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The Retreat of Civil Governance
Ajai Sahni

 This bloodbath will continue as long as basic realities are ignored."2


There appears, in India today, to be a widening consensus that a variety of 'blood baths' will continue as long as 'basic realities' are ignored. There is, however, no comparable consensus - beyond the level of the most general platitudes - of what precisely these 'basic realities' are. Those who take the Naxalites' political and ideological pretensions seriously insist that "the movement gets sustenance because the government does not treat it as a politico-ideological and socio-economic problem," [3] and that the movement is "symptomatic of a society which is anxious to usher in social change." [4] On this argument, "It is Yashwant Sinha  rather than L.K. Advani, who should be concerned with the task of checking the growing rural rebellion." [5] This general approach finds echoes in the idea that Left extremist violence is a consequence of the state's abdication of its fundamental developmental duties: "In the ultimate analysis, it is the failure of the State machinery and the bankruptcy of official policy which explains the growing clout of the Naxalites." [6] Carrying this line of thought further forward, this campaign of often aimless violence, founded on the explicit rejection of the basic idea and values of democracy, is itself interpreted as an inchoate expression of democratic aspirations:

In this confrontation between the State and the ML (Marxist-Leninist) movement, observers have generally failed to note the rising consciousness of the deprived sections of society, who are today more determined than ever before to struggle for land, forest resources, minimum wages, social dignity and self-governance. Instead of recognising this new consciousness… as a positive democratic phenomenon, our rulers have chosen to see them as outbursts of violence and nothing more. [7]

Needless to say, no head-count or process of evaluation is required to determine how much of this 'new consciousness' has been realised, on the one hand, and how many aspirations and even lives have been crushed in the cycle of violence perpetuated in the name of these ideologies, on the other.

This broad approach, by and large, draws inspiration from a somewhat uncritical acceptance of the general theory that all political violence is rooted in economic and social deprivation - relative or absolute as the case may be. The more extreme formulation of this thesis contends that, in conditions of extreme poverty, inequality or inequity, all political violence, irrespective of its immediate or proximate motivation and impact, is remedial or catalytic of positive reform. Ted Gurr, in his authoritative exploration of the question Why Men Rebel, gives masterful expression to this coldly 'objective' calculation:

It is likely that high magnitudes of violence destroy more than they create, at least in the short run. When the time dimension is taken into account, however, intense political violence, though it destroys much in the short run, may have the long-run payoffs either of stimulating rulers to increase outputs or of restructuring society in such a way that total satisfactions are substantially increased. [8]

The statement is followed by two graphs that give the entirely speculative analysis a suitably pseudo-scientific appearance in drawing out the 'hypothetical effects of violence on satisfaction in a society'. These graphs illustrate situations where high levels of violence are projected as being followed by great 'gains' in 'satisfaction' in the hypothetical year 'x+20'. [9]

A theoretical 'understanding' so doctrinaire and distanced from the realities of the ground is a terrifying thing. Beyond an anecdotal reaffirmation, it requires little else, and no historical falsification is really possible. Every act of mass violence is inevitably followed by changes - both positive and negative - which may be consequent upon such violence, or may be the result of entirely independent variables. Given this ambiguous pool of data, and depending on the time frame selected (needless to say, arbitrarily), any conclusions desired can safely be arrived at. Apart from the historical record of most new revolutions laying the foundations of a new tyranny, who is to determine whether the appropriate time frame of evaluation, for instance, of the Russian revolution was Gurr's "x+20", or the seven years that brought Stalin to power, or the seventy-odd that culminated in the collapse of the Soviet Union? And who is to define what could have been, had the revolution not occurred, and had a more even, non-violent evolutionary process of social, economic and technological change been pursued? The fact is, the sum of evidence in favour of the salutary social and economic effects of revolutionary violence is at least equivocal, if not entirely suspect - especially where such evidence is arraigned against the record, even of the imperfect but consistent democracies of the Third World. In the interim, however, vast slaughters and the most inhuman of petty tyrannies have been justified in the name of such millenarian dogmas.

The application of utilitarian criteria to the evaluation of long-term historical trends suffers from another defect: there is no 'objective' or correct way to determine whose 'utility' or satisfaction is to be evaluated. Which generation is to be the beneficiary? Is the present to be automatically and inevitably sacrificed to the future? And where does the process stop? The problem was, in another context, succinctly expressed by Keynes: in the long run, we are all dead. [10]

'Revolutionary' violence that persists for decades, as has Left extremism in India, must be evaluated by criteria other than the general 'causal' approach that seeks to justify it in terms of historical wrongs and contemporary inequalities, or the presumption of its intrinsic beneficence. As one commentator observes, "Since this movement has had a controversial and turbulent existence on India's political stage for close to six decades, its leaders must attempt a socio-political audit of their efforts - from the point of view of their own objectives and its impact on the people they are fighting for." [11]

Another perspective on the 'basic realities' that are often ignored, notes that the causal link between absolute, or even relative, deprivation and 'revolutionary violence' is, at best, tenuous. Extreme Left movements have found justification for random and indiscriminate violence in the most affluent and among the most equitable societies of Western Europe, as also in modern Japan. Within India, it has been observed that the districts in central Bihar that were most affected by Naxalite violence - Patna, Nalanda, Gaya, Jehanabad, Aurangabad, Nawadah and Bhojpur - were characterised by "farm prosperity and literacy… higher than in the rest of the State… Thus in some ways the violence in central Bihar is not the offshoot of stagnation and poverty, but is instead a reflection of development and growth, however stunted."

The choice of violence, moreover, is in most cases made, not by the deprived, impoverished or victim communities, but by better educated and relatively affluent 'ideologues' and mobilisers, who purport to speak on their behalf. This is natural, of course. But, given the extreme complexity of the patterns of violence, of both voluntary and coercive mobilisation, and the overlap of a range of purely criminal and 'revolutionary' activities undertaken by various extreme Left groupings, it is important to understand that the claims of such 'representation' have, in all these movements, never been tested or seriously questioned.

