoists are a noticeable source of violence and other criminal behavior. Last year, leftist terrorism related deaths (367) were down nearly 40 percent compared to 2011 (602). In 2008, there were 648 dead, which grew to 1,180 in 2010 and then began their sharp decline because of a major paramilitary police operation against the main concentrations of Maoists in eastern India.
What's amazing is that communist rebels and terrorists are still active 22 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 eastern India. These 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 were the first copy-cat Maoists, and they killed over a million of their countrymen in the 1970s.
Nepalese Maoists are a less lethal version. 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 were never as violent as the Cambodians, nor as accommodating as the Nepalis.
The Indian Maoists, which are present in 13 of India's 35 states, have been active, to one degree or another, since Mao died in the 1970s. In most of those states 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 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 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 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 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 that began four years ago was combined 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.