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This article is written by Bhumika Dandona, from the School of Law, Sushant University, Gurgaon. This article exhaustively deals with the concept of Naxalism in Northeastern states of India and other associated aspects.


India is the largest democracy in the world. But this democratic image that it is known for has often been a part of the criticism by other nations. One of the reasons for it is the incidents of violence and the unpleasant political environment and uprisings that followed the rise of Naxalism. It is also why one needs to be aware of what Naxalism is.

Origins of Naxalism

Naxalism emerged out of a peasant revolt in 1967 in the village of Naxalbari, West Bengal. A small farmer was about to cultivate his land when goons on orders of the landlords attacked him. Agitated by the same, other farmers began an assault on the goons to claim their area back. 

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At that time, India still deployed in its rural parts the land tenancy system introduced by the British government. This system left the farmers with no land. Their oppression and exploitation at the hands of landlords was a common aspect of this system. It is safe to say that some rural areas still incorporate components of this system in their respective agricultural activities. 

The contribution of communist ideologies in the growth of the Naxalite movement turned out to be a significant factor for its strong prevalence. So it becomes essential to understand how communism came into being and influenced a rebellion that gradually spread across the country. 

Communist movements in India

Rise of communism in India 

  • The inception of communism dates back to the pre-independence era. A group of individuals who set out to oust the British from the country formed the Communist Party of India in 1920. Communist ideas found their way into the ongoing trade union movement and other strikes against the colonial policies. 
  • On the other hand, there were peasants in rural areas, exploited by the landlords and moneylenders. Communist leaders, realising the importance of the role that may be played by peasants in defeating the colonial rule, influenced them to join the struggle. 
  • CPI led the Tebhaga movement, a peasant uprising in the late 1940s. Peasants demanded two-third of the produce to the sharecroppers instead of just one. CPI also led the Telangana Armed Struggle from 1946 to 1951. Demands made were for the abolition of unreasonable taxes and grant of title deeds to cultivators. 
  • Another major struggle led by the party was the Punnapra-Vayalar uprising. Rulers of Travancore tried to impose the Presidential model of America. Fearing the end of democracy instigated the working class to launch a battle against the same. 
  • After India gained independence in 1947, different opinions of communist leaders in ruling the country eventually broke up the CPI into two parties, Communist Party of Indian (Marxist) and Communist Party of India. It contributed to the 1967 agitation. Two years later, the other communists formed the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).

Communism and Naxalism

Naxalites are the far-left communists. They support Maoism, a belief by Mao Zedong, who believed that peasants should lead the communist revolution and not the industrial workers. Naxalism spread to other states from West Bengal in later years. Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Bihar and Orissa have been its main targets. 

Naxalism in the North-East

  • Naxalism in north-eastern states go back to the late 1960s when a few Naxalite groups ran away from West Bengal to Assam due to the fear of prosecution. One such group was that of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), led by Kanu Sanyal. It took refuge in Goalpara. 
  • But before it could expand itself, Kanu Sanyal vanished to escape the police. Another group from the same party, led by Bhaskar Nandy arrived around the same time. He took the responsibility to enlarge the party in Assam and Tripura. But due to the already present regional groups, it could not survive and thus, dissolved in 1972 and split into different factions. 
  • In the late 1980s, these factions returned to Assam for a brief period. They acquired the support of the United Reservation Movement Council of Assam (URMCA). URMCA was trying to prevent the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) from establishing its stronghold in Lakhimpur and Dhemaji. 
  • URMCA distanced the members of ULFA from the Mising Community, which helped it a great deal to establish its hold in the area. But even this organisation could not last for long because its leaders were shot dead by the local rebels and dissolved. 
  • Then the People’s War Group (PWG) entered the scene. Even though its goals were different from that of ULFA, they successfully established links and sustained them for a couple of years. The main motive of these links was to provide a suitable base for the exchange of weapons. 
  • Because of this motive, a member of PWG, Kishanji undertook a dangerous journey to Dhaka to meet ULFA chief of staff, Paresh Baruah in 2001. There, he received two consignments consisting of pistols and assault rifles. 
  • It was proved that the biggest separatist group in the north-east, the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) of Manipur wanted to create links with Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in the 1990s. 
  • A charge sheet submitted by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) against UNLF’s chairman Rajkumar Meghan caught in Dhaka, revealed this fact. The exchange of emails between the UNLF and MCC for coordinating terrorist activities also came to light.
  • An alliance pact with ULFA had a limited scope so the main focus of PWG shifted to adivasi groups of Assam and its borders. It encouraged numerous visits of CPI-Maoist officials for meetings with the rebel outfits of Assam and Tripura. 
  • As a part of this movement, some cadres from the adivasi groups, All Adivasi National Liberation Army (AANLA) were sent by the maoists to the training camps in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. In December 2008, its chairman David Tirkey was nabbed at Ranchi and soon, this mission ended. Along with his arrest, several top leaders were too nabbed by Assamese police. 

