Left-wing extremism: challenges and response

Violence is down, the movement is in decline, but vigilant efforts are needed to ensure it remains down

Praveen Dixit | September 14, 2022

#Left-wing extremism   #terrorism   #security   #law and order  
Paramilitary personnel guarding an area facing the threat of Maoist violence (File photo: GN)
Paramilitary personnel guarding an area facing the threat of Maoist violence (File photo: GN)

Left-wing extremism is in existence right from India’s independence, but it became prominent in 1967 under the name of Naxalism. The nomenclature of this movement has changed from time to time and place to place depending upon the leadership. Before 2014 more than 15 states were facing this problem with different degrees of intensity. Following determined efforts by prime minister Narendra Modi, the movement is on the path of decline. The number of districts which were adversely affected has reduced to a third of that earlier. The number of security persons and civilians killed by Naxals has also reduced drastically. At the same time, security forces have succeeded in eliminating many wanted Naxals or ensured their surrenders before security forces. But it is imperative that these efforts are made in a sustained manner.  

1. The then prime minister Manmohan Singh had declared in 2011 that left-wing extremist movement is the most serious internal security threat to India. However, there appeared to be no political will to tackle the movement effectively. The movement is no longer confined to remote, underdeveloped and backward regions of Dandakaranya, but has its tentacles and supporters even in the urban metropolitan cities, centres of education, advocates, doctors and academics. The challenge is ideological as well as strategic in nature. In 2004, different factions of the ultra-left joined together to form the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). The declared objective was ‘not to participate in elections, but oppose any democratic processes including elections.’ In the name of bringing in ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, the few at the helm of the movement intended to bring in dictatorship of their henchmen. The strategy was to attack security forces, police stations, treasury, loot arms and ammunition. This was to be achieved by creating a state of terror, by brutal killing of those who oppose them at village level in providing shelter, ration and new recruits. They were killed irrespective of whether they belonged to Scheduled Tribes/Castes or otherwise. They would be conveniently declared as ‘informers’ and their bodies were kept hanging at prominent places in the village. They would keep on collecting huge ransom from contractors who were given the public works including roads, bridges in remote areas. They would harass traders who come to purchase jungle produce including ‘tendu patta’, extort money from miners and government servants. They would force very young boys and girls from their parents and force them to work as child soldiers. The girls were compelled to work as prostitutes to satisfy the lust of the leaders. These persons had very little to do with the real welfare of the tribal persons as they would destroy all efforts by government agencies to create roads, bridges, banks, schools and hospitals in these areas to ensure these areas remain inaccessible for outside agencies.

2. Left-wing extremism thrives on the presumption that feudal lords possessing landed property need to be annihilated as they are enemies of the landless workers and members of Scheduled Tribes staying in remote jungles. The doctrine has been further elaborated to include industrialists and employers as they are class enemies. In certain parts of India, it has assumed the nature of caste war between affluent classes possessing land and members of Scheduled Castes who belong to weaker sections. The movement strives to establish ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ as advocated by Marx, Lenin and Mao.

3. The agenda of the left-wing extremists includes overthrow of parliamentary democratic institutes through violent means, and usher revolutionary regime. From time to time, a section of activists has left the movement and tried to join the mainstream by participating in elections. A sizeable section of the movement still continues its persistence with dogmatic ideology with renewed fervour and does not hesitate in killing those who leave, apprehending disclosure of the operational details. These elements consider the Indian Constitution as irrelevant and feel it does not reflect the aspirations of the deprived. However, they do not suggest any alternative to elections as a measure to judge the representation criteria. These sections have repeatedly given a call to boycott general elections for the state assembly or Lok Sabha, but the masses that they claim to represent have rejected it and voted in large percentage.