Another aspect of the unexamined 'basic realities' of Naxalite violence is the widening hiatus between the proclaimed intention and the actuality. Those who, overtly or otherwise, sympathise with the broad objectives of these movements, or with some of the organisations and individuals connected with them, are eager to point out that, "the PWG [13] is now engaged in constructive programmes, such as building irrigation facilities, ensuring primary education and primary healthcare, besides demanding full benefits of government programmes for tribals." [14] Others, however, insist that this is mere political posturing and tokenism, and that the extreme Left formations are a lawless, depredatory force, and that "about 90% of the persons killed by Naxalites are from poor and labour classes and coming from SC, ST and BC castes. The sense of insecurity is therefore more in the poorer sections of the population." [15] There are also basic structural constraints that limit the capacity of benign intervention on the part of the extremist: "Naxalism is not an alternative system of governance or development, as it degenerates into dogmatic and hierarchic local rule." [16] The caprice of the local leader is, within this system, the final law and arbiter for those who are at its mercy, and an

…institutional structure and mechanism of ensuring accountability are non-existent. The MCC in Bihar, for example, has maimed people for defying its orders on poll-boycott and co-operation with the State administration with impunity. They have struck terror with similar tactics in Andhra Pradesh and other States too… Not surprisingly, the existence of the Marxist groups has exacerbated social conflict in a queer combination of caste and class war. [17]

Some political commentators also insist that Naxalite violence is misdirected and politically counterproductive because

The Maoist groups in India have failed to understand the popular base of democratically elected government and this is the reason why they are organising solitary struggles. The politics of violence in India cannot bring basic changes in society because Indians are committed to the politics of the ballot. [18]

This last position brings us to the crux of much that is wrong with those who discover justifications for a self-perpetuating cycle of extreme Left violence in the injustices of the prevailing system in India: arguments favouring revolutionary violence as an instrument of change in authoritarian or absolutist systems of governance are simply, mechanically and uncritically assumed to apply to a democratic polity. The fact is, democracy does offer institutions and instrumentalities of social transformation and, however inefficient these may be in a particular situation, they are ordinarily more effective than the option of directionless and largely randomised violence.

Revolutionaries tend to be impatient with democracy and its institutions, believing that they can, at a stroke, dismantle all the evils of the system - and that this alone is an adequate corrective. This is a perspective that has much in common with the tanto peggio, tanto meglio principle of Italian Fascism that amounted to little more than a visceral rejection of everything that the status quo represented. But when, after over five decades of 'revolutionary' violence, it still has to be conceded that "Telengana fares negatively on all development parameters," [20] it is time to re-examine, if nothing else, the efficiency and cost-benefit ratio of this method of supposed societal transformation.

The fact is that extremism, especially in situations that offer some democratic options, is frequently counterproductive and more significantly, as noted in another context, "Despite all of the self-justification, the practical reality of terrorism has developed into a relentless attack on those forces working towards a peaceful and pluralist re-organisation of society." [21]

Yet another aspect of the "basic realities" that are ignored is that, once conflict has established itself and attained a certain level, it acquires a dynamic entirely of its own, one that is self-sustaining unless forcefully and forcibly disrupted. As Paul Wilkinson notes, "(r)ebellions do not generally just fade away. They have to be put down ruthlessly and effectively if normal life and business are to be restored." [22] An aspect of this self-perpetuating cycle that is seldom noticed, and that has become a critical element in the persistence of most insurgencies and terrorist movements in India, is the creation, complexity and continuous expansion of the underground terrorist economy, and the magnitude and power of the collusive arrangements that come into being between the extremists, on the one hand, and the political, administrative and business elite, on the other. [23] To take the case of Andhra Pradesh, the relationships of the PWG with the various dominant political parties in the State has been far from unambiguous, and each of these has, from time to time, found it expedient to seek the support of this extremist organisation to secure an electoral advantage, as have many individual politicians. [24] These arrangements are often transient, and political alliances have frequently degenerated into fierce campaigns of repression and retaliation within a brief interval. More insidious and persistent, however, is the web of financial and commercial interests that emerges over time. As the Advocates' Committee on Naxalite Terrorism in Andhra Pradesh noted,

The extremist groups are collecting crores of rupees from all types of traders, contractors or any other persons engaged in any economic activity. They are also imposing levy on the farmers. Collection of money is so easy that many unemployed local rowdies are finding it an easy way of making money. [25]

Another observer notes that the

PWG's main source of income is extortion. An amount of Rs.10 crores per year is collected from contractors, traders, businessmen, professionals like Doctors, Lawyers, Accountants and even government officials. [26]

Intelligence sources, in fact, indicate that this is an underestimate, and roughly INR 40-50 crore is extorted by the PWG in Andhra Pradesh alone each year. Similarly, papers seized during special operations in the Garhwa-Palamau areas of Bihar provide evidence of enormous and organised financial operations in which targets and 'block budgets' are defined for each 'squad' of the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC). Thus, one such squad had raised INR seven million in a single year and, for the year 1999, had informed its command that its target was INR 10 million. In addition, Naxalite squads exercise a monopolistic control over forest produce and government contracts in their areas of dominance, and also receive a substantial share of all development funding flowing into these areas. [27] Moreover, the Naxalites also engage in, or control, significant levels of illegal economic activity, especially the illegal harvesting and smuggling of forest produce. [28]

A final 'justification' of extreme Left violence also demands attention here. "The violence that we indulge in," declares Muppala Lakshmana Rao 'Ganapathy', the present head of the CPI-ML-People's War, "is only as a counter to the mindless violence perpetrated day in and day out by the state's mercenary forces." [29] The claim merits serious evaluation. It is certainly the case that the agencies of the state do adopt extra-legal methods in the conflict in various theatres of extremism in the country, and the Naxalite affected areas are no exception. While the magnitude and frequency of such actions can hardly be authoritatively documented or confirmed, it is the case that Ganapathy's statement was made in the context of allegations of one such incident, in which three prominent leaders of the PWG were allegedly executed in a 'fake encounter', and of the rash of retaliatory killings by the Naxalites that followed. [30] The question, very clearly, cannot be settled by counting casualties on either side of the conflict, or by seeking to identify the point at which the conflict was initiated, or indeed, as supporters of the government often do, by justifying extra-legal methods in terms of the collapse of all the institutions of civil governance - including the criminal justice system - in a situation of widespread terrorism. The fact, however, that the Naxalites consciously choose the path of violence against the state may, in some measure, impose a moral responsibility on them. But this line of argument is no more than trivial and contentious, since evidence of the 'violence' of the state against its people can easily be selectively culled from the historical record to justify such a choice.