Naxalism was not as strong in the north-east as in the south due to the already flaring tensions relating to tribal groups, ethnic groups and migrants from bordering countries.

The principles of guerrilla warfare

  • The Communist Party of India (Maoist), a banned organisation, formed an armed wing known as the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) in 2000. 
  • It adopted the tactics of guerrilla warfare to fulfill its violent activities.
  • Guerrilla warfare is a non-uniform military action mostly carried out against the traditional armed forces. Guerrilla soldiers use strategies, for example, deception, entrapment, intelligence, sabotage and undercover activities etc. to overthrow their rivals. 
  • These strategies are usually effective against authoritative regimes. Soldiers attack the other side through long and low-intensity encounters. 
  • One of the main principles of Guerrilla warfare involves the usage of a small attacking mobile force against a large, inflexible one. Guerrilla soldiers, to a great extent, organise smaller units of attack. Support from the common man is one of the reasons behind their victories.
  • Guerrilla force repeatedly attacks its rival, far away from its reach. It ensures minimum injuries to their soldiers and constant pressure on the enemy, weakening them. Under pressure, they tend to opt for strategies that involve some mistakes, causing a blunder. For example, taking up a destructive recourse that causes harm to themselves and unintentionally strengthening the soldiers’ capabilities.
  • Guerrilla fighters may make the governance of any local regime impossible with terror strikes, sabotage and a combination of forces, to end the enemy in a battle. 
  • The use of such strategies often brings down the morale of enemies, bringing guerrilla soldiers’ morale up in return.
  • In some cases, the guerrilla soldiers may let their enemies be more equipped than themselves. They make surprise attacks in such situations on transportation routes, individual groups of police or military installations etc. Small and disguised attacks pressurise the enemies and leave them exposed to danger. Guerrilla soldiers sometimes allow them to escape with fewer injuries. 
  • The purpose of such attacks is to topple armies or governments whose ideologies guerrilla leaders disagree with, or given actions committed by the governments that work against them. 
  • What guerrillas intend on by doing so is to expand their base and increase their support. Mere captures of territories is not a part of their plan.

Funding for the Naxalites

Naxalites require large amounts of money to ensure the smooth functioning of their activities. Such activities mainly include promoting their ideology, recruiting more people and obtaining weapons and ammunition. They generate fundings for the same from various sources-

  • Members of Naxalite groups are supposed to pay fees for the membership. They resort to threatening the rest of the people to make donations. Refusal to do so leads to the seizure of their properties and other sources of income. Not only people but even corporations are also not spared from their wrath. Naxalites extort taxes from them as well. 
  • They often indulge in the procurement and sale of drugs. Jharkhand has become a brewing centre for opium plantations over the past few decades. Taking advantage of the same, Naxalites forcing villagers to cultivate opium and sell it for earning money is not uncommon. Cannabis plantations in Orissa is another way of acquiring revenue. 
  • Many people across India are highly ideologically motivated and sympathize with Maoist politics. Out of that mentality and their support, they pay large sums to Naxalite groups.
  • Apart from the above, there have been speculations regarding Naxalites having connections with various criminal networks and seeking help from other insurgency groups to sustain themselves.

