The biggest attack ever by Naxalites -- as the ultra-Left militants are called in India -- rocked Bihar on Sunday. Thousands of uniformed militants of the Communist Party of India-Maoist hit Jehanabad district with crude bombs, dynamites and landmines.
They blew up the Jehanabad police station, and stormed the jail, freeing more than 300 prisoners, including many fellow guerrillas. The rebels entered the town in small groups, cut off power, and killed over a dozen people, including three policemen. Latest reports say the Naxalites have started executing prisoners from the rival Ranvir Sena.
If you are wondering just who these shadowy killers are, and what they want, read on:
Who are the Naxalites?
They are members of the three main Leftist extremist groups -- the Communist Party-Marxist Leninist, the People's War, and the Maoist Communist Centre. The guerrillas who attacked Jehanabad are from the MCC, which is based in Bihar.
What do they want?
Like other Left-wing extremist groups, the Naxalites in Bihar and other parts of India want to establish a 'people's government' through a 'people's war'. Bihar, which is plagued by caste inequalities and stark poverty, is a happy hunting ground for the red rebels.
In the state, the Naxalites are locked in bloody conflict with the Ranvir Sena, a private militia of upper cast landowners in Jehanabad, Gaya and Bhojpur districts.
Which are the states worst hit by Naxal violence?
The red rebels are active in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
A Union home ministry report on Naxalism lists Andhra, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh as the worst affected, while Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, UP and West Bengal are partially affected.
The magnitude of the threat is underscored by the fact that as many as 156 districts in these states are officially listed as 'affected by Naxalite violence'.
'The Left-wing extremist groups have been making concerted efforts to militarise their cadres -- through formation of special guerrilla squads -- and extend their activities over larger areas of the country,' the home ministry report says.
Just how violent are the Naxals?
The Left-wing extremist groups, according to the home ministry findings, continue to perpetuate the second largest number of violent incidents and killings in India. The first: militants in strife-torn Jammu and Kashmir, who have slain thousands of innocents and security personnel.
Home ministry records say Naxals have killed some 780 people in 2,480 violent incidents in various states across the country in the last one year.
Are Indian Maoists linked with the Maoists in Nepal?
Nepal has been in the grip of a Maoist insurgency for a while now. Most of that country's 75 districts are now under the control of Left extremists. Indian intelligence agencies also point out that the CPML, the PW and the MCC have been successful in establishing close links with the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist. Indian police say that Nepalese rebels are entering India to take shelter and seek medical treatment.
Naxalites in India have tied up with the Maoist insurgents in Nepal to carve out what they call a Compact Revolutionary Zone to Nepal through Bihar and Andhra Pradesh.
Indian officials say districts bordering the India-Nepal border have also become very vulnerable. In 2001, nine Naxal outfits of India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka joined hands to form an umbrella organisation, the Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organisations. Their goal: To unify and coordinate the activities of the Maoist parties and organisations in South Asia.
What has the Indian government done to curb Naxal violence?
The Central government has so far been reimbursing only security related expenditure to the Naxal-affected states. In the last five years, the Centre has approximately released more than Rs 150 crore to the nine states to tackle Naxal violence.
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