For the last 40 years, India has been plagued by a Maoist rebellion, which the Indian government seems to lack the will or the competence to extinguish.
Dubbed ‘Naxalites’ after a town in West Bengal called Naxalbari, which was home to a Maoist uprising some 40 years ago, these rebels have steadily expanded their numbers and their influence to the extent that today they engage in ‘operations’ in 14 of India’s 29 states. The origins and largest concentrations of the Naxalite movement lie in India’s eastern states, particularly those of Andrha Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkand and West Bengal.
Rebel activities include such standard tactics as attacks on government security forces, assassination of political leaders and attacks against government aid and relief efforts aimed at caring for those displaced by the fighting. Naxalites have also set up parallel governments in the rural areas controlled by their forces, with the ultimate objective being the ousting of the Indian Parliament.
By some estimates the total Naxalite armed force consists of around 20,000 soldiers supported by local militia units. While this number seems fairly insignificant when compared to number of troops the Indian government has at its disposal, the Naxalites have displayed the ability to concentrate their forces and easily overwhelm local police units, showing that while the movement lacks the strength to oust the government, in a crisis situation the Naxalites may indeed be capable of seizing a significant portion of eastern India and setting up a Maoist state.
India’s government has not been blind to this threat. In fact, PM Singh has called the Naxalites, "The single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country." However, efforts by the government to quell the uprising have met with mixed results. Special para-military police units have had local success in killing and capturing hundreds of fighters as well as Naxalite leaders. But despite these setbacks, the Naxalite movement has continued to grow and expand.
The Indian national government must engage in counter-insurgency operations in all affected areas and halt the spread of the Maoist rebellion. Failure to do so in the long term could lead to an all-out civil war pitting the rural poor of India against the urban upper classes. Local governments lack the resources and ability to conduct these operations; a concerted national and sustained effort is required.