Ties to the other groups

Naxalites have allegedly been in association with several groups and organisations, nationally and internationally over the years. Their crucial associations include-

  • In the 2000s, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) provided the Naxalites with training and other logistical support. LTTE received refuge from them in return for weapons and other explosives. 
  • The Indian government blasted the United Liberated Front of Assam (ULFA) for reportedly sneaking drugs and black money through the borders for acquiring weapons from ISI.
  • Naxalites have also been involved with the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (CPN-Maoists) to obtain weapons from China.
  • Naxalites gained moral support in the past from the Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organisations of South Asia (CCOMPOSA) that provides a platform for discussion to Maoists in the sub-continent. They have also gained assistance from other Naxalite groups in the Philippines, Turkey, Germany, France, Italy etc.

The Government policies to combat the challenge posed by the Naxalite menace

The Indian government has announced numerous policies and schemes to address the challenges posed by Naxalites. These are as follows-

Security-related expenditure (SRE)

In 1996, the government introduced the security-related expenditure scheme to support the state governments in dealing with areas under the influence of Left Wing Extremism (LWE). It covers the training of security forces, compensation for injured civilians, infrastructure for defence facilities etc. The government allotted around Rs.200 crores for the scheme in 2020.  

Civic action programme

This initiative involves conducting interactions between Security forces and local people to create an atmosphere of familiarity and safety. It also ensures increased chances of defeating Naxalism. The Ministry of Finance allotted Rs.20 crores to the programme in 2019.

Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY)

Lack of road connectivity gives Naxalites an upper hand in spreading violence. Pradhan Mantri Gram Sabha Sadak Yojana gives opportunities for building road connectivity in rural areas of the country.

Media plan

Under the media plan, television channels air documentaries, advertisements etc. revolving around the tribals and their lives. It helps to increase awareness about their plight in relation to Naxalism. The Ministry of Finance allotted Rs.7 crores to the plan in 2019.

National Rural Employment guarantee programme (NREGP)

This programme provides employment opportunities for those residing in areas under the effect of Naxalism. It ensures a minimum wage to live, something which Naxalites deprive them of. 

Aspirational districts programme 

Districts that are poor in terms of socioeconomic aspects are known as aspirational districts. Aspirational districts programme assists these areas in health, education etc. The NITI Aayog manages the programme, which receives assistance from the Central government. 

Specialised India Reserve Battalion (SIRB)

These units are under the control of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). SIRBs look after the security infrastructure in Naxal-affected areas.


Samadhan is a doctrine introduced by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2017. Its full form is- 

  • Smart leadership
  • Aggressive strategy
  • Motivation and training
  • Actionable intelligence
  • Dashboard based key performance indicators
  • Harnessing technology
  • Action plan for each theatre
  • No access to financing

It aims at eliminating violent elements of Maoism or Left Wing Extremism.

Police modernisation scheme

Police modernisation scheme seeks to train the policemen and enhance their capabilities to tackle harmful elements of society. It also helps to reduce the dependence on the army in case of immediate danger.

Special infrastructure scheme

The special infrastructure scheme provides easy access to finance for improvements in defence facilities in Naxal-affected areas. The Ministry of Finance allotted Rs.3000 crores to it for the past three years.

Other schemes and some projects include Bharat Nirman, National Rural Health Mission, LWE Mobile Tower Project, LWE Road Connectivity Project, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan to give support to all that are harmed in any way by Naxalites. 

How has Naxalism impacted democracy

The main behind the origin of Naxalism was the determination of the ways of agriculture by peasants themselves. The intervention of governments thus meant taking away their ‘right’ to self-determination. It is the reason why Naxalites are against democratic elections. They turn to disruptive activities during elections to prevent them from happening. Many police officers state the incidents of Naxalites cutting voters’ fingers off in election booths. Also, there are numerous instances of Naxalites killing members of security forces, looting their weapons. 

