In thinking about India’s internal security woes, several pressing issues come to mind: poverty, social fragmentation, disgruntled laborers, and overpopulation. But which is the most important? In fact, none of the above. According to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, reiterating his comments from a 2006 Chief Minister’s Conference, left-wing terrorism—namely, the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency—sits atop the list. Surprised? Well, don’t be.
Naxalites, or Naxals, who operate along India’s eastern coast (known as the “Red Corridor”) make up India’s most destructive and terrifying left-wing (Maoist) insurgency. Fighting for land reform and increased federal government attention to rural needs, Naxalites more and more frequently turn to violence to push their agenda. At an official meeting with Chief Ministers of Naxal Affected States on July 14, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram remarked:
Between 2004 and 2008, on an average, 500 civilians were killed every year [by Maoist insurgents] and many of them were killed after being named “police informers.” In 2009, 591 civilians were killed, of which 211 were named as “police informers.” This trend has continued in the first half of 2010 too, with 325 civilians killed, of which 142 were named as “police informers.”
At the same meeting, Chidambaram revealed that “[d]uring the period January to June, 2010, there have been 1103 incidents of violence perpetrated by Left Wing Extremists,” resulting in over 200 security forces fatalities. The South Asia Intelligence Review (SAIR) reports that Maoist violence led to over 700 Indian civilian and security forces deaths in 2009. SAIR data indicates that 2010 fatalities will soon surpass 2009 levels—as of July 19, 637 civilians and security forces died in Maoist-related attacks.
What’s particularly frightening is that Naxalite insurgents aim to wage stronger campaigns in India’s more densely populated urban areas. The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies explains that “the Naxalites are making concerted efforts to make their presence in urban areas felt …[and] have developed a different strategy to penetrate these areas.” The urbanization of the Naxalite movement is even more worrisome given recent announcements that the Indian central government will not deploy army personnel to help subdue Naxalite aggression.
However, as Chidambaram detailed in the July 2010 meeting, the central government will continue to provide logistical and tactical support to state governments and district police. Hopefully the government’s technical assistance will strengthen the counteroffensive, named “Operation Green Hunt,” which deployed 50,000 paramilitary soldiers to Naxalite-affected regions.
The effectiveness of India’s anti-Maoist operations, however, ultimately depends on the ability of state officials to properly train and equip local law enforcement agencies. But until these forces see drastic improvements, Naxalite rebels will continue to destabilize Indian cities and exhaust state governments’ time, energy, and resources. Officials and security personnel must rise to the challenge and ensure the safety of the country’s flourishing democracy.
Michael Palermo currently is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm