Originally Published 2003-06-25 09:13:24 Published on Jun 25, 2003
Left-wing extremists in India are gaining in strength and spreading their reach to newer and hitherto unheard of regions. The guerrillas have been carefully and consistently planning strategies to survive in their bastions, consolidate themselves in regions of moderate presence and expand their activities to new areas.
India: Expanding Maoist Presence
Left-wing extremists in India are gaining in strength and spreading their reach to newer and hitherto unheard of regions. The guerrillas have been carefully and consistently planning strategies to survive in their bastions, consolidate themselves in regions of moderate presence and expand their activities to new areas. 

Repeatedly, the left-wing extremists, known widely in India as Naxalites and Maoists in several parts of the world, maintained the initiative, while the various State Governments merely reacted, even as they had, in the first place, provided ample scope for the extremists to surface, grow and subsequently thrive. As in April 2003, 53 districts in nine States of India--Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra--have been affected to varying degree, moderate to intense, by left-wing extremist violence. 

Over 30 Naxalite groups are currently in existence in various parts of the country. The best known among them is the People's War ( PW ), formerly known as the People's War Group (PWG). Its activities commenced in Karimnagar district of Andhra Pradesh, the native district of former Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao as well as PWG supremo Muppala Lakshman Rao 'Ganapathy', and have gradually spread to different parts of the country, but mostly contiguous. The second best known Naxalite group in India is the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC). Besides, tinier groups such as the Janasakthi, New Democracy, etc command sizable influence and hold formidable presence in isolated pockets of the country, usually a cluster of villages.

As the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs correctly observed in its 98th Report, April 8, 2003, "The extremists appear to have apparently been able to strike the right chord with the people as they have been successful in convincing a section of the people that the tate and its machinery are mainly responsible for all their woes". (While the generalisation/usage 'extremists' indicates all extremist groups, it, more often than not, refers to the PWG, much as this analysis does, because of its wider reach and scale of activities). Feeding upon this grievance of neglect, exploitation and deprivation, the Naxalites gradually carved out operating space for themselves in different pockets of India and have established firm control over some. In its pocket boroughs, the PWG continues to challenge the state and its machinery in several fields, including in justice, civil administration, health and education. The rebels' control over some of the remote areas of the country is, indeed, overwhelming. Even routine project implementation review meetings of the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA) had to be deferred, or the venue shifted as a result of the threat the PWG posed to those attending the meeting. Between 2001 and late-May 2003, in Warangal district, Andhra Pradesh, a mere three meetings of the Yeturunagaram ITDA project were convened, while a fourth is round the corner. According to the rules, work on the project has to be reviewed every quarter. As a result, both project implementation and supervision have adversely been affected. Under such circumstances, the control of the Naxalites over these areas would only intensify. Their declared objective is to paralyse and eject structures of civil governance in order to attain and retain unquestioned sway over such regions.

The PWG's cadres act as a law unto themselves in their bastions. They implement strong-arm methods to silence, mortally scare and subjugate those who refuse to fall in line. Often, they have branded an adversary as police informer and killed him. Between the years 2000 and 2002, a total of 329 innocent people have been killed by the Naxalites in Andhra Pradesh alone; 91 in the year 2000, 150 in 2001 and 88 in 2002. In all,
countrywide , 550, 564 and 482 lives have been lost to left-wing extremist violence during the corresponding period. 

Furthermore, political leaders are, indeed, high value targets to the rebels. The PWG has killed many of them in cold blood to create a sensation and to boost sagging cadre morale. Congress Legislator Ragya Nayak, a tribal, and the former Speaker of the Andhra Pradesh State Legislative Assembly, D Sripada Rao, are notable examples of selfless and highly respected political leaders who have been killed by PWG Naxalites. 

The PWG's mindless violence is, in part, because of the background of its cadres, who are motivated less by ideology and largely lack in perspective, but join the rebel's ranks for different reasons. A survey conducted by official sources in 2001, in Warangal district, revealed that a mere two per cent of the PWG's cadres had joined the group for ideological reasons. In five per cent of the cases, the cadres joined the outfit to settle personal scores back in their village, while a sizable number (20 per cent) had joined the group because they failed to cope up with their difficult personal lives and were looking for a way out. 10 per cent wanted to make quick money through extortion at gunpoint and enjoy power, or just wanted to wield a weapon.

The social profile of the PWG's cadres, too, is equally unflattering. At its third party congress held in March 2001, 13 per cent of the delegates were either poor peasants or belonged to the working class. Significantly, 50 per cent of the delegates came from an urban bourgeois background, whereas the overwhelming majority in India resides in rural areas. Women constituted 10 per cent of the delegates. In fact, several women cadres have quit the extremist group either because of physical humiliation or were forced to leave for exposing the higher leadership. By the PWG's own admission, even as it claims to be the custodian of the disadvantaged, women and tribes persons in the outfit have yet not acquired the abilities to be selected for positions of higher leadership. The PWG has been in existence for over over-23 years now; it was founded on April 22, 1980.

To counter the spiraling violence of the guerrillas the security forces have intensified counter-insurgency operations. For instance, in Andhra Pradesh alone, between the years 2000 and 2002, 426 extremists have been shot dead (219 in the year 2000, 120 in 2001 and 87 in 2002). In the current year, upto March 29, 36 rebels were killed in various operations. Over a period of time, the PWG has lost several important and senior leaders. Three members of the apex < class="bodylinks"> < class="underlinetext"> < class="bodylinks"> Central Committee  were killed in an encounter in Koyyuru forests, Karimnagar district, Andhra Pradesh, on December 1, 1999. The Karimngar West-Nizamabad division secretary, Padmakka, was killed in an encounter, on April 9, 2000. 

Between March and late-May 2003, the PWG suffered many body blows. Polam Sudarshan Reddy 'Rama Krishna', a member of the North Telengana Special Zone Committee (NTSZC), that runs what the PWG claims is its flagship guerrilla zone, was killed on March 5, 2003, in Lakshmipur forest, Adilabad district. Lalithakka, the Adilabad district committee secretary, was killed on May 14 in an encounter. She is married to PWG Central Committee member Katakam Sudarshan 'Anand'. Besides, Anjaiah, the Sircilla Local Guerrilla Squad (LGS) commander was killed on April 9, in Karimnagar district. Also, Palakonda Squad Area Committee secretary Jyothi 'Bharathi' was shot dead in an encounter, on May 23 in Ramapuram village, Cuddapah district.

Owing to several such critical losses, inexperienced cadres have quickly risen to leadership positions as field-level leaders and upwards. Such people have failed to provide effective political and military direction and guidance to cadres and sympathisers. In the face of such developments, the future course that the movement would take is, indeed, worrying because it throws up the possibility that, in the not too distant future, it might be led by a bunch of self-serving war lords.

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