Naxal Movement: Decoding The Red Corridor

A lot has been made of the movement born of a village called Naxalbari. But is it extortionist or ideological

Udit Mehta January 30, 2022
Naxal Movement: Decoding The Red Corridor

There is something reticently right in the left-wing Naxal/Maoist movement: bringing down an Indian Air Force helicopter and filling explosives into the body of a slain paramilitary trooper are just two instances that underscore a recent resilience that’s building a resurgent resonance in the Red Corridor.

There is much though that has gone into making the events of May 25, 1967 in the then unknown and now immortalised village of Naxalbari to gain the notoriety of the Naxal movement. It was a local peasant uprising with the left-wing “land to tiller” leanings that was quelled by security forces allegedly leaving 11 people dead. Most of the nation at the time was oblivious of the impending consequences. The resultant rebel raft continues to prosper four and a half decades later with an overt scale – transpiring as occasionally sacrosanct but predominantly sadistic.

The impact of entropy endemic to revolutions – right or wrong, has though been rather severe. What started as a movement entrenched in an ideology has frequently been reduced in essence to an extortion exercise.

India’s problem with Naxalism is at most levels similar to Maoist insurgencies around the world. The Shining Path in Peru, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) in Colombia, and New People’s Army (NPA) in the Philippines are just a few examples of movements that began with the ideology of being agents of change for the poor.

Thriving in the conducive environment of regions rich in natural resources, but lacking in the dissemination of resultant revenues to the local population, these groups started out with clandestine and/or overt community support, one that in recent years has unarguably been reduced to being non-relevant, and in consequence has caused the emergence of extortion. The practice of extortion is in most cases dichotomous - with a ‘peasant propaganda’ preached with brute force to local populations in conjunction with a covert contract with corporate conglomerates allowing operational safety in return for an extorted allowance.

A brief reconnaissance of a Naxal infested area by a representative of a MNC will reveal a digression from anti-industry perspectives about Maoism that is hard to digest. Naxal cadres are more often than not willing to sit-down for a cup of tea with a white-collared executive and will more often than not return for more tea and pleasantries in exchange for moneybags.

Attempts by the government to boost infrastructure and development in Maoist insurgent affected areas have been time and again thwarted by Naxal cadres. Mobile telephony towers are daily targets as are trucks carrying Gelatin sticks crucial for the mining industry – the same also form an excellent resource for explosives used by the Naxals. But then these are tactics to ensure industry stays under pressure and communication links to a more developing India outside the Red Corridor remain severed and locals stay entrenched in the purported Maoist ideology.

The impact on industry though is massive; take for example, the case of extractive industry firm Rio Tinto, which has carried out exploration activities for mining projects in Chattishgarh, Orissa, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. All states deeply affected by the Maoist insurgency which supposedly is opposed to the theory of capitalism and as a consequence foreign investment.

Indeed, the government’s two-pronged strategy of development and a security offensive to tackle Naxalism has had its victories. Andhra Pradesh’s success against the Maoist insurgency for example banked on the specifically trained Greyhound anti-Naxal force as well as quick development of infrastructure.

However, the Naxals continue to operate with much impunity within the Red Corridor, an exemption perpetuated by the inability of authorities to provide security to its personnel in the face of constant threats from Maoist cadres. Areas under Naxal control are bereft of the Indian state machinery and instead function under “dalam’s” - the self styled Naxal government/military body.

The dalams are adept at drawing support from local populations, with the use of threats being an increasingly viable alternative to preaching an ideology viewed as archaic by a populace suffering the consequences of years of lack to basic health and education infrastructure.

Gun-totting Naxal cadres most barely juvenile are known to conduct nightly meetings in villages coercing local support for food and shelter. The gap between the highly educated Maoism preaching Naxal leader and the on-ground rebel is stark and increasingly a cause for the movement turning extortionist.

Within the Naxal hierarchy, ideology remains the generic gene but as is most characteristic of rebel movements - mutation and subsequently mutilation of the very gene is giving rise to extortionist ambitions – danger signals for both the rebels in the Red Corridor and the Indian government.