It is, consequently, the nature of Naxalite violence against which the movement's claims must be tested; and in this, it would be found wanting. As with all the other militant 'saviours' of various class and sectarian groupings in India, the largest proportion of the victims of Naxalite violence are drawn from the very classes and communities they claim to be protecting or fighting for. [31] Such killings are justified on the grounds that the problem arises only "when there is an informer. The party has to decide between the life of a revolutionary and the life of the informer." [32] It is important, nevertheless, to remind ourselves that, "(w)here revolutionaries find it necessary to kill more people on their own side than the enemy, it must be presumed either that their cause is widely opposed or that, at least, it leaves the population indifferent." [33] While the violence of the state may, at least on occasion, be conceded to be 'mindless', Naxalite violence cannot escape the charge of an equal, if not disproportionate, and additionally infructiferous, mindlessness.

The sweep of the preceding analysis is far from comprehensive, and there would be many other aspects and 'basic realities' that demand detailed examination if we are to arrive at an adequate understanding of the complexity of socio-economic, ideological, political, tactical and strategic issues raised by the Naxalite movement. Such a study, however, falls beyond the scope of the present paper. What is sought here, is a demonstration that a reductionist approach that conceives of poverty alleviation and developmental programmes, investments and reforms as the panacea for extreme Left violence, is roughly as myopic as the competing viewpoint that the whole problem can be subsumed under a simple 'law and order' approach that depends overwhelmingly on the use of para-military and police forces to crush extremism. Equally myopic, moreover, is the position that seeks a simple-minded juxtaposition of these two in a 'carrot-and-stick' policy that offers some developmental sops, even as it goes after the Naxalites with a continuously augmenting force of arms. [34] At this point of time, however, these options appear to exhaust the entire vista of policies that are being implemented, examined or in any other way considered by the various governments of the affected States and by the Centre. These policies are, consequently and in their very conception, destined to repeat the failures that have attended upon them in the past.


The Heart of Darkness

While contemporary Naxalism takes its popular title from the failed peasant revolt that commenced at Naxalbari in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal in 1967, Left Wing extremism has had a more persistent and sound base in the Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh [35] than in any other part of the country. It is here that it has been crushed again and again, to rise with unyielding tenacity, and "(e)ach time official circles begin to write an obituary of the Naxalite groups, the latter have struck even more ferociously." [36] It was here that the great and futile Telengana uprising first challenged the might of the newly independent Indian state, leading an estimated 4,000 men and women to fruitless death. [37] It is here again, that the campaigns of murder have escalated once again to secure new heights over the past months.

The Telengana region is a vast tract of land, sprawling across 10 of Andhra Pradesh's 23 districts, comprehending 114,863 square kilometres. With the exception of the State capital, the twin-cities of Hyderabad-Secunderabad, the entire region is remarkable for its poverty and underdevelopment. Adilabad, Karimnagar, Warangal and Khammam, ranged in the north of the State, along its borders with Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa, are the Naxalite heartland, its command zone, where their writ remains unquestioned. Their influence, however, extends across the entire Telengana region, into the drought prone expanse of the Rayalseema area to the South, and across to Srikakulam at the Northeastern tip of the State along the Bay of Bengal. More significantly, this area of influence and operation extends well beyond the State's borders across the entire Dandakaranya forest and tribal region in the North, and into the territories of the three bordering States. Beyond these, a merger of the CPI (ML) - Party Unity group with the PWG [38] has extended this dominion into the chaos of Central and South Bihar.

There are currently some 18 extreme Left or Naxalite groups operating in Andhra Pradesh, but the hegemon here is, without doubt, the PWG. Over the past decade, all Naxalite groups together have reportedly been responsible for over 3,800 murders, including 364 security personnel. In turn, the Security Forces have killed over 1,557 Naxalites (Table 1). Property worth over INR 1.12 billion has also been destroyed by the extremists (Table 2), and the costs to the State in terms of the counter-terrorism effort and developmental opportunities lost is incalculable.

As in other theatres of terrorist violence in the country, the image such statistics create of a direct and unequivocal confrontation between the state and the rebel is mistaken, [39] and, as stated before, a complex pattern of collusion from the 'conservative' and constitutional political formations in the State has, from time to time, immensely strengthened the Naxalite cause. Koratala Satyanarayana, the then State-level General Secretary of the CPI (M), deposing before the Advocates Committee, stated in 1997, "In our experience, the political parties that have been in power in the State for the last three or four decades have been trying to utilise or use services of these extremist groups, either to come to power or to perpetuate their power."

This perception of the politics of expediency dominating the State Government's and leadership's attitudes and policies towards the Naxalites is widely endorsed, as is the general perception that these attitudes and policies have been both inconsistent and immensely damaging to the State's interests.


