The Interior Ministry of India recently announced plans to form a 10,000-strong elite fighting force trained to counter guerilla-warfare tactics. The ministry says it intends to deploy this force against the revolutionary forces led by the Communist Party of India–Maoist (CPI–Maoist).
CPI–Maoist activists, who have waged an armed struggle in the countryside for decades, have recently increased their presence in major cities, including New Delhi, the capital. They have been able to embed themselves in popular urban struggles in part by forming mass organizations and alliances with other revolutionary-minded groups.
Indian police agencies have expressed particular concern about the foothold the Maoist party has been gaining in two industrial belts encompassing eight cities, including Bhilai, Ranchi and Kolkata along with Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Many of these industrial cities are Indian state capitals and all are hubs of industry and commerce.
The revolutionaries called a 24-hour armed strike in five rural eastern Bihar districts on July 11 to protest the arrest and torture of a popular area commander. Guerilla actions by the CPI–Maoist paralyzed train traffic for the day.
The CPI–Maoist’s armed wing, the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA), has grown to over 22,000 full-time combatants. According to India’s own top security officials, the revolutionaries have upgraded their weapons, started to encircle urban areas from liberated zones in the countryside, and have been engaging in increasing frontal attacks on state security forces. (Reuters, July 15)
The government’s decision to raise an elite force of anti-insurgent fighters follows a string of military and political advances by the revolutionaries.
On July 16 the PLGA ambushed a security vehicle in Orissa, killing 24 police officers. Two weeks earlier the rebels successfully attacked and sank a police boat, killing at least 36 anti-insurgency police, on the same day that they ambushed a police patrol in Jharkhand, killing three police and wounding four others. Hundreds of PLGA fighters also coordinated armed attacks on government offices and police stations in Bihar on the day of the strike.
Forty years of armed struggle The Maoist revolutionaries in India trace their struggle to a 1967 peasant rebellion in the West Bengal town of Naxalbari. The past 40 years have been spent uniting many of the various revolutionary groupings and building up their rural bases.
Recent events in India indicate they have made significant advances in uniting sections of the popular movement, advancing the struggle in some urban areas and fighting the repressive state forces.
India has many left parties and groups, a number of which have strong anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist politics. However, the largest parties that call themselves communist abandoned revolutionary politics long ago and turned to parliamentarism. Some have participated in the administration of various Indian states, settling for meager reforms while accommodating to capitalist class rule.
The Maoists have taken a different road. Through revolutionary struggle, they have gained control of a whole swath of territory in India known as the Red Corridor. This corridor runs through 12 states, beginning at Uttar Pradesh and Bihar on the border of Nepal and continuing south through West Bengal, Jharkhand, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh to Tamil Nadu, at the tip of the Indian subcontinent. Inside the Red Corridor the revolutionaries levy taxes, operate schools and health clinics, and administer revolutionary courts to provide justice against reactionary landlords and capitalists.
The CPI–Maoist has close relations with revolutionaries in neighboring Nepal, where the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) recently placed first in that country’s Constituent Assembly elections after a decade of armed struggle and two years of street protests.
Popular support for armed struggle in any given country is in part a reflection of the material conditions workers and peasants are forced to endure at the hands of the capitalist state.
India’s masses are burdened by the weight of a rigid caste system that creates extreme inequality. Despite the country’s rapid industrial growth, which has strengthened the ruling class and created a more privileged high-tech sector within the workforce, 35 percent of the population was living below the national poverty line in 2003. Forty percent cannot read or write. Infant mortality exceeds 32 deaths per 1,000 live births and epidemics of bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis and typhoid fever pose recurring threats to the poor and oppressed.
The success of the CPI–Maoist in battling state police forces, providing health care and education, and exacting justice against corrupt and tyrannical landlords has earned it respect and support from a large section of India’s workers and peasants.