BOMBAY — A bold attempt by Maoist rebels to assassinate an Indian chief minister earlier this month highlights the enduring - and in some cases growing - presence of violent leftist insurgencies in India.
Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, escaped with minor injuries Oct. 1 when rebels of the People's War Group detonated nine explosives athis passing motorcade.
"It was a judicious move to eliminate a person who has been perpetuating state-sponsored violence," the Maoist group said in a statement. Mr. Naidu, an economic reformer, has taken a hard line against leftist groups. The threat was renewed again on Oct. 10.
Naidu narrowly missed becoming the most recent casualty in one of the many armed rebellions that have raged within India since the British left in 1947. The leftist insurgency has cost more