India’s Cocktail Revolution: Eastern Marxism, Orthodox Hinduism, and a Shot of Democracy

When one first thinks of India, it is fair to say that communism is not one of its resonating characteristics. However, the expansion of the Maoist movement is real and a serious issue of contention for the national government. It came as a shock in May 2010, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh identified the Naxalite[1] movement as “the biggest internal security challenge facing [the] country”.[2]

Image courtesy of Ranjit Bhaskar, © 2009, some rights reserved.

Image courtesy of Ranjit Bhaskar, © 2009, some rights reserved.

The Naxalite movement originated from Naxalbari, a small village in West Bengal, in order to fight government oppression and exploitation by creating a society free from the caste and class system.[3] Of course, due to guerrilla warfare tactics and reliance on violence to converse with the government, they have since been labelled as terrorists, hoping to destabilise Indian democracy.

While the Naxalites claim to represent the poorest classes in the Indian system, namely the Adivasis and Dalits, and hope to alleviate the government’s indifference to them, their actions have identified them simply as another terrorist organisation. They often even “[extort] money from middle-level landowners…and dominat[e] the lives of the Adivasis and villagers who they claim to represent in the name of providing justice.”[4] Nonetheless, they remain a viable threat to national security and therefore affect several areas of domestic affairs including its economic, security and foreign affairs, its citizens, and the rule of law. So far the government has solely used military force as the main attempt to defeat them, but this will not aid them in completely dissolving the ideological thoughts gaining force. In order to fully eradicate such a threat, the government will have to use a multi-faceted approach solving the core ideology of the movement.

Since the birth of the nation, India’s political spectrum has included communism as a viable governmental option. As Adlai E. Stevenson outlined, “it is… important for India to strengthen her fledgling democracy than to proclaim her allegiance to ‘our side’ (Western side) of foreign affairs.”[5] The goals of the Asian revolution were simple: socio-economic equality, land reform, industrialization, and the end of corruption, and exploitation. As a result, understandably, “the advertised objectives of communism [had] great appeal to the impoverished Asian masses who know nothing of its brutal realities.”[6] The educated youth were the main supporters of such ideology and the popularity of communism highlighted the fragility of the state post-independence. Although the idea was explored, democracy remained the majority option but since the founding of the Communist Party of India People’s War by Kondapalli Sharamaiah in 1980,[7] the threat has heightened, causing large contention for the Indian government. Many think “the spread of Naxalism reflects the widespread alienation and discontentment felt by large parts of the country who are systematically marginalized.”[8]

The increased violence seen after 2002 sufficiently deepened the fear among the government as the death toll kept rising increasing the severity of the threat. According to Arundhati Roy, the movement gained a following as “they offered a cocktail revolution. A heady mix of Eastern Marxism and orthodox Hinduism, spiked with a shot of democracy.”[9] The constant existence of class struggles in India arguably helped in the aiding of the emergence of such a movement, which now threatens to potentially unbalance the national order. Furthermore, the economic fragility and disparity left a vacuum in people’s trust in the current system of government polarizing their opinions towards the extreme left.

As stated by Michael Kugelman, “This rebellion… explicitly calls for the state’s overthrow and directly targets its security forces, is repeatedly labelled by New Delhi as the country’s greatest internal security threat.”[10] Between 2006-2010 alone, there were 3000 civilians killed mostly in the concentrated region coined as the “Red Corridor,” which is “the tribal belt where the tension between economic and aboriginal land is most apparent.”[11]

While the Naxalites claim these violent acts are being carried out to curb the socio-economic disparity within India, they merely act as a means to its end goal of seizing political power. In order to fully eradicate the movement, a “three-pronged approach should be taken in dealing with the threat. It calls for a balance between military forces, social and economic development as well as dialogue between all parties.”[12]

Although the Maoist Naxalites are an internal security threat, the legitimate Communist Party of India has no majority in any state including Kerala and West Bengal, where this movement is most prevalent. The threat of the movement becoming a legitimate political contender remains negligible, but the violent acts may continue in order to terrorize the nation and eventually seize power. The country will need to address this issue first in order to stabilize their national security and thus making their quest to secure a permanent seat on the UN’s Security Council more feasible.

[1] Naxalites are the term commonly used to refer to the militant Communist groups operating in different parts of India under different organizations, with a specific presence in Eastern Indian states such as Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha.

[2] The Hindu, 24th May 2010: “Naxalism biggest threat to internal security: Manmohan” (Last accessed: 30th September 2013)

[3] The Redcliff Special: Diwanji, A K; “Primer: Who are the Naxalites?” (Last accessed: 30th September 2013)

[4] The Redcliff Special: Diwanji, A K; op cit.

[5] Stevenson, Adlai E.; “Will India turn Communist?”; p1 (Last Accessed: 30th September 2013)

[6] Stevenson, Adlai E; op cit; p3.

[7] Singh, Prakash, “The Naxalite Movement in India”, New Delhi: Rupa & Co., 1999, ISBN 81-7167-294-9, p. 105.

[8] Althea Carbon; “Naxalites – The Biggest Security Threat to India”, University of Canterbury, (Last Accessed: 30th September 2013)

[9] Roy, Arundhati; “The God of Small Things”; Harper Perennial; New edition (5 May 2004), p. 66-67.

[10] Kugelman, Michael; “India’s Contemporary Security Challenges”; Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Asia Program, p7. (Last Accessed: 30th September 2013)

[11] Carbon, Althea; op cit.

[12] Carbon, Althea; op cit.