Prime Minister Mahoman Singh has called them "the single biggest security challenge ever faced by our country". Fourteen Indian states are struggling to battle the insurgency waged by their 20,000 fighters. Over the last three years some 2,600 people have died by their hands.
These are the Naxalites, the source of India's scariest security challenge.
Naxalism. It is a topic few in the West are aware of. The international media lends little attention to India's Maoist insurgents, choosing instead to focus its attention on the more dramatic attacks of groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba. It is hard to blame them: writing about Islamic terrorism has become too easy. There is no need to perform substantive reporting or analysis on the cause of events; pundits simply need to boil down Muslim gunmen and bombers to the level of caricature and the news has been written. Naxalism, in contrast, does not lend itself to such easy stereotypes. Not surprisingly, most media outlets have been conspicuously quiet about the movement.
This silence is not sustainable. Indeed, last month an attack staged by the Naxalites was so spectacular that even the New York Times could not ignore it. On the eighth of October 200 Naxalites ambushed a large contingent of Maharashtri police commandos, killing 17 of them in a gunfight staged in broad daylight. As the Indian government begins a major nation-wide paramilitary offensive against the Naxalites, the ambush on the eighth shall surely be but the first of many battles. I suspect that as this conflict enlarges in scope and drags through time the word "Naxalite" shall lose its alien sound. The day will come when Beltway analysts will pronounce the fate of Chhattisgarh in the same steady voice as they prophesize of Xinjiang; soon the pundit class will talk as freely of the Naxalites as they do the P.K.K.
However, this is all in the future -- the post below is for those of you who want a head start.
The term "Naxalite" is derived from Naxalbari, the name of the West-Bengal town where India's Maoist movement began. During the late 1960s the Communist Party of India was sharply divided on how to bring about India's communist revolution. The party broke into two camps: those in favor of a attaining power by election, whereby the party would have the influence to provide momentum for a great urban uprising, and those in favor of utilizing the country's vast peasant class to bring about a government-toppling armed insurrection. In 1967 Charu Mazumdar, a member of this second camp, grew tired with the Communist Party's dithering and debates and set out to begin the revolution himself. The Naxalbari revolts were the result of his efforts.
Mazumdar called his new movement the "All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries", but most Indians knew the group by their place of origin, and began to call all Maoist-style guerrillas "Naxalites." The movement was supported by two very different groups: leftist college students (mostly from Kolkotta), and poor delits and peasants who had just barely survived India's worst famine in a century. A steady flow of aid from China further strengthened the movement, allowing it to spread beyond the Naxalbari region itself, taking root in Andrah Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand.
From this point on events turned against the Naxalites. Chinese aid was cut off in the early 70s when the Chinese Comunist Party ended their long standing policy of funding Asian Maoist groups. A brutal counterterror campaign was began by Bengal's police, and it decimated the ranks of the Naxilite faithful. To top things off, Mazumdar himself was captured by state police, and he stayed in their custody until his death in 1972.
Absent a study source of funding, a base of operations, and a leader, the Naxalite movement fell apart. What had been one organization splintered into 30; divided and prone to factional infighting, Mazumdar's mass movement was forced to...
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