Last of the Rebels

Naxal insurgency may be on a downward spiral, but it’s not out yet

Niranjan Sahoo

The Naxal rebellion, which turned half a century, seems very much a fading rebellion, although its lustre is yet to die down completely. In its third cycle, the Naxalite movement which at one point peaked over 220 districts of 13 Indian states in varying degrees, looks pretty much a spent force.

If recent reports and statistics have to be believed, Naxal insurgency may be staring at sunset in the region of domination. For instance, according to a recent analysis of ministry of home affairs (MHA) data by IndiaSpend (, between 2010-2016 there has been a huge dip (roughly 53 per cent) in Naxal related violence. Similarly, according to a survey published by Telengana Today, first nine months of 2017 has seen 23 per cent drop in Naxal violence compared to same period last year. Statistics apart, there are reliable feedbacks from the top leadership of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) which has categorised their armed rebellion to be going through ‘difficult’ phase as the rebel movement has turned considerably ‘weaker’ in many of its strongholds.

Of course, these new evidence merely fill in the broader narrative that the MHA and other credible sources did indicate in the last few years. Revisit the opening paragraph of the last year’s Annual Report of MHA, “The Left-Wing Extremism (LWE) scenario, while remaining an area of concern for internal security of the country, exhibited significant improvement over the year. The declining trend which started in 2011 continued in 2016 as well. The last two and a half years has seen an unprecedented improvement in the LWE scenario across the country”.

MHA assessment is based on several aspects of Naxal insurgency; its leadership, armed strengths, finance, ideological appeal and spatial spread. To begin with, if one takes a close look at its current leadership, the Naxal organisation is increasingly getting thinner from the top raising serious doubts about its sustenance as an armed movement. According to recent Telangana Today report, the once formidable movement has ageing leadership where seven of the 19 members of the Central Committee are above 60 and several of them are coping with serious health issues. Yet, what is more worrisome is that security forces in the recent years have achieved impossible by eliminating many top leaders including Kishenji alias Koteswar Rao, Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad and recently Serisha. The elimination of Appa Rao, Secretary of Eastern Division, his wife Aruna and Gajarala Ashok, the military head of Andhra-Odisha Border Zone by security forces in October last year has made the top leadership thinner. This apart, security forces have succeeded in neutralising as many as 24 prominent members of 39 Central Committee in the past two years.

However, the more worrisome development for Naxal organisation is security forces have succeeded in capturing more than 7,000 active cadres in the last three years, while an equal number of Maoists have surrendered before authorities in various states. In 2016 alone, security forces were able to arrest as many as 1844 CPI-Maoist cadres, while more than 1,442 members of the group chose to surrender before the state authorities (MHA Annual Report 2016).

What is more alarming for this five-decade old armed movement is the growing fissures within the rebel group. According to confessions of arrested Naxalites, nearly four dozens Left-Wing factions that had opportunistically merged in 2004 to form a hodgepodge coalition to fight Indian state are in now in open war against each other. For instance, in Jharkhand alone, there are 16 breakaway groups mainly People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), Tritiya Prastuti Committee or TPC that challenge CPI (Maoist) leadership and compete in terms of resources and influence. There are similar trends in Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Odisha as well. Before he surrendered to Odisha police, the Maoist faction led by Sabyasachi Panda (controlling Kandhamal and West Bengal operations) was in open confrontation with the leadership controlled by Andhra leadership. Gudsa Usendi recently confessed that Maoist cadres are a demoralised lot and key leaders are openly taking on each other.

Table-1 Comparative Statistics of Naxal Violence (2005-2017)

Years Civilians Security Force Personnel LWE/ CPI-Maoists Total
2005 281 150 286 717
2006 266 128 343 737
2007 240 218 192 650
2008 220 214 214 648
2009 391 312 294 997
2010 626 277 277 1180
2011 275 128 199 602
2012 146 104 117 367
2013 159 111 151 421
2014 128 87 99 314
2015 93 57 101 251
2016 120 66 244 430
2017 (up to 15th April ) 59 34 45 138
Total* 3004 1886 2562 7452

Source: Ministry of Home Affairs, GoI, 2016-17

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