13 November, 2011

Urban perspective of the Maoists: an analysis

Centre for Land Warfare Studies
Article #1996, Nov 13, 2011


Incalculable harm was done to the Naxalite movement of the late 1960s and early 70s due to the wrong strategic evaluation of then leaders of the insurrection. Their defective understanding of urban warfare and penchant of initiating a bloody confrontation with the administration in the cities led to their abysmal show. However, after the grand merger of the two major Naxal splinter groups in 2004, a series of bulky documents from the side of the Maoists have made their way into the public domain which speaks volumes of their refined doctrinal position vis-à-vis strategy and tactics, especially for urban areas.

Out of those documents, two merit serious attention and analyses. The first is the “Strategy and Tactics of Indian Revolution” prepared in September, 2004 (henceforth STIR). And the other one came out three years later; termed the “Urban Perspective: Our Work in Urban Areas” (henceforth UPUA). In the backdrop of a recent spate of arrests of Maoist activists from urban areas and cities; it appears that a re-reading of the two documents to decipher the long term strategy of the Indian Maoists has become a necessity.

In STIR, the Maoists stress on the large concentration of the petite bourgeoisie in urban areas of India. It is no wonder that the rebels are still basing their revolutionary tactics on the lower middle class of the Indian society as the French had done on the Sans-culottes in 1789. Further, in STIR, they write with Marxian moorings: “We should not forget the dialectical relationship between the development of the urban movement and the development of the armed agrarian revolutionary war.”

The Maoists admit through STIR that: “In the absence of a strong revolutionary urban movement, the growth of the people’s war will face limitations and difficulties in its advancement”. The pressing question in this context is how the urban work of the Maoists will aid and abet their ongoing rural insurrection?

The answer, though was stated in STIR itself, is far more conspicuous and resolute in UPUA of 2007. The document reads thus: “Working class leadership is the indispensable condition for the new Democratic Revolution (NDR) in India. Working class has to send its advanced detachments to rural areas.” [Section 3.1.1, p 17, UPUA]

Thus, being the centers of concentration of the industrial proletariat (industrial workers), urban areas play an important part in the political strategy of the NDR. The task of the party in urban areas is to mobilize and organise the proletariat in performing its crucial leadership role.

According to the Indian Maoists, “the specific characteristics of revolutionary war in India is to determine the military strategy as that of protracted people’s war – of establishing revolutionary base areas  first in the countryside where the enemy (read the government) is militarily weak and then to gradually surround and capture the cities which are bastions of the enemy forces.” [UPUA]

Thus it is clear from the Maoists’ document that the armed struggle and the movement in the rural areas will play the primary role; whereas the work in the cities will play a secondary role, complementary to the rural work.

In fact, legendary Mao Tse-tung had said: “the final objective of the revolution is the capture of the cities, the enemy’s main bases, and this objective cannot be achieved without adequate work in the cities.” The charismatic Che Guevara too opines: “The importance of the urban struggle is extraordinary.”
The Maoists assess that presently, India has a larger proportion of the population in urban areas and a much larger working class than at the time of the Chinese revolution. This increases the relative importance of urban work in the particular conditions of the Indian revolution.

Nevertheless, in cities, the counter-insurgency state forces are very strong and hence the Maoists are careful while establishing bases.  Nevertheless, since a steady supply of urban cadre is necessary to fulfill the needs of the rural movement and to fuel the protracted people’s war, establishment of urban bases is imperative for the Maoists. [Section, p 65, UPUA]

Urban Guerrilla War is far-off

The main challenges that the Maoists face in the urban areas are:
1.   Democratic party-system is well entrenched in the cities and urban areas and hence it is extremely tedious to dent the political ethos in cities and towns.
2.   Extremely strong administrative machinery exists in these regions and thus counterinsurgency repression assumes gargantuan proportions.
    The trade unions, which are potential fertile regions of fomenting dissatisfaction amongst the urban proletariat; already has established political parties ensconced in.The presence of the Maoists in key industries like defence production, telecom, etc is poor. 

Undoubtedly, an urban base provides logistical support to the armed struggle, i.e. technical and medical help. It further helps to send cadre to rural areas. The Maoists also plan to infiltrate into enemy organizations like the police, para-military and military in these populous regions. They attempt to do so by conducting propaganda warfare; viz. upholding the problems of the ordinary constables and soldiers.

