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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 46, October 31, 2009

Indian State and the Spectre of Naxalism

Sunday 1 November 2009, by Arup Kumar Sen


Very recently, our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterated once again that the Maoists pose the greatest internal security threat to the country. The Central Government is going to launch the biggest-ever operation against the Maoists, Operation Green Hunt, devised by the Home Ministry. The operation will be launched by some 70,000 paramilitary forces in 11 strategic districts along the borders of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand in addition to simultaneous operations through the dense forests in the Red Corridor.1 When asked at a press conference whether the Indian Air Force would undertake counter-offensive measures against the Maoists, the Prime Minister replied: “We are not in favour of using India’s armed forces… We have other instruments —the police, the paramilitary forces—which are capable of tackling this menace.”

It should be noted in the present context that it will not be the first time that a large-scale military action is launched to take on the Naxalite movement. A joint Army-paramilitary-police operation was carried out in July-August 1971 against the Naxalites in West Bengal. Nearly 40,000 Army personnel were deployed in the operation. The role of the armed forces was “area domination” that enabled the police and administration to penetrate the Maoist heartland. Interestingly, the whole operation was “black” with no written orders or records to show the deployment of the soldiers of the Army inside Bengal, says J.F.R. Jacob, who, as the Chief of Staff of the Eastern Command, oversaw the Army operation.2 To put it in the words of Jacob, “I asked for orders in writing from Sam Manekshaw (the then Army Chief). He replied that there could be nothing in writing and no records were to be kept.”3

In making his assessment of the Naxalite movement in the late 1970s, the editor of Frontier, Samar Sen, made the following insightful observation:

Naxalbari exploded many a myth and restored faith in the courage and character of the revolutionary Left in India… Indeed, the upheaval was such that nothing remained the same after Naxalbari. People had to readjust their position vis-a-vis every aspect of the system: political, administrative, military, cultural…The Naxalite movement has been defeated but not routed.4

In the present context of Maoist insurgency in India, Samar Sen’s observations made more than 30 years ago seems to be prophetic. What started as a peasant uprising in West Bengal in the late 1960s has now spread to 20 of India’s 29 States with seven States being severely affected. The Maosist insurgency affects 2000 police stations spread over 223 districts across 20 States.5


The socio-economic roots of Maoism could not be denied even by the Indian state. the Planning Commission observed that the “increase in extremist activities in many tribal districts can be linked to issues related to land including alienation of tribal land” (quoted in Bharat Dogra, Land Reforms and Justice, The Statesman, October 13, 2009). Even Manmohan Singh confessed in his recent press statement:

The growth of Naxalism in central India obliges us to look at what causes this sense of alienation among certain sections of the community, especially the tribal community. It could be indicative of the deficiencies in the pace of development.

The Indian state is highlighting Maoist violence and committing numerous atrocities against the people in the name of fighting Maoism. In a recent interview in The Indian Express, Dr Binayak Sen stated that “lakhs of people have been displaced and hundreds have been killed by state violence” in south Bastar in Chhattisgarh. He argued in this context that the violence of resistance has to be seen in the background of state violence. A long-time Bastar resident and Gandhian activist, Himanshu Kumar, lamented in utter despair:

I am too much a son of Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave to ever leave the path of non-violence. But I look at these people and wonder, if I were a tribal person, raped, shot, abused, humiliated, wouldn’t I, too, pick up the gun to defend my family, my home, my lands, my forests?6

The Indian state did not follow Gandhi’s path in its post-colonial nation-building. The official Gandhi of the post-colonial Indian state is the ‘Father of the Nation’. His birthday is celebrated as a national holiday every year. But, the state does not hesitate to use Gandhi’s name in its counter-insurgency strategy. In February 2007, a journalist heard Chhattisgarh’s Chief Minister Raman Singh boast before a roomfull of police and intelligence officials: “Salwa Judum is showing Gandhi is alive, showing non-violence is alive.” 7 This is the irony of history.


1. Amarnath K. Menon, ‘Tackling the Red Terror’ in India Today, October 26, 2009.

2. Manu Pubby, ‘Anti-Maoist operation has a ’71 template’ in The Indian Express, October 14, 2009.

3. Ibid.

4. Samar Sen’s Foreword, Naxalbari and After: a Frontier Anthology, Vol 1, Kathashilpa, Calcutta 1978.

5. Menon, op. cit.

6. Quoted in Ajit Sahi, ‘From the Eyes of Dantewada’, Tehelka, October 24, 2009.

7. Sudeep Chakravarti, ‘Red shadow is lengthening’ in Hindustan Times, October 12, 2009.

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