Table 1: Naxalite Activities in Andhra Pradesh

January 1990 to March 31, 2000















SFs killed





Naxalites Arrested
































































































































































TKBN:      Total number of persons (including SFs) killed by Naxalites

SFs:          Security Forces personnel              WSFN:    Weapons seized from Naxalites


Table 2: Properties Damaged/Destroyed by Naxalites

January 1990 to March 31, 2000


RTC Buses

Telephone Exchanges

Other Properties

Total Value (INR) of Property Damaged





























































        A brief review of the record on this count is illuminating. The Naxalbari movement, which spread from West Bengal, through Orissa, traversed the northern districts of Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, Vishakhapatnam, East Godavari and West Godavari, to find a natural and more receptive environment among the impoverished, forest and tribal dominated, low-literacy areas of the Telengana region, had lost steam by the early 1970s, and Naxalite activity in Andhra Pradesh remained fitful through this decade. In April 1980, however, Kondapalli Seetharamaiah brought the five dominant ML groups in the State under the unifying banner of the PWG, and the violence began to escalate, despite the fact that Seetharamaiah professed a rejection of the traditional Maoist line, endorsed by Charu Mazumdar, of the 'annihilation of class enemies', and brought the focus on mass mobilisation instead. This failed to disturb the powers that were, and in 1982, the then leader of the Telugu Desam Party, N.T. Rama Rao (NTR, as he was popularly known), described the Naxalites as "true patriots, who have been misunderstood by ruling classes." [41] Unsurprisingly, NTR found it expedient to secure their support during the elections the following year, and succeeded in unseating the Congress-I government in the State. In the years that followed, his government gave the PWG a free hand to consolidate their activities. The gain in strength till the mid-1980s was spectacular, with large numbers of indoctrinated and educated youth fanning out to mobilise manpower, weaponry and finances, and to establish and expand the party network throughout Telengana, and even in other areas, some well beyond the State's boundaries. By 1985, after a series of ambushes of police parties and the increasing use of landmines to blow up official and police convoys, even the grateful NTR could no longer ignore the menace. A special Task Force was established and a number of armed outposts in the seven worst affected districts were created. In 1987, a group of Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officers were kidnapped and a demand for the release of a group of jailed Naxalites was raised. The government succumbed, but in the period that followed, its attitudes hardened. The Naxalites were banned and the police and SFs were given the proverbial 'free hand' to deal with the extremists. By mid-1989, the Naxalite movement was, once again, in flight. But the State's electoral politics intervened.

        This time, it was the Congress-I party, under the leadership of Dr. Marri Chenna Reddy, that recognised the 'patriotic' potential of the Naxalites, and sought and secured their support in the elections of 1989. For two years thereafter, under Chenna Reddy's Chief Minstership, the Naxalites went on a rampage, culminating in the ghastly murder of 43 innocent civilians who were burnt alive on board the Karkitiya Express near Hyderabad. Chenna Reddy lifted the ban on the PWG in December 1989, and released 190 hardcore Naxalites lodged in jail, giving them unprecedented freedom of political and criminal action. "In the following years of 1989-91, extremists grew by leaps and bounds. They extorted crores of rupees and people's Courts and parallel Government were run killing hundreds of innocent people including two IPS officers." [42]

Interestingly, this has been described as a 'radical experiment' by some commentators. The point of view demands attention, if for no other reason, because of its absolute eccentricity and as an example of the unmitigated muddle-headedness that confounds the debate on terrorism and political violence in India. An extended quote is, perhaps, justified in this instance:

Dr. Chenna Reddy as chief minister in 1990 had tried a radical solution to the problem. He lifted all curbs on Naxal groups and allowed them to function freely. For nearly one year the Naxals had unfettered freedom. They conducted a large meeting at State capital, Hyderabad, for the first time and held praja durbars all over the State dispensing instant justice. In one celebrated case, a police official went to the Naxal praja durbar to get his dispute settled having failed at government level. For some time it looked like Chenna Reddy was helping Naxals to become powerful, but in reality the move was the more subversive one. The sudden freedom proved to be the most corrupting and corroding influence for Naxals and proved to be their undoing, as PWG founder Kondapalli Seetharamaiah admitted later. People revolted as Naxals, in the name of undoing social injustices, perpetrated atrocities. People started beating and chasing them away from villages. Civil Liberties activists admit that had this policy continued for long the Naxal movement would have degenerated and perished. [43]

A few points bear clarification here: the 'praja durbars' referred to are kangaroo courts; the 'instant justice' ranged from public humiliation, through seizures of land, financial penalties, and up to mutilation and death; the 'Civil Liberties activists' are front organisations of the PWG, who covered up and justified these outrages while they were actually taking place, and found it expedient to distance themselves from the 'failures' of this period, once they had lapsed into the irrelevant past.

        These factors notwithstanding, it is interesting to draw out what precisely is being applauded here: the 'radical solution' proposed (to rephrase it somewhat) is for a government that is sworn to uphold the law, to allow extremist groups and organisations to perpetrate atrocities against innocent civilians to the point where the people, in desperation, and with no hope or expectation of support or protection from such a government, eventually take the law into their own hands and "start beating and chasing them (the extremists) away from villages". The proposition exceeds the bounds of the absurd, and requires no further examination.

        Chenna Reddy's policy was reversed by his successor, N. Janardhan Reddy towards the latter half of 1991, after the murder of a former Minister, Hayagreeva Chary, in Warangal, and a rising flood of violence, large scale extortion, arson and destruction of private and public properties. In May 1992, the ban on the activities of the PWG and its front organisations was re-imposed. The impact was palpable, with killings and other offences declining immediately and continuously till 1994, when N.T. Rama Rao was returned to power.

        NTR lifted the ban and the old policies of conciliation and complicity gave the Naxalites another opportunity to revive, strengthen and extend the scale and geographical scope of their activities. New elements also entered into the equation after this point, with the easy availability of increasingly sophisticated arms, explosives, and timing and triggering devices, and some evidence of a widening network of linkages with terrorist organisations in other parts of the country, as well as with Sri Lanka's Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and with revolutionary communist parties in Nepal and the Philippines. It is significant to note that the PWG has now transformed the Maoist ideology to accommodate the "fight for nationality" among the "many oppressed nationalities in India", such as those "in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast". [44] Left wing extremism, consequently, now transcends ideology to "welcome the comrades in the other rightist and leftist groups to fight against their leadership and join the revolution." [45]

        The Chandrababu Naidu Government revived the ban on Naxalite organisations, and has reverted to the policy of confronting extremist violence with the force of arms. At the same time, however, there is evidence of sensitivity to the developmental imperatives of the region and a wide range of programmes have been initiated and substantial investment has been made. A proposal for an investment of INR 12.99 billion for the development of backward areas has been sent by the State Government to the Planning Commission, and is currently pending approval. The present regime also appears to have some coherent and long-term vision for the future, with a strong emphasis on education, rural development and the transfer of benefits from forest and mineral wealth to the local and tribal populations. [46]

Before all this begins to sound like a government brochure, let it be abundantly clear that, in the circumstances that currently prevail in the State, these initiatives are condemned to inevitable failure. The government's plans and perspectives have been mentioned here with the intention, purely, of meeting the criticism that the State is indifferent to the developmental needs of the poor in the backward regions, and that Naidu is exclusively obsessed with the 'elitist' objective of transforming Hyderabad into the 'hi-tech capital' of India. Such concern exists, and has existed, albeit fitfully in many of the State's governments of the past five decades, and has been translated into a long succession of plans and programmes. The problem, however, is with the State's mechanisms of execution and delivery.

