India: Left-wing Extremism in 2019: State of Play




In 2019, the Government of India and state governments affected by Left-wing Extremism (LWE) continued to take steps to deal with what used to be the country’s ‘biggest internal security challenge’. Today, in terms of its capacities to wreak continuous havoc on the state, the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), the forbearer of LWE, is a poor replica of its past.  However, its self-preservation efforts as well as its attempts to expand in new frontiers appear to be more successful than the official efforts to eliminate it. This report analyses the important trends and highlights the state of play with regard to LWE in India in 2019.      

(Representational Image, Courtesy: India Today)


In November 2019, Home Minister Amit Shah claimed, “We have buried Naxalism 20-feet under the earth”. Although made in context of government’s purported achievement in Jharkhand, this view largely reflects New Delhi’s sense of triumph vis-à-vis left-wing extremism (LWE). Reduction in violent incidents and drop in LWE-related deaths has been repeatedly cited, in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)’s reports and statements by ministers, in support of the claim. While the numbers do portray a story of success and the LWE could be in the weakest phase of its existence, whether it has indeed been ‘buried’ remains a question worth examination. Whether violence levels should be the only indicator to ascertain the extent of LWE influence in a district or should the government take other factors into consideration are questions that need to be probed.

Official Approach: Holistic vs piecemeal

The government terms its anti-LWE approach ‘holistic’. Implementation of the National Policy and Action Plan 2015 is said to have resulted in a dramatic decline in LWE related violence and geographic spread of LWE influence in the country. From a security point of view, 90 districts are covered under the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme whereby the central government pays for the expenses incurred in carrying out anti-LWE operations. However, only one third of these districts – 30 in seven states- are considered ‘most LWE affected’ and are supported by the Special Central Assistance (SCA) scheme with an outlay of Rupees 3000 Crores (30 billion rupees or approximately US$420 million) for the period from 2017-18 to 2019-20. Under the Scheme funds are provided to the states to fill critical gaps in public infrastructure & services. Presently 30 districts in seven states (Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Odisha and Telangana) are covered under the scheme. In 2018, ‘most-LWE affected” districts numbered 35. In 2018-19, Rupees 1000 crores (US$ 140 million) were released to these seven states under the SCA scheme.

While these financial allotments portray the intent of the government to resolve LWE, progress on the counter-insurgency (COIN) front, however, appears below par in view of the following trends.

 1. New surge in Jharkhand

Researchers have since challenged the claim by Mr. Shah and have demonstrated that far from being over, LWE actually accounted for a surge in fatalities in 2019 in Jharkhand. It has been established, on the basis of data, that while LWE could indeed be witnessing a battel for survival scenario in most of its erstwhile areas of dominance, it has managed to ‘engineer a surge’ in Jharkhand. Incidentally, Jharkhand remains one of the two states from where a significant proportion of LWE violence is reported. According to available official data in 2019 (till 15 November), 160 of the 579 incidents were reported from Jharkhand. In November 2019, three police personnel were killed in an attack carried out by the CPI-Maoist in Latehar district. In the same month, they also blew up a bridge. Incidentally, LWE continues to persist in 19 districts of the state, in spite of a huge infrastructure push by New Delhi. Under the SCA scheme focusing on infrastructure development in LWE affected states, 44 percent of the funds released to states in the last three years (2016 to 2019) has been allotted only to Jharkhand. The state has also received Rupees 243 crore (US$34 million approximately) under the SRE scheme and Special Infrastructure Scheme in the last three years.

 2. Bastion in Chhattisgarh

LWE related violent incidents and resultant fatalities have significantly declined in Chhattisgarh. In 2018, 153 civilians and security forces were killed in the state in LWE violence. In 2019, this has declined to 76 deaths in 231 incidents. However, Chhattisgarh still remains the worst extremism-affected state accounting for almost 40 percent of the total incidents and 46 percent of the fatalities among the security forces in 2019. Although security situation has significantly improved, many of its interior districts have a vast number of no-go areas under extremist dominance. Periodic security force operations have opened up hitherto affected areas to official access, yet the core areas suspected to be ensconcing outfit’s senior leadership as well as its military infrastructure, remain out of bound. In terms of reduction in fatalities Chhattisgarh does portend a promising scenario. Political leaders in the past have promised to defeat LWE in quick time. However, in real terms, the CPI-Maoist’s dominance is far from over and is unlikely to be contained in the near term.

