Winning: India And The Maoist Message


January 29, 2015: India is winning its four decade war with leftist rebels. But like everything else the government does the “crush the Maoists” project is behind schedule, over budget and not nearly as efficient as politicians said it would be. Nevertheless, eliminating the Maoists is the most important defense related problem India has that most people outside India have never heard of.

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. Since its peak in 2010 leftist (Mostly Maoist) terrorism related deaths have gone from 1,180 down to 314 in 2014. The decline was most precipitous (49 percent) in 2011, but continued over the next three years. That meant a 39 percent decline in deaths in 2012, an unexpected 15 percent increase in 2013 followed by a 25 percent decline in 2014. The decline is expected to continue and more Maoists are deserting, surrendering or, if they are leaders, warming to the calls for peace talks.

The trend that began in 2010 was the result a major paramilitary police operation against the main concentrations of Maoists in eastern India. This offensive is still underway. What's amazing is that communist rebels and terrorists are still active 24 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 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. By the 1970s China had officially renounced the Maoist movement. Yet the concept remained alive. 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 by 2008 were the dominant party in the elected government of Nepal. But the Nepalese Maoists have been losing votes ever since. Maoists tend to promise more than they can deliver. The Indian Maoists were never as violent as the Cambodians, nor as accommodating as the Nepalis. At the same time the Indian Maoists have not accomplished much either, except to get a lot of people killed in rural India, where even many of the poor and oppressed people they strive to help have turned against the strident, inflexible and often cruel Maoists. Many if not most Indian communists also oppose the Maoists.

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 in the 1950s there were still a lot of old customs left that rankled. The tribal peoples survived by staying out of the mainstream and that many ancient feudal practices out in the remote “tribal territories” survived. 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 private armies.

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 in 2009 was supposed to be combined with more attention to the social and political problems in the rural areas where the Maoists had so much support. The massive corruption in the Indian government saw to it that social problems got less support than the effort to find and kill Maoists. There is still a lot to complain about in these areas but less reason and opportunity to support armed Maoists. So gradually the Maoists are fading away, but will return in one form or another if the government does not do right by the long-suffering tribes.





Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contribute. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   contribute   Close