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Source: Jamestown Foundation

While Narendra Modi, India’s new prime minister, has been in office a little over 100 days, a number of new initiatives have been announced to further the fight against the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency, which has plagued central India for decades. Most of these policies continue the efforts of the previous administration to weaken the militants.

On September 15, a new training program for mid-level bureaucrats in combatting Naxalism and “Left Wing Extremism” was announced (Times of India [Mumbai], September 15). Officers from the Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service and Indian Forest Service will be trained by members of the armed forces in Chhattisgarh, one of the most affected states. The idea is intended to improve coordination between ministries and the Indian military as well as improve the country’s overall national security. This new program comes a few weeks after a new bounty of ten million rupees ($164,000) on top Naxalite leaders, namely Muppala Lakshman Rao (a.k.a. Ganapathy), or for information on their whereabouts was announced (Press Trust of India, August 29). The Modi government has also replaced several police superintendents in Chhattisgarh with others whose districts have shown a decrease in insurgent activity (The Hindu [Chennai], June 12).

Naxalism is a far left-wing movement that began in West Bengal in 1967 after the Communist Party of India (Marxist) split. The movement spread southwestward into other states and controls a significant portion of territory in what is now called the Red Corridor. Today the Communist Party of India (Maoist) is the largest group of the movement, which follows Mao Tse Dong’s concept of a protracted people’s war to overthrow the current Indian government. Indian tribal groups (Adivasi) form a key population that supports, or is coerced into supporting, the Naxalites. These indigenous populations typically live in rural, isolated communities with little in the way of government services and do not have equal access to India’s economic opportunities (DNAIndia.com, November 23, 2013). [1]

Naxalite groups are capable of large-scale attacks, often targeting infrastructure and industrial facilities within the Red Corridor. Naxalites recently blew up a railway used by power plants and the delay to reroute coal caused shortages and concerns over how much electricity could be generated, a critical need in India’s growing economy (Business Today [New Delhi], October 12). On a day that Modi was campaigning in Chhattisgarh, roughly 200 militants attacked a steel plant and set 17 trucks on fire after locking up the employees (Business Standard [New Delhi], March 29). These industrial or economically crucial targets were chosen due to the communist nature of the insurgent group and the corruption that typically surrounds them. Police and military units are also preferred targets in standard insurgency tactics. In March, 100 Maoists ambushed 50 security personnel in Chhattisgarh, killing 15 (The Hindu [Chennai], March 13). There are many areas within the Red Corridor that are not under the control of state authorities, while in many others, government officials are under threat.

India’s recent efforts against the Naxalites appear to be working. Up to 144 militants surrendered between May 16 and August 15; only 44 surrendered in the same period last year (Times of India [Mumbai], September 13). Also, the chief of the Central Reserve Police Force recently claimed “violent incidents perpetrated by Maoists against civilians have gone down” (Press Trust of India, August 29). Estimates have shown that the number of cadres has decreased over the past several years, though these numbers are a matter of contention, mostly because they are several years old.

Given how vocal Modi is about changing policies inherited from the back-to-back terms of Manmohan Singh, these new initiatives have received comparatively little fanfare. This is likely because the previous administration’s counter-insurgency policies were having an effect and therefore, there was no need to focus on the Naxalite threat as strongly during the election cycle. Regardless, it appears that the Modi government is capably addressing one of India’s most persistent domestic terrorist threats by instituting and continuing the preceding administration’s effective counter-insurgent policies.

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