A favourable condition exists in the urban areas of India for the building of broad mass fronts against the state structures. At least that is the evaluation of the Indian Maoists as articulated through UPUA. It may be inferred that the Maoists are venturing into the Indian cities with obvious intentions of solidifying and extending their networks and in addition to that, they are in the process of colluding with other terrorist outfits based in the Northeast, Bangladesh and Nepal, which have grave security implications for the Indian state.

In STIR, the rebels stress on forming secret party units in the bastis and slums of the urban areas. Their main focus is that of mass political mobilization by inculcating the leadership qualities in the urban working class: the real class, according to Karl Marx, which possesses the ‘consciousness’ of revolution.

The Maoists have realized their folly in the early part of their revolution when they were drastic in having a showdown with the police in the urban areas. Hence, they warn their comrades in STIR: “we cannot and should not, at this stage of the revolution, organize for armed offensive with the state in the urban areas…..”

They accord special emphasis on small towns, small mining centres and areas in the vicinity of their base areas and guerrilla zones. They focus on the formation of both open and secret defence teams to resist state repression.

Party Structure in Urban Areas

The basic task of the Communist Party of India (Maoists) in the urban domain is to deal with the problem of coordination between open and secret work. Another chief component is to retain contacts between city organisation and leadership in the rural areas – the heartland of the insurgency.

In urban areas, they seem to, as per STIR, adhere to the principle of ‘political centralization and organizational decentralization’. That is, their Central Committee contemplates small squad-level groups which would be matured enough to take decisions independently, but along party lines. The squad leaders need not refer to the party high command for all minor issues and day-to-day work.

In UPUA (p 12), they acknowledge that their party’s work and organisation in the cities/towns is extremely weak and generally cannot achieve a dominant position till the final stages of the people’s war. This ‘objective reality’ forces the Maoists to determine a ‘mellowed-down’ long-term policy for urban areas.
However, there have been arrests made by the Indian Police (between 2007-11), of prominent Maoist leaders from cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Thane, Nasik, Kolkata, Chandigarh and other urban areas. These are pointers to the fact that the ultras are spreading their wings in cities, more so, after the publication of the UPUA.

So, what is the long-term strategy of the Maoists with regard to urban areas?
1.   They would hardly adopt a short-term approach of direct confrontation with the state forces in order to achieve ‘quick results’.
T  Thus, the threat perception to Indian cities in the form of what we face from the cross-border terrorists is highly unlikely.
    Urban terrorism accompanies a substantial amount of collateral damage. That acts as a dampener for the Maoists to go for a Lashkar-esque operation in the cities because such sporadic and wanton acts of terror would create disconnect between the left-wing ultras and the masses: a situation they totally detest.
    The Maoists are concentrating on a long-term approach of solidifying their bases in the urban areas.
    If at all they have a short-term goal; that has to be to use their urban bases in supplying spare parts, medicines, arms, recruits and ideologues to the rural guerrilla zones.
    To further the military objective of the revolution, the Maoists are and surely would strengthen their cyber-warfare strategy.
    Propaganda through student-worker organizations would be the mainstay of their strategy for the time being.
    Their rural insurgency is in the stage of strategic defense. So, they would very likely continue the above discussed strategy in the urban areas till the rural insurgency reaches the stage of strategic offense.
    Till then, the Maoists would try hard to penetrate the white-collar employees, intellectuals and youth so as to bolster their insurgency.

While evaluating the Iraqi insurgency (2003-06), Major Edward Brady in his thesis submitted at the Maxwell Air Force base, Alabama in June 2008; rightly assesses that urban areas provide access to the insurgents to soft targets that could be attacked by small cells. Moreover, easy sanctuaries are provided to the insurgents to thrive in the cities. However, we may safely hypothesize that keeping in mind their historic failure in the 1970s, the Maoists would be reluctant to enact a Baghdad-type insurgency in Indian cities at this stage of their revolution.

Nevertheless, it always could happen that if the top leadership of the Maoists is annihilated by targeted killings/incarcerations, then a breakaway faction could unleash ghastly acts of terror emulating the cross-border militants. That will probably be a cost which we might have to incur in return of the decimation of the insurgency.

In the meantime, police ought to step up its human intelligence network and continue to nab the urban outfits of the Maoists as they had been doing for some time recently. Panic buttons need not be pressed right now. But cognizance must be made of the fact that the spread of the Maoists in the sprawling towns and cities of India could shape up as a major destabilising parameter in the future. 


1. http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/maoist/documents/papers/Urbanperspective.htm

2. http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/maoist/documents/papers/strategy.htm

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