4. Many of these sections indulge in forcible looting of property, ransacking government treasury, attacking police stations, and collecting huge amounts from industrialists, government officers and shopkeepers regularly. Earlier they were assisted by the Communist Party of China which was interested in spreading its influence. Currently they are suspected to be getting support from Maoists in Nepal and other leftists from several countries in terms of funds, weapons, radio sets, international publicity and influence on government agencies and strategic advice. They are also being assisted by activists of human rights organisations in terms of finance, logistic support, guidance, legal advice and propaganda on electronic media and press. They are financed by NGOs run by Christian missionaries getting huge funds from developed world.

5. The ideological objective of the movement is to establish supremacy of the deprived classes. The declared economic objective is to ensure all state resources are put to the use of uplifting of the downtrodden. In reality it has become self-aggrandizement of the musclemen and their personal comforts. The movement has persisted through ‘Urban Naxalism’ which operates in areas surrounding the jungles as well as from big cities. They hunt for youth to be recruited, provide support in terms of shelter, medicines, places to hide the underground elements, wireless sets, manage media barons, create publicity, arrange for advocates to fight legal cases etc.

6. The response to left-wing extremism will include efforts at multiple levels. The society at large needs to be made aware of the developmental efforts including education, health and transport by government agencies. It also needs to be clarified that these plans are being made in consultation with the representatives of the people, civil society and interested NGOs to avoid corruption by street-level bureaucrats. The real challenge is win over the local tribal people by ensuring that all welfare schemes related to education, health, jobs meant for these sections actually reach them. The local youth need to be provided skills which would enable them to earn their livelihood or provide them government jobs. At the same time, those who are determined to create violence need to be targeted and eliminated – else they would kill the security forces and locals recklessly. Better coordination among central security agencies, paramilitary forces, state government agencies and local police is essential to ensure successful operations. Till the administrative departments are able to function properly in these places, all departments related to development including education, health, skills creation need to be kept under the supervision of superintendent of police. These motivated officers have done remarkable work in several districts including Gadchiroli in Maharashtra, Narayanpur in Chhattisgarh and other places. In Gadchiroli, for example, there is a scheme called ‘police dada khidki’ (one window operation) run by police. Under this scheme, thousands of local youths have been provided skills in different jobs, many have been provided various certificates including caste certificate, several employment fairs have been organised successfully, thousands of patients have been provided with necessary medical support including operations and follow up support. This has created an ecosystem in favour of the security agencies.

7. Members of the electronic media as well as press need to be taken in confidence and urged not to patronise these elements, since they are publicity mongers. Many underground leaders are obliged by publishing their views to justify their movement. The security forces are now much better prepared in terms of infrastructure, weapons, ammunition, vehicles, training and morale. Analysis of the insurgent incidents indicates; the policemen were not prepared to face these or were not alert when the assaults took place. Police officers need to update themselves technologically so that they have better patrolling capability through drones, helicopters and armoured vehicles. Training of policemen before deployment and debriefing by them before their replacement is highly recommended to document the lessons and for follow-up. The period of deployment should be limited to avoid fatigue as well as to avoid lack of interest by those who are deployed. The counter-terrorism measures would also include better sharing of data with other agencies across the states. Precautions need to be taken that in the name of national security; innocent persons or persons with mistaken identity are not killed in encounters. The intelligence collection calls for highly dedicated efforts and needs to be done by deploying all trade craft measures to avoid elimination of human resources by extremists. There is a need to have consistency in legislative measures so that the ban on left-wing extremists continues for a long period. The criminal cases need to be conducted on a special footing through special courts, by having in camera trials, and presentation by highly competent advocates. Considerable efforts are made by different states to rehabilitate the youth who were forced to participate in the movement. It is imperative that the security personnel are allowed to work in these areas after regular gap so that the initiative taken by them are followed to logical conclusions.

If the above measures are carried out through motivated and sincere officers over a long period of time, the success in winning over the Scheduled Tribes is guaranteed.

Dixit, an IPS officer, retired after serving as DGP, Maharashtra.




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