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Beyond Naxalbari: A Comparative Analysis of Maoist Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Independent India

  • Jonathan Kennedy (a1) and Sunil Purushotham (a2)


This paper demonstrates that there have been three distinct waves of Maoist insurgency in India since 1947. We construct an ideal typical model of Maoist insurgency that is used to compare the roles played by local populations, insurgents, and state counterinsurgency measures across space and time. This allows us to demonstrate that the commonly accepted narrative of Indian Maoist insurgency must be fundamentally rethought. The Naxalbari outbreak in 1967 and the subsequent insurgency in West Bengal is generally agreed to be the central point in the history of Maoist insurgency in India. But our analysis demonstrates that it was comparatively short-lived and atypical. We instead trace the genealogy of Indian Maoism to Telengana in the late 1940s. The common feature linking all three waves is the persistence of insurgent activity among various tribal or adivasi communities in the central Indian “tribal belt.” Their overriding grievances are the historically iniquitous relationships produced by the processes of state and market expansion that have incorporated and subordinated adivasi populations who previously had a large degree of socioeconomic and political autonomy. The state's counterinsurgency strategy has consisted of violence combined with developmental and governance interventions. This has pushed Maoist insurgency to the margins of Indian political life but has been unable to eliminate insurgent activity or address the fundamental grievances of adivasis. We conclude by arguing that Maoist insurgency in India should not be considered as crime to be resolved by state violence, or as an economic problem requiring the intensification of developmental measures, but as a matter of politics.


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