The conventional interpretation here is, of course, corruption and vested 'feudal' interests. Thus, "(t)hough over Rs 2,000 crores have so far been pumped into the region under uplift  schemes for tribals and weaker sections, very little has percolated to the people with middlemen and corrupt officials lining their pockets." [47]   And again, "One genuine attempt at land reforms would put an end to the violence." [48]

The problem, however, is deeper and more fundamental to the very character of governance in the Telengana region, or, more precisely, the considerable lack of it. The fact is, apart from columns of armed police and para-military forces, the State does not exist in the entire belt, and a widening swathe beyond it.

At least part of this is the consequence of the Naxalite terror. The Naxalites openly oppose and disrupt major ongoing developmental projects, while others are compromised as a result of huge extortion demands. The strongest opposition is to developmental activities, the construction of roads and communication links in the backward and tribal areas, since success in these may seduce the poor into placing their faith in the institutions of democracy and constitutional government. Since "parliamentary politics is not suitable for a country like India," [49] this would, naturally, be an unacceptable outcome. The failure of the government's developmental initiatives and reforms is, consequently, integral to the survival of the Naxalite movement, and is one of the objectives actively and tenaciously pursued.

A great deal of normal activity in the agricultural and farm sector has also been brought to a standstill by the tactics of 'land redistribution' adopted by the Naxalites. This comprises the simple expedient of planting a red flag on large tracts of land, and notifying the landlords that any attempt to cultivate these would attract reprisals. Where this device does not immediately secure the desired results, a brutal demonstration of power ensures that such instances become rare. While the "party organised the people to occupy 35,000 acres of land since 1995," [50] the fact is that 'the people' do not farm this land for fear of police action, and the landlords have virtually abandoned the entire region to settle in urban centres as a result of the Naxalite terror.

The enormity and efficacy of this terror can be assessed from a single example: even Narasimha Rao, as Prime Minister of India, with his village home and lands protected by a large police force, could not have his land at Vangara in Karimnagar district cultivated. The impact on the lesser citizen can well be imagined. This fear extends deep into the heart of the State's administrative machinery and criminal justice system, and in "almost all cases, the next-of-kin of the persons killed or maimed and the eye witness of all crimes committed by the extremists are so intimidated with threats of death or further maiming that none of them are prepared to complain to the police or depose before the courts." [51] Even judges and their families have not been immune to the terror. [52]

This does not, however, explain the failure of the developmental effort during periods of Naxalite dormancy or retreat. While Left Wing extremism in the Telengana region has, at no time since Independence, been entirely absent, it is a fact that, during the periods 1951-1967 and 1971-1980, their activities and impact were modest and could be easily contained by local administrative and police action. As stated earlier, there was also substantial developmental expenditure in the State during these periods, and not all of it would have been absorbed by the ubiquitous monstrosity of corruption. Other than the contentious issue of land reforms (on which the requisite political will is manifestly lacking) the intentions of successive governments have not been entirely iniquitous, and the flow of funds into plans and programmes for development of backward areas, poverty alleviation, employment generation and tribal welfare has been steady and sustained, though far from adequate. Their impact, however, has been negligible.

The fact is that the entire structure of rural administration in all Naxalite-affected areas, not only in the region, but throughout the country, has been wholly emasculated, or has simply not evolved beyond the primitive structures of colonial governance, or has, through a combination of factors, including primarily the incompetence, corruption and criminalisation of the political leadership, deteriorated to the point of paralysis. In Andhra Pradesh, despite the 'IT revolution', the computers at Hyderabad are still to impose any measure of effective accountability on the block level administration.

The problem has been compounded manifold in tribal and forest areas by an ill-conceived policy of isolation that, under the influence of possibly well-intentioned European social-anthropologists, has been adopted throughout the country with the intention of protecting the culture and interests of the tribal population. This policy is now overdue for a comprehensive re-examination, as the system has kept the tribals poor and outside the ambit of development, failed entirely to protect them from exploitation and abuse, and deepened conditions of economic deprivation through a progressive alienation of their rights over forest produce and wealth.

It is necessary in this context to understand that tribal cultures cannot be protected unless the state's apparatus for their protection is close at hand. The current arrangements have only abandoned these regions and their populations to the petty tyrannies and exploitative cabals of forest officials, money lenders, liquor merchants and contractors, on the one hand, or of the Naxalites, on the other. At the same time, effectiveguarantees of constitutional or legal rights, protection of the law, and recourse to the institutions of civilised governance, arbitration or judicial determination, do not exist. Nor, indeed, is there any effective protection for local cultures and traditions and customs, which are often obliterated or discarded on their first unmediated contact with the 'outside world'. The fact is, the transactions of the tribal population with the non-tribal are conducted from a position of cumulative disadvantage and inferiority, and this alone is the most corrosive factor against all aspects of the protection of tribal identities, cultures and rights.

The forest and tribal areas are, moreover, at the very heart of the Naxalite strategy. There is a total of over 63,810 square kilometres of forest in Andhra Pradesh. More significantly, 28,784 square kilometres of this forest lies in the Northern arc along the State's borders [53] with Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. This forest and tribal belt extends deep into the territories of more than eleven districts [54] of these neighbouring States. While it is not the case that this entire swathe of forestland has  been taken over by the Naxalites, this is certainly their declared intention.