3. Targeting of Infrastructure Projects

On 25 January 2020, a group of extremists killed a supervisor and set ablaze a JCB machine engaged in a road construction project in Jharkhand’s Bokaro district. Influence of the extremists continues to be felt in several sectors affecting New Delhi’s infrastructure push in the LWE affected areas. Several key road building projects continue to face delays. On 2 December 2019, Minister of Road Transport and Highways told the upper house of the Indian parliament that 13 ongoing works for different national highways and 19 state roads sanctioned under LWE scheme are delayed in Chhattisgarh. Non-availability of security forces to provide security to these projects, in spite of more than 70 battalions of security forces being deployed in the state, meant that the contractors limited their work only to 3 to 4 hours a day. In the past, some roads have been laid / repaired and have been opened for vehicular traffic. Few schools have opened in erstwhile extremist affected areas. And yet, these remain isolated instances of progress.

4. Cadre Preservation

Official assessments portray the CPI-Maoist as a decaying extremist movement. In its rare statements, even the CPI-Maoist has spoken of the challenges faced by the ‘party’ as a result of surrenders, arrests and deaths of its cadres. However, even in this state of absolute weakness during which the CPI-Maoist may not be recruiting too many, it could still be commanding thousands of armed cadres. It appears that the CPI-Maoist could have been exaggerating its operational weakness in order to deflate attention of the security forces and provide them with a false sense of triumph. Neutralization of extremists alone cannot be considered to be the most effective method of ending violent extremism. However, even in this field the security forces may not have performed exceptionally well in the past years. In 2019 (till 15 November), for instance, 72 extremists were killed in Chhattisgarh, a huge decline from 125 killings in 2018. Incidents of surrender of extremists too have fallen across all the affected states, barring Maharashtra. Compared to 644 surrenders in 2018, only 390 extremists gave up arms in 2019 (till 15 November). The difference is even more stark when compared to 2016 when 1442 surrenders had been reported.

5. Forays into the South

The fact that the CPI-Maoist is not in an exclusively preservation mode and could actually be looking at expanding its influence is clear from a series of events that have taken place in three southern states of Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. A number of killings and arrests of the outfit’s functionaries in 2019 have bolstered earlier intelligence reports indicating its continued push to expand into these southern Indian states. Four Maoists including a cadre of Tamil Nadu and another from Karnataka were killed in October 2019 in Palakkad in Kerala. In May 2019, Karnataka identified 12 Maoist cadres who could be involved in a series of subversive activities inside the state. In November, Ramlu Korsa alias Deepak was arrested by the Special Task Force (STF) from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. Korsa was a member of the CPI-Maoist’s battalion-1 armed unit and was active in Chhattisgarh till 2012. These three states do not immediately face the scenario of being overwhelmed by extremist violence, but could serve as areas for gradual build up and consolidation by the outfit.

Conclusion: Limits of ‘emergency response paradigm’

Ever since the birth of the CPI-Maoist, security experts have repeatedly labelled the official anti-LWE response being trapped in an ‘emergency response paradigm’. An analysis of the contemporary official response underscores the continuation of the same approach. The government responds to only an incident of violence and in its absence, extremism is allowed to fester. It is also clear that even this preferred force centric COIN response continues to suffer from a range of deficiencies. For instance, an alarmingly large number of police stations in various states lack basic infrastructure like telephones. Central forces are deployed and arbitrarily relocated for other duties resulting in the lack of sustained pressure on the extremists. This not only prolongs the lifespan of extremism, but allows the outfit to even seek expansion. In the context of LWE, 2019 is bound to go down as yet another unremarkable year in the history of India’s COIN achievements.

(Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray is Director of Mantraya. This analysis is published as part of Mantraya’s ongoing “Mapping Terror and Insurgent Network” and “Fragility, Conflict & Peace Building” projects. Mantraya analyses are peer reviewed publications. The author can be contacted at