Urban Naxals: An Indian Lexicon for an Insurgent’s Strategy

Courtesy: Entelekheia (France)

The Naxalite movement (Left Wing Extremism) in India is an ongoing internal security crisis, originated from Naxalbari uprising of 1967 and had taken place in Naxalbari (a block of Siliguri sub-division of Darjeeling district) located in West Bengal. The movement finally took its shape after the merger of two prominent regional Communist bodies, i.e. People’s War Group (PWG) and Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI), that together formed the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in 2004. Since then, series of targeted actions have been carried out by the party through its People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) and other front organizations (such as Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (Odisha), Democratic Students Union (DSU)) to dismantle the legitimate state machinery and establish their version of People’s Democratic State in India[1]. Their economic, political, social and military objectives based on the principles of Marxism- Leninism, and Maoism. As part of their overall strategy, they target countryside, and rural hinterland that is either sparsely populated or has a substantial presence of a tribal population with an agrarian economy and then gradually move up to the cities[2]. As per Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), till April 2018, there were 106 Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected districts across ten states out of which 35 districts across seven states remain critically affected[3]. However, to date, much of their military activities have been limited to tribal and rural areas of the affected states because of massive anti-Naxal operations launched by central armed police forces supported by developmental activities.

As part of their strategy, Naxals have divided the target populace into four categories, i.e. rural proletariat, industrial proletariat, urban petty bourgeoisie, and national bourgeoisie[2]. They adjust their military and political strategy accordingly. From the beginning, their traditional recruitment grounds for fresh soldiers has been the rural hinterlands of the states that are under extreme poverty, lack necessary infrastructure and also the areas where a local tribal population has been denied their traditional dwelling rights[2]. However, lately, there have been reports of massive recruitment of child soldiers through coercion or abduction from tribal families living under their control [4][5]. Interestingly, since the last few years, they have been shifting their focus to urban areas by reaching out to urban proletariats or so-called Urban Petty Bourgeoise. This development can be seen in their Urban Perspective strategy which calls for the use of various legal democratic organizations such as student unions, non-governmental organizations, cultural bodies, and intellectual associations to penetrate, influence and spread their ideology among the masses to create a civil war-like situation in urban areas[6]. For this purpose, they also intend to use a network of activist groups across various levels of society through planned and targeted activism to expose existing social, economic and political faultline and use solidarity as an instrument to influence the psyche of the urban populace. In an insurgency environment, such strategies used as an offset against the dominant force, i.e. state machinery. Hence, the emergence of Urban Naxals is nothing new instead of a gradual extension of their strategy.

Urban Naxalism in Indian Context

The arrest of left-leaning rights activists cum intellectuals for their alleged involvement in Bhima Koregaon riots led to the emergence of the word “Urban Naxal”. It became a trend supported by the mainstream media[8]. But, the concept of urban Naxal has been in existence since long and was highlighted by the former MoS for Home Affairs (UPA-II government) in Rajya Sabha, for their alleged involvement in provoking strikes at Maruti factory in Manesar (Gurgaon)[10].

Their strategy and the mode of implementation be further corroborated from the Urban Perspective paper published by the CPI Maoist. Hence, the debate surrounding the political correctness vs political opportunity of using the word by the ruling party as a distraction from the current socio-economic issues may have some merit. Still, legitimate concerns over it as a potential threat to our national security can’t be discounted. In hybrid warfare, there are grey areas, in which organizations are seeming to work for legitimate issues harbour intentions that are quite contrary to the existing socio-political order. Incidentally, both current and the former government have acknowledged the existence of Naxals in urban areas integrated into various non-governmental institutions and political factions. Hence any generalization including using it as a pretext for realizing political vendetta is paradoxical in itself. Also, there are incidents where anti-social elements have used the name of various Naxalite groups as a cover to extort money and harass local public[13][14]. But, such an opportunity exists only in areas that are either located in any of the LWE affected states or located closed to their border[15]. Anything beyond that is bound to raise the suspicion of law enforcement and intelligence agencies regarding the veracity of red-lettered notices, that are commonly found in the village or local marketplaces of LWE affected states.

Interestingly, both the Strategy and Urban perspective document of the CPI Maoist have called for enhanced use of cyber capabilities[6] (cyber warfare) to spread their message across the societal hierarchy. Hence there is already a more significant issue to deal with.


While the objective and strategy of the CPI Maoists (aka Naxals) have been to converge their new democratic revolutionary movement from the countryside to the urban areas, by systematically creating liberated zones and by influencing the minds and hearts of both urban and rural populace through their sophisticated propaganda, they have not been successful so far. Timely intervention by the central government and its coordination with governments of the LWE affected states have inhibited the spread of communist ideology and their armed revolution. Moreover, the improvement in the global economic situation and the rise of India’s stature in the international arena has led to the aspiration of the citizenry to become a prosperous nation. This has shifted the attention of both the urban proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie elsewhere. However, the risk remains in the horizon, with Naxals as part of their overall strategy may join forces with militant groups operating in Jammu and Kashmir and North-East Indian states to create internal disturbances in parts of India.

(Written on 21/12/2018)



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