The Naxalite strategy is to first create 'guerrilla zones' in these areas, and then transform these into 'liberated areas', which would ultimately be extended to surround and encircle urban centres of power. This is, of course, at this point of time, no more than a distant and disruptive dream. Nevertheless, as Vara Vara Rao, the movement's overground ideologue declared in 1997, "Compared to the 1990s, today's position is very strong. In fact, in north Telengana and Dandakaranya, it has reached an advanced stage of forming guerrilla zones. We visualise Dandakaranya as a base area for forming a people's army, with platoons of 200 red guards each." [55] If anything, the position of the Naxalites in the Dandakaranya and North Telengana belt has significantly been consolidated over the intervening years. No government official would dare to travel unescorted in this entire region, and in the Naxalite affected areas, police parties ordinarily enter only with a minimum strength of a Company. And when they do so, while they reduce the risk of a small-arms attack, their number and concentration makes them peculiarly vulnerable to an increasing number of landmine explosions. Needless to say, the effective presence of the institutions and agencies of the state - and hence of development - in these areas is no more than nominal.


Restoring the Civil Authority

If this analysis is, in substantial measure, correct, it is clear that the present model of conflict and containment that is being applied to the Naxalite problem, and the cyclical reverses and revivals these extremist groups undergo, cannot yield any permanent solution.If the state, over vast tracts of its territories where significant proportions of its population dwell, fails to provide the public goods and services that it is obliged to - including the security of life and property, criminal justice and opportunities for social and economic growth - it is inevitable that other individuals and agencies will step in to fill the vacuum. It is inevitable, also, that in most such cases, these individuals and agencies will not be constrained by the limits of law or any established procedure in their interactions with local populations, and consequently, that these interactions will tend to be unacceptably exploitative and even tyrannical.

The administrative vacuum in vast areas of Andhra Pradesh (and beyond) has to be filled, and the areas that have presently been abandoned to the depredations of the Naxalites or of the criminal co-operative of petty contractors, businessmen and forest officials, will have to be systematically recovered, re-occupied, and brought under the institutions of civil and democratic governance. It is only after this pre-condition is satisfied that any abiding gains can be made in development, welfare, and the quality of life of the people in these areas.

This is a gigantic task that requires both vision and a vast, sustained and co-ordinated effort by all agencies of the governments of each of the affected States. As with any complex strategy that is to be successfully drafted and executed, both the problem that it addresses and the correctives it proposes need to be broken down to their components. The first of these components is the recovery of these territories from the arc of anarchy.

It has been repeatedly emphasised in this paper that if any permanent resolution to the problem of terrorism in these areas is to be secured, it cannot be brought about by the temporary allocation of armed police or 'special' and para-military forces. The solution lies in the restoration, strengthening and extension of the permanent institution for the maintenance of law and order - the police station. [56] The capabilities of each such police station, moreover, would have to be strengthened, not only to confront the Naxalite terror, but to deal with the whole range of law and order problems, conflicts, disputes and complaints that arise within its jurisdiction.

It is amply clear, even from the general data presently available, that Andhra Pradesh is severely under-equipped and undermanned in this context. The existing ratio of police to population in Andhra Pradesh is a marginally over 1:1000 while the average recommended minimum is defined at 3:1000, even in circumstances of normalcy. [57] The desired ratio in a situation of widespread disorder would, naturally, be higher. Even these figures do not give an accurate picture of the situation in rural areas, where a police station manned by a total of 20 men under the command of a sub-inspector (SI) is expected to serve as many as 25 villages and populations in excess of 100,000. This yields a ratio of as little as 1:5000, and the figure would be even worse for the tribal belt. Add to this the fact that these areas - and particularly those that lie in the forests - are poorly connected, the police ill-equipped and abysmally trained, and a crude approximation of the real challenge on the ground begins to emerge.

The revival, reinforcement and extension of the network of police stations in the Naxalite affected and potentially sensitive regions must be preceded by a clear settlement of the question of 'officering', and a political consensus will have to precede any coherent action on this count. The finest officers in the State, who are both willing and motivated to fight the scourge (at great personal risk, it may be added), will have to be identified and put in charge of each of these sensitive jurisdictions, and no political, partisan or personal considerations must be allowed to intervene. The charge of a number of the identified police stations may also need upgradation, so that, instead of a sub-inspector (SI), a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) is appointed.

Once a suitable person is installed, all necessary wherewithal must be provided with the clear objective of making the police station a self-sufficient centre of response to the extremists' presence and activities within its entire jurisdiction. The strengths and weaknesses of each such police station would have to be individually evaluated: in one, the manpower and working conditions may need improvement; in another, communications and transport, in a third, weaponry; and, in fact, most of these police stations may require all these. Crucially, the kind of weaponry and equipment to be procured would have to be imaginatively determined by higher police authorities based on intelligence inputs and the insight of the local Station House Officer (SHO).

This selective strengthening and upgradation will cost considerable amounts of money, and may take some time. Consequently, the list of sensitive stations must be prioritised according to their respective threat perceptions. Stations which are high up on the list must receive immediate attention and resources. Critically, moreover, the police having been so strengthened in their all-round capabilities, should be permitted at the first instance to respond independently and to use all necessary force.

This option of accentuating the role of the local police station is far more cost-effective than the constant raising of new para-military forces that is the current practice. The cost of enhancing, say, 100 police stations, each with a strength of 100 men, would roughly equal the sums required to raise 4 to 5 para-military battalions. [58] Moreover, the actual strength of the average para-military unit reaching the field is only a fraction of the total strength. In a battalion of over 1,000 men, those available operationally would be roughly 350 - with the rest being support and administrative staff, guards, etc. In a police station of 100 men, on the other hand, in a crisis, except for four or five staff, the rest can fan out in the operational area.  There is, thus, much better utilisation of manpower per unit cost and time. Local police forces, moreover, have an immense and unquantifiable advantage in terms of their intelligence gathering capabilities, as a result of the complex and varied interactions they have to maintain with local populations.