In the name of self-determination, they have also caused violations of the fundamental freedoms of individuals residing in areas under their control. As mentioned earlier, Naxalites force people to make donations and grow plantations of drugs to obtain money. Destruction of connectivity infrastructure and schools etc. have taken place to restrict the access of governments. Thus, the impact of Naxalism has on the whole been negative on democracy. 

Judicial pronouncement to combat Naxalism

Nandini Sundar & Ors. v. State of Chhattisgarh

In this case, one Nandini Sundar filed a petition in the Supreme Court regarding the gross injustice of people in Chhattisgarh. 

Facts of the case

  • The state government in Chhattisgarh created Salwa Judum in 2005 and had appointed the tribal people as Special Police Officers (SPOs) in the district of Dantewada, to fight off Naxalism. The state government cited that those tribal people knew the local language and the prevailing situation. Hence, appointing them as SPOs was the need of the time.
  • The petitioner and a few others visited the district a year later for the independent Citizens initiative. There, she found out that people’s rights were being violated due to the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency and counter-insurgency launched by the state government.
  • The petitioner approached the National Human Rights Commission and other government authorities to seek support in this regard. But lack of response from their side led her to file a petition in the Supreme Court.

Issue of the case

  • She stated in the petition that the Chhattisgarh government was promoting the Salwa Judum as an armed civilian vigilante group. It worsened the situation, which led to a violation of human rights. People in Dantewada were subject to ill-treatment. The state government’s decision to appoint local tribes as SPOs and the Chhattisgarh Police Act, 2007 was challenged by the petitioner.

Judgement of the court

  • In its judgment on 5th July 2011, the Supreme Court stated that the deployment of tribal people and the creation of Salwa Judum was unconstitutional and that the state government immediately stopped the use of SPOs. Also, it said that the government recalls the weapons given to SPOs and stops support extended by it to the group created. 
  • It directed the government to implement safety measures to combat Naxalism within the constitutional ambit. It regarded the deployment of SPOs for any other purpose than those mentioned in the Chhattisgarh Police Act, 2007 unconstitutional.
  • The court also stated that some provisions of the 1861 police legislation were not in the Chhattisgarh Police Act. For example, the Superintendent of Police is now solely authorized to appoint several SPOs for as long as he/she deems fit. Due to this power, human rights violations had taken place in Dantewada. The Act was thus declared unconstitutional.

Recommended measures by experts

  • Experts believe that local police in areas under the Naxalites need appropriate training to combat Naxalism. Joginder Singh, the former CBI director, stated that the government should tackle Naxalism in ways similar to the ones used to control terrorism. 
  • The former police officer K. Subramaniam said that the police training methods need a reformation to deal with such sensitive social issues.
  • In 2006, the Planning commission led by D. Bandhopadhyay suggested that land distribution should take place in the manner acceptable to tribals. He also called for a suitable rehabilitation policy.
  • In a session conducted by the Observer Research Foundation in 2017, famous historian Dr. Dilip Simeon stated the only way to achieve justice for the victims is truth. It is necessary to realise that the government has not yet fully acknowledged the injustice that Naxalites are subjecting people to.
  • Professor of sociology Dr. Nandini Sundar suggested the initiation of talks between the government and the Naxalites through a third-party mediator. She cited the example of how the Columbian government had appointed committees at the rural level to understand violence in rural areas.
  • The Administrative Reforms Commission recommends that the government should devise more solutions for cutting off the funds to Naxalites. It will prevent it from further growth. 


Initially, Naxalism started as a rebellion to achieve justice for peasants. But slowly it turned into an opportunity for Naxals to fulfil their selfish demands. They engaged in several illegal activities over the years, causing democratic instability. Although there has been a reduction in its growth, its end is still a distant dream.  


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