• Kopal Jain


Spearheaded by the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), left-wing extremism or the Naxalite movement is considered to be India’s biggest internal security threat. The Naxalite ideology largely appeals to the marginalized sections of India’s caste system, particularly Dalits and Adivasis.

The movement’s agenda for the common man is the reason for its growing popularity - distribution and development of the agricultural sector, social justice to the Dalits, and eradication of corruption are some of the goals they wish to achieve.

The Naxal revenue comes from extortion, contractors, mining industry, transporters, large- and small-scale industries in the regions they operate in, growing poppy or marijuana and illegal mining. However, due to imposed lockdown, their finances took a hit as construction and economic activities in the red-corridor region have been halted. Since last year, Naxalites are facing a shortage of food supplies and other essentials as village-level haat bazaars, which would supply commodities to them were also temporarily shut.[1] Their already strained supply chains collapsed due to the lockdown. Due to this desperation, they pressured villagers and village chiefs to provide them with food grains and other essentials. There have been reports of torture as well.[2] The Naxalites were also allegedly transporting stranded migrant workers to their villages to meet their financial needs.

While there was a temporary ceasefire in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, it can be attributed to the increased social pressure to make way for COVID-19 relief measures for the poor in remote areas. However, the violent campaign in the most affected states of Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand haven’t stopped despite the rising cases of Coronavirus.

Chhattisgarh reported 578 incidents - the highest number of LWE-linked violence incidents in the country in 2019 and 2020. The state saw a 20% increase in LWE incidents — 315 in 2020 from 263 in 2019. This was followed by Jharkhand (399), Maharashtra (96) and Odisha (95), and Bihar (88).[3] The increasing number of Naxal attacks on security forces indicate that Maoists are exploiting the heightened public fear of the pandemic to incite violence, find new targets and radicalize new locals.

What could be the reasons?

· Unemployment

Many migrant workers from Maoist-impacted regions of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, and Maharashtra work as daily wage labourers in Delhi, Mumbai, Goa, etc. Due to the onset of the lockdown, many lost their jobs as construction work was halted along with other economic activities. They returned to their villages in large numbers and due to their vulnerable position, they embraced the Naxal ideology. Experts believe that Maoists could offer these migrants money and the offer to provide them with jobs.

· The onset of the lockdown

The national lockdown was imposed in March, which was a huge setback to the Naxalites as mid-March to April is the time during which they store essential commodities before the monsoons. It is a pre-monsoon exercise for them as they avoid operations and movement during the monsoon season. Due to the lockdown, Maoists found it easier to attack targets as they were in their homes and the lack of crowded areas and restriction on movement further aided their violent undertakings. The lockdown also coincided with the Naxal’s Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign (TCOC) which commences from February to June every year. During TCOC, Maoists launch attacks on the security forces and inflict damages to the government property.

· Lack of funds

Since infrastructure projects were halted during the lockdown, Maoists were not able to extort money from contractors or transporters. Demonetization had also crippled their finances and the COVID-19 imposed lockdown further contributed to their woes.

· Added responsibility for the security forces

With the onset of the pandemic, the security forces in Bastar have scaled down their anti-Maoist operations for the fear of being exposed to the virus as well as concerns around the shortage of essential items for the personnel. Citing specific intelligence inputs, Chhattisgarh police also suspended their area domination exercises and have been undertaking fewer offensives. Security personnel were also entrusted with relief operations and the task of spreading awareness about the pandemic in remote areas. During this time Maoists were able to get a breather and recalibrate their efforts.

Way Forward

A recent encounter in Bijapur between Maoists and security forces points at the shortcoming of India’s Maoist strategy. Experts and analysts attribute this ambush to intelligence failures, forces making tactical mistakes, lack of coordination and not following up on standard operating procedures.

Military experts believe that updating the syllabus and ways to learn new skills and tactics for intelligence gathering should be taken into account. “Every CoBRA battalion is as good as a training school. But apart from physical training for operations, it is important to update the syllabus with different case studies,” said K. Durga Prasad, ex-chief of the Greyhounds unit in Andhra Pradesh. “Each incident teaches where we went wrong, what we missed out. Revisiting those operations will make the learning curve steep and more effective.”[4] There is undue reliance on human intelligence, however, the downside is that this process has proved to be time-consuming as informers require 24-36 hours to travel back and forth and send information only once they can get access to mobile signals.

Senior government officials from Naxal areas report that there is a trust deficit between the locals and the security forces. This is due to the large brainwashing campaigns run by Maoists which has led an entire generation to believe that Maoists are the true government. The need of the hour is to increase the government outreach and build trust among these communities rather than alienating them further.[5] The government also needs to address the employment and infrastructure needs of the villagers in the affected areas as it will help build trust and prevent the vulnerable migrant labourers from falling prey to Naxal ideology.

The security forces mandated with anti-Naxal operations in affected states should not be diverted for COVID-19 operations as it allows the Maoists to gain an advantage and hinders intelligence collection.

Lastly, the government must explore ways to initiate a dialogue with the insurgents to end the violence. While armed means can contain the insurgents and liberate some regions, it is the exclusion, underdevelopment and lack of governance that must be addressed.

[1] COVID-19: Impact on Left Wing Extremism in India | Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. https://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/covid-19-left-wing-extremism-rana-siomon-280420 [2] Das, R. Krishna. “Maoists Battle Shortage of Essentials amid 21-Day Covid-19 Lockdown.” Business Standard India, 5 Apr. 2020. Business Standard, https://www.business-standard.com/article/politics/maoists-battle-shortage-of-essentials-amid-21-day-covid-19-lockdown-120040500849_1.html. [3] IndiaSpend. “Left Wing Extremism: What’s the Truth behind Congress’ Naxal Attacks Claim?” Business Standard India, 18 Apr. 2021. Business Standard, https://www.business-standard.com/article/politics/left-wing-extremism-what-s-the-truth-behind-congress-naxal-attacks-claim-121041800777_1.html. [4] “Strategic Shortcomings of the Recent Naxal Attack in Chhattisgarh.” The Week, https://www.theweek.in/theweek/current/2021/04/08/strategic-shortcomings-of-the-recent-naxal-attack-in-chhattisgarh.html [5] “Why Naxals Continue to Hold out in Chhattisgarh.” The Indian Express, 11 Apr. 2021, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/chhattisgarh-maoist-attack-naxal-units-security-forces-killed-7268183/.

About the author: Kopal Jain is a first-year Master's student at Jindal School of International Affairs. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and has interned with organizations such as ORF, Edelman PR and Mitkat Advisory.

Cover image: lalitkumar.in

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