The police station, however, is only the first and most visible element in the restoration of the state's authority. Each police station's jurisdiction must have proximate and convenient access to, and easy and open links with, both the executive and judicial magistracy or its agents, as well as with the entire paraphernalia of developmental, welfare and other service agencies of the State government. Once again, the norms that determine officering for the sensitive police stations must also define the selection of the civil administrative and developmental personnel - the best men for the most difficult tasks and posts. Moreover, these agencies and officers must be located - and protected - where their work is most needed. And such work must, then, commence at a war footing providing immediate benefits to local populations. This would, of course, include the usual range of developmental activities, but the building of model schools and significant community works must be an overwhelming priority. A certain and high level of accountability and review would also be needed in all such projects and interventions.

Evidently, this cannot be achieved at once for the entire State, or even all the Naxalite affected areas. Such measures will also naturally and immediately attract strong retaliatory action from the extremists. It will, consequently, be necessary to undertake this process block by block, district by district, till the entire target areas are recovered. In the initial phases, the newly strengthened police stations and administrative jurisdictions may require some support from para-military agencies as well. But if the experiments succeed even in the first few instances, the demonstration effect and the impact on the general population in all contiguous areas would provide the impetus for accelerated change, and a progressive withdrawal of such deployment.

Enormous flexibility will also have to be introduced into the existing administrative order. For instance, civil jurisdictions do not ordinarily coincide with the jurisdictions of police stations. Magisterial powers may also need to be conferred on the officers of the revenue and developmental agencies so that matters such as remand can be settled locally. Tremendous and radical improvements will also be necessary in the justice system, and some measure of decentralisation in the dispute resolution mechanism would also be necessary. In the forest areas, the forest officers and the State's forest polices will have to be reoriented to benefit local populations, even as forest officials are given the fullest protection to ensure that their interventions are effective, and that concrete and visible gains do accrue to the State's tribal population.

The failure, both of the state and of the Naxalites in Andhra Pradesh is that both these have focused excessively, even exclusively, on the seizure of power. The seizure of power, however, is only a beginning. It is the exercise of power that is the greatest challenge for all creeds of social and political transformation - including the revolutionary and the democratic - and it is here that both the government and the rebel have failed the large mass of the people, the circumstances of whose lives are often tragically defined by the actions of these agencies.

[1]       The term 'Naxalism' refers to the Left Wing extremist movement that traces its roots to the May 1967 peasant uprising at Naxalbari in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal. Its prominent ideologues and leaders in the first phase included Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal. The movement was launched under the banner of the Communist Party of Indian (Marxist) (CPI-M), but, in April 1969, a split occurred in the Party and the radical platform was adopted by the new formation, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI-ML) whose programmes and activities were 'based on the thought of Mao-Tse-Tung', broadly translated by Mazumdar to its fundamentals as 'the physical annihilation of class enemies.' The movement immediately and completely dominated West Bengal and had some impact on a number of other States, including Andhra Pradesh. It was crushed through strong police action and, with the death of Charu Mazumdar in July 1972, its rout in its State of origin was complete. Today, even where no historical links exist between the original parties, leadership, and often even ideology or programme, of contemporary Left Wing extremist movements, each of these continues to be referred to as a 'Naxalite' movement

*       Dr. Ajai Sahni is Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management and the South Asia Terrorism Portal; and Executive Editor,Faultlines.

2       A 'senior leader' from Andhra Pradesh's Naxalite infested Telengana region, quoted in Das, Ashok, "An eye for an eye," New Delhi: The Hindustan Times, March 12, 2000.

[3]      Das, Ashok, "Naxalism: Y2K problem sans solution?" New Delhi: The Hindustan Times, February 10, 2000.

[4]       Ibid.

[5]       Raman, P., "Can reforms help tackle Naxal menace?", Chandigarh: The Tribune, March 14, 2000. Sinha and Advani are presently the Union Ministers for Finance and Home, respectively.

[6]       "The Naxalite menace," Editorial in The Hindustan Times, May 28, 1999.

[7]      Mohanty, Manoranjan, "This civil war is growing," New Delhi: The Hindustan Times, February 27, 2000.

[8]      Gurr, Ted Robert, Why Men Rebel, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970, footnote 4, pp. 4-5.

[9]       Ibid.

[10]     Keynes, John Maynard, A Tract on Monetary Reforms, 1923, Ch. 3.

[11]      Mehra, Ajay K., "Failing revolution," The Pioneer, March 10, 2000.

[12]     Ramesh, Jairam, "Why Bihar is Aflame," India Today, April 12, 1999. The reasoning here is somewhat tenuous. Nevertheless, the perspective is valid in a number of other conflict areas. A direct correlation between poverty and the emergence of terrorism certainly did not exist in Punjab and J&K.

[13]      Peoples War Group or the CPI (ML) - People's War, the most powerful Naxalite organisation in Andhra Pradesh, which has now extended its activities and affiliations into all the Naxalism affected States, including Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Bihar.

[14]     Mohanty, Manoranjan, op. cit.

[15]      Report of the Advocates' Committee on Naxalite Terrorism in Andhra Pradesh. The Committee was appointed by the High Court of Andhra Pradesh by its order dated April 4, 1997, on Writ Petition No. 6829/97. SC: Scheduled Castes; ST: Scheduled Tribes; BC: Backward Classes.

[16]     Ramachandran, Rajesh, "No land, nothing to lose," New Delhi: The Hindustan Times, December 26, 1999.

[17]     Mehra, Ajay K., op. cit. MCC: Maoist Communist Centre.

[18]     Bhambhri, C.P., "Maoism: a failed ideology," New Delhi: The Hindustan Times, May 21, 1999.

[19]      "The worse things are, the better things are."

[20]     Das, Ashok, "An eye for an eye," New Delhi: The Hindustan Times, March 12, 2000. The Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh, as is discussed later in this paper, has been a major centre of Left Wing extremism since the Communist Party of India (CPI)-led Telengana Armed Struggle of 1948-51.

[21]     Reinares, Fernando, "The Dynamics of Terrorism During the Transition to Democracy in Spain," in Wilkinson, Paul & Steward, A.M., Ed., Contemporary Research on Terrorism, Aberdeen University Press, 1987, p. 121.

[22]     Wilkinson, Paul, Terrorism and the Liberal State, London and Basingstoke: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1977, p. 91.

