Operation Steeplechase










Combined operation against Naxalites


The Naxalite–Maoist insurgency, officially referred to as the Left Wing Extremism (LWE),[irrelevant citation] is an ongoing conflict between Maoist groups known as Naxalites or Naxals (a group of communists supportive of Maoist political sentiment and ideology) and the Indian government. The influence zone of LWE is called the Red corridor, which has been steadily declining in terms of geographical coverage and number of violent incidents, and in 2021 it was confined to the 25 “most affected” locations (accounting for 85% of LWE violence) and 70 “total affected” districts across 10 states in two coal-rich, remote, forested hilly clusters in and around the Dandakaranya-Chhattisgarh-Odisha region and the tri-junction area of Jharkhand-Bihar and-West Bengal. The Naxalites have frequently targeted tribal, police, and government workers in what they say is a fight for improved land rights and more jobs for neglected agricultural laborers and the poor.

The armed wing of the Naxalite–Maoists is called the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) and is estimated to have between 6,500 and 9,500 cadres in 2013, mostly equipped with small arms. The Naxalites claim that they are following a strategy of rural rebellion similar to a protracted people’s war against the government. The insurgency started after the 1967 Naxalbari uprising led by Charu Majumdar, Kanu Sanyal, and Jangal Santhal. Their origin can be traced to the Communist Party of India split in 1967, leading to the creation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist). After in-party fighting and counter-measures taken by the government, the CPI(ML) split into many smaller factions carrying out terrorist attacks mostly in the Red corridor areas.

Naxalism is largely active in tribal and rural areas of India which are remote and under-developed, and experts have advocated ethical governance, development, and security as the solution.





The term Naxal comes from the village Naxalbari in West Bengal where the Naxalbari uprising of 1967 occurred. People who are engaged in the insurgency are called Naxals or Naxalite. The movement itself is referred to as Naxalism.



Naxalites are a group of far-left radical communists, supportive of Maoist political sentiment and ideology. Their origin can be traced to the splitting in 1967 of the Communist Party of India, leading to the formation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist). Initially, the movement had its center in West Bengal. In recent years, it has spread into less developed areas of rural central and eastern India, such as Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh through the activities of underground groups like the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Dalits and other lower-caste members have also joined the militant movement.

In 2007, it was estimated that Naxalites were active across “half of India’s 29 states” and account for about 40 percent of India’s geographical area, an area known as the “Red Corridor”, where according to estimates they had influence over 92,000 square kilometers. In 2009, Naxalites were active across approximately 180 districts in ten states of India In August 2010, Karnataka was removed from the list of Naxal-affected states In July 2011, the number of Naxal-affected areas was reduced to (including the proposed addition of 20 districts) 83 districts across nine states.





The LWE is characterised by the following 3 distinct phases, “Phase 1 (1967–1973)” – the formative phase, “Phase 2 (1967–the late 1990s)” – the era of the spread of LWE, and “Phase 3 (2004–Current)” – relative decline after brief fightback.

Phase 1 (1967–1973) – the formative phase”:

LWE Movement originated from the Naxalbari uprising which was started in 1967 at Naxalbari by the radical faction of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M). In 1969 the radical left CPI-M formed the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) (CPI
), they recruited students and launched widespread violence in West Bengal against the “class enemies” (such as landlords, businessmen, university teachers, police officers, politicians of the right and left) and others. Consequently, in 1971, Indira Gandhi launched Operation Steeplechase – a large-scale anti-insurgency army operation against the Naxalites during the President’s rule during which hundreds of Naxalites were killed and 20,000 were imprisoned.


“Phase 2 (1967–the late 1990s) – the spread of LWE”:

During this phase, LWE spread to India except in Western India, and in 1980 Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People’s War (People’s War Group) was founded, and the Greyhounds counterinsurgency task force was formed by the government of Andhra Pradesh.


“Phase 3 (2004–present) – relative decline after brief fightback’:

PWG and the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI) merged to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in 2004. It went into a slow decline due to the all-out Operation Green Hunt by the Indian state, and the death toll and violence increased during the brief fightback by Naxals in 2009 and 2010, Since then LWE has been consistently declining in its geographical spread, cadre strength and number of violent incidences while the government
infrastructure development has picked up the pace.



