It is almost 50 years since Mao Zedong proclaimed, “The guerrillas must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea”, and no movement better represents this infamous quote than Mao’s ideological children, India’s Naxalites.
Born from a peasant uprising in 1967 in the small village of Naxalbari (from which they get their name), the Maoists quickly became one of the world’s leading guerrilla forces, attracting the support of millions across the globe. However, the movement lost momentum during the 70’s as the Naxalites failed to capitalize on previous successes. Now, however, the movement appears to be regaining strength, and the Maoists appear to be regrouping, deep within India’s jungles; forging new alliances, honouring old ideologies.
India has always experienced violent guerrilla movements; the Kashmiri separatists during the 90’s, the Sikh separatists during the 80’s, and the armed conflict in the eastern states today. However, while the Indian government has managed to crush these previous movements, the Naxalites remain very much intact. Perhaps this is because attitudes towards the Naxalites haven’t changed. Some still consider them terrorists, whereas others see them as liberators, fighting for the rights of the rural proletariat in an India that is quickly moving away from tradition and culture, in pursuit of a more materialistic, consumerist future.
Capitalism creates wealth like no other system, and perhaps that is why it seems to appeal to so many; it appeals to our greed. However, capitalism is incapable of spreading the wealth around, so to speak. India’s middle class now numbers roughly the population of the United States, but this still leaves roughly 700 million people living on the edge of “The New India”. Despite government efforts to develop Maoist infiltrated areas economically, their policies have had little effect, further radicalising the population. This is not to say that Maoism is the solution to India’s vast problems, but it seems to be serving as a wake up call. In fact, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the Naxalites “”the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country.””. Yet, despite this, little progress has been made. No attempt has been made to bring the Maoists into the democratic process, as was done in Nepal, another country where Maoist insurgency threatened to overwhelm the establishment. The Indian government seems incapable of tackling the insurgency, and more importantly, the causes of the insurgency. Revolutionary Socialism is popular in countries where poverty, curable diseases and discrimination are rampant, and India is no exception. What India needs now is a radical new approach to the problems that have created extremism deep in its jungles, high in its mountains.
Despite numerous human rights violations by both the Indian Government and Maoist rebels over the years, the conflict has almost reached a deadlock, with the Communists controlling an estimated one fifth of India’s vast jungles, and the Government controlling the rest. The RAW (Research and Analysis wing, India’s secret service) estimates roughly 20,000 hardcore Naxalites fighting throughout the Red Corridor, backed by 45,000 others.
In the same way that Trade Unions and democracy insured violent revolution was never really necessary in the Western world, by winning the rights of the worker and insuring that they would no longer be exploited by the free market, the presence of the Maoists has the ability to make India more egalitarian. The time will come when the Indian Government must confront the country’s problems head on and the Naxalites are the catalyst for this. It is likely that a growth in support for the Naxals may be their undoing, as it will force the Government to confront the issues they feed off. Until then, the Maoists will continue to sow rebellion, and although they are unlikely to succeed, they will struggle on as India’s forgotten warriors, fighting India’s forgotten war.