[23]      Cf., Sahni, Ajai andGeorge, J., "Security & Development in India's Northeast: An Alternative Perspective," in Faultlines: Writings on Conflict & Resolution, Volume 4, New Delhi: ICM-Bulwark Books, esp. pp. 51-67 (the paper is also available online at; also see, Sahni, Ajai, The Terrorist Economy in India's Northeast: Preliminary Explorations, unpublished paper presented at the Seminar on "Terrorism in India," organised by the Indian Council of Social Science Research on March 3-4, 2000.

[24]      These collusive arrangements are widely documented in media reports, especially during the time preceding elections. Also cf. Report of the Advocates' Committee on Naxalite Terrorism in Andhra Pradesh, op. cit.

[25]      Op. cit.

[26]     Das, Ashok, "Naxalism: Y2K problem sans solution?" op. cit. 10 crores = 100 million.

[27]      "Naxals train guns at over 120 Assembly constituencies," New Delhi: The Hindustan Times, January 9, 2000.

[28]      Cf. for instance, "Mafia carted off timber worth Rs. 550 cr. to AP," New Delhi: The Times of India, March 10, 2000.

[29]      "The Redif Interview: Their murders will be avenged," February 2, 2000,

[30]      Nalla Adi Reddy 'Shyam', E. Santosh Reddy 'Mahesh' and Seelam Naresh 'Murali', along with a fourth person were, according to the police, shot dead in an 'encounter' in the Koyyuru forest area of the Karimnagar district, AP. According to 'civil liberties groups', the three PWG leaders were actually picked up in Bangalore, taken to Hyderabad by helicopter and after "interrogation and torture", transported to the Koyyuru area and executed. Cf., for instance, Mohanty, Manoranjan, op. cit. The retaliatory violence included the murder of two Ministers, Madhya Pradesh’s Transport  Minister, Lakhiram Kawre, and Andhra Pradesh Panchayat Raj Minister A.  Madhav Reddy. The latter had served extended terms as the State's Home Minister, and was known to have adopted a 'hard-line' against the Naxalites during this period. A large number of policemen were also killed in a series of mine blasts.

[31]      Cf. Report of the Advocates' Committee on Naxalite Terrorism in Andhra Pradesh, op. cit.

[32]     Rao, Dr. Vara Vara, The Rediff Interview: Dr. Vara Vara Rao, 1997,

[33]      Crozier, Brian, A Theory of Conflict, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1974, p. 129.

[34]      The shortcomings of these approaches and their combination have been spelt out inSahni, Ajai, The Terrorist Economy in India's Northeast: Preliminary Explorations, op. cit.

[35]      Andhra Pradesh is divided into three regions: the prosperous coastal belt of the Andhra region, or what is also know as the Circars, originally part of the Madras Presidency, comprising the nine districts of Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, Vishakhapatnam, East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna, Guntur, Prakasam & Nellore; the drought prone Rayalseema region, also originally part of the Madras Presidency, comprising the four districts of Kurnool, Anantpur, Cuddapah and Chittoor; and the Telengana region, originally part of the princely Nizam State and for a short while, of the Hyderabad State, comprising Adilabad, Nizamabad, Medak, Rangareddy, Mahbubnagar, Nalgonda, Warangal, Karimnagar, Khammam and Hyderabad-Secunderabad.

[36]      "Naxal menace," New Delhi: The Hindustan Times, February 22, 2000.

[37]      Dasgupta, Biplab, The Naxalite Movement, New Delhi: Allied Publishers, 1974, pp. 16-17.

[38]      The unified organisation is now referred to as the 'CPI-ML People's War', or 'People's War', for short. However, the expression People's War and Peoples War Group (PWG) are used interchangeably in this paper.

[39]      Cf., for examples of the complex patterns of political collusion in terrorism affected States of India's Northeast, Sahni & George, op. cit., and Sahni, op. cit.

[40]      Report of the Advocates' Committee on Naxalite Terrorism in Andhra Pradesh, op. cit.

[41]     Das, Ashok, "Naxalism: Y2K problem sans solution?" op. cit.

[42]      Report of the Advocates' Committee on Naxalite Terrorism in Andhra Pradesh, op. cit.

[43]     Das, Ashok, "Naxalism: Y2K problem sans solution?" op. cit.

[44]      Muppala Lakshmana Rao 'Ganapathy' in The Rediff Interview: 'Unification is the only way to advance the cause of Indian revolution', January 30, 2000,

[45]      Ibid.

[46]      Cf. Vision 2020; Budget 1998-99; Budget: 1999-2000; AP Participatory Tribal Development Project, etc., at

[47]     Das, Ashok, "Naxalism: Y2K problem sans solution," op. cit.

[48]     Rao, R.S., quoted in Ramachandran, Rajesh, op. cit.

[49]      The Rediff Interview: Dr. Vara Vara Rao, op. cit.

[50]      The Rediff Interview: Ganapathy - Their murders will be avenged, February 2, 2000,

[51]      Report of the Advocates' Committee, op. cit.

[52]      Ibid.

[53]      22,147 square kilometres of this area lies within the Telengana region itself.

[54]      These include Kalahandi and Koraput in Orissa; Balaghat, Mandla, Rajnandgaon, Kanker, Dantewara, Sarguja, and Bastar in Madhya Pradesh; and Gadchiroli, and Bhandara in Maharashtra.

[55]      The Rediff Interview: Dr. Vara Vara Rao, op. cit.

[56]      The following discussion on the restoration and strengthening of Police Stations is based on extended conversations with K.P.S. Gill, and on his various published and unpublished writings on the subject, including "The Dangers Within: Internal Security threats" in Karnad, Bharat, Future Imperilled: India's Security in the 1990s and Beyond, New Delhi: Viking, 1994, pp. 116-131, and esp. pp. 127-131.

[57]      All figures for 1998.

[58]      The Centre is reported to have recently announced its decision to raise as many as 35 para-military battalions of the Indian Reserve Force to confront the Naxalite challenge. Cf. "Naxal violence unabated, Centre plans joint strategy," New Delhi: The Hindustan Times, December 20, 1999.





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