Communist Party of India


On 22 April 1969, the AICCCR gave birth to the CPI (ML). The party was formed by the radicals of the CPI-M like Majumdar and Saroj Dutta. Practically all Naxalite groups trace their origin to the CPI (ML). The first party congress was held in Calcutta in 1970. A Central Committee was elected. In 1971 Satyanarayan Singh revolted against the leadership, “individual killing of people branded as class enemy” and sectarianism of Majumdar. The result became that the party was split into two, one CPI (ML) led by Satyanarayan Singh and one CPI (ML) led by Majumdar.

In 1972, frail and broken Majumdar died of multiple diseases in police custody presumably as a result of torture; his death accelerated the fragmentation of the movement. After his death, a series of splits took place during the major part of the 1970s. The Naxalite movement suffered a period of extremely harsh repression that rivaled the Dirty Wars of South America at the same time that the movement got all more fragmented. After Majumdar’s death, the CPI (ML) central committee split into pro-and anti-Majumdar factions. In December 1972 the Central Committee of the pro-Charu Majumdar CPI (ML) led by Sharma and Mahadev Mukherjee adopted a resolution to follow the line of Charu Majumdar unconditionally which others did not agree to. The pro-Charu Majumdar CPI (ML) later split into pro-and anti-Lin Biao factions. The pro-Lin Biao faction became known as the Communist Party of India and the anti-Lin Biao group later became known as the Communist Party of India
Liberation and was led by Jauhar, Vinod Mishra, Swadesh Bhattacharya. As a result of both external repression and a failure to maintain internal unity, the movement degenerated into extreme sectarianism.



Violence in West Bengal


Around 1971 the Naxalites gained a strong presence among the radical sections of the student movement in Calcutta. Students left school to join the Naxalites. Majumdar, to entice more students into his organization, declared that revolutionary warfare was to take place not only in the rural areas as before but now everywhere and spontaneously. Thus Majumdar declared an “annihilation line”, a dictum that Naxalites should assassinate individual “class enemies” (such as landlords, businessmen, university teachers, police officers, politicians of the right and left) and others.

The chief minister, Siddhartha Shankar Ray of the Congress Party, instituted strong counter-measures against the Naxalites. The West Bengal police fought back to stop the Naxalites. The house of Somen Mitra, the Congress MLA of Sealdah, was allegedly turned into a torture chamber where Naxals were incarcerated illegally by police and the Congress cadres. CPI(M) cadres were also involved in clashes with the Naxals. After suffering losses and facing the public rejection of Majumdar’s “annihilation line”, the Naxalites alleged human rights violations by the West Bengal police, who responded that the state was effectively fighting a civil war and that democratic pleasantries had no place in a war, especially when the opponent did not fight within the norms of democracy and civility.



Operation Steeplechase


In July 1971, Indira Gandhi took advantage of President’s rule to mobilise the Indian Army against the Naxalites and launched a colossal combined army and police counter-insurgency operation, termed “Operation Steeplechase” killing hundreds of Naxalites and imprisoning more than 20,000 suspects and cadres, including senior leaders. The paramilitary forces and a brigade of para commandos also participated in Operation Steeplechase. The operation was choreographed in October 1969, and Lt. General J.F.R. Jacob was enjoined by Govind Narain, the Home Secretary of India, that “there should be no publicity and no records” and Jacob’s request to receive the orders in writing was also denied by Sam Manekshaw.

By the 1970s the government led many crackdowns on the movement and by 1973 the main cadres of the Naxalites had been eliminated and were dead or behind bars. The movement fractured into more than 40 separate small groups. As a result, instead of popular armed struggle in the countryside, individual terrorism in Calcutta became a principal method of struggle.



Red corridor – LWE affected area


By July 2021, the number of “most affected” and “total affected” districts had come down to 25 (accounting for 85% of the LWE violence in India) and 70 respectively from 35 and 126 in April 2018. This is a significant reduction from the peak in 2007–09 when Naxalites were active in 180 districts in ten states of India, an area known as the “Red Corridor”, which accounts for 40 percent of India’s geographical area spread over 92,000 sqm. Most Naxal violence is now concentrated in 2 clusters, the first in and around forested remote hilly areas of Dandakaranya spread across Chhattisgarh and neighbouring states, and the second in the tri-border of Jharkhand-Bihar-West Bengal (areas west of Howrah)

In 2021, the Naxalites operated mainly in the states of Jharkhand (14 affected districts), Bihar (10), Odisha (5), Chhattisgarh (10), Madhya Pradesh (8), West Bengal (8), Maharashtra (2) and Andhra Pradesh, which are listed below:

Jharkhand-Bihar-West Bengal cluster
Jharkhand (14 districts): Bokaro, Chatra, Garhwa, Giridih, Gumla, Hazaribagh, Khunti, Latehar, Lohardaga, Palamu, Ranchi, Simdega West, Singhbhum
Bihar (10 districts): Gaya, Jamui, Lakhisarai
West Bengal (8 districts): Jungle Mahals area and Lalgarh are the worst affected by Maoist violence.
Dandakaranya-Chhattisgarh-Odisha cluster
Chhattisgarh (10 districts): Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, Rajnandgaon, Sukma.
Odisha (5 districts): Koraput, Malkangiri
Maharashtra (2 districts): Gadchiroli, Gondia
Andhra Pradesh: Visakhapatnam
Telangana: Bhadradri, Kothagudem


Sustainment of the Naxal movement


In terms of recruitment, the Naxalites focus heavily on the idea of a revolutionary personality, and in the early years of the movement, Charu Majumdar expressed how this type of persona is necessary for maintaining and establishing loyalty among the Naxalites. According to Majumdar, he believed the essential characteristics of a recruit must be selflessness and the ability to self-sacrifice, and in order to produce such a specific personality, the organization began to recruit students and youth. In addition to entrenching loyalty and a revolutionary personality within these new insurgents, Naxalites chose the youth due to other factors. The organization selected the youth because these students represented the educated section of Indian society, and the Naxalites felt it necessary to include educated insurgents because these recruits would then be crucial in the duty of spreading the communist teachings of Mao Zedong. In order to expand their base, the movement relied on these students to spread communist philosophy to the uneducated rural and working-class communities. Majumdar believed it necessary to recruit students and youth who were able to integrate themselves with the peasantry and working classes, and by living and working in similar conditions to these lower-class communities, the recruits are able to carry the communist teachings of Mao Zedong to villages and urban centers.



Action was taken by the state


Infrastructure and social development projects


Three main schemes, the “Special Central Assistance” (SCA) scheme, the “Security Related Expenditure” (SRE) scheme, and the “Special Infrastructure Scheme” (SIS) have been launched for the economic development of LWE-affected areas. As of July 2021, INR 2,698 crore (US$375 million) has been released for 10,000 SCA projects, of which 85% were already complete. SRE is especially aimed at the “Most affected” districts, under which INR1,992 crore (US276 million) has been released since 2014. Under this scheme various projects have been approved, including 17,600 km of roads in two phases of which phase-I of 9,343 km is already complete, 2343 out of 5000 new mobile towers are already operational, and the remaining will be operational by December 2022, 119 out of 234 approved new Eklavya Model Residential Schools (EMRS) are already operational, remaining 1789 post offices out of total 3114 will be ready by mid-2022, 1077 ATMs and 1236 bank branches with 14,230 banking correspondents for the financial inclusion of people affected by the LWE have been operationalized. 400 fortified police stations have been established under the SIS at the cost of INR 1006 crore (US$140 million). In addition, funds have been released for the schemes to hire helicopters, media plans, police-public community activities, relations, etc.

As of July 2021, Madhya Pradesh has formed 23,113 women self-help groups in LWE districts covering 274,000 families, loans to tribals were waved, land rights and land ownership documents to tribals were granted, and 18 industries that will provide employment to 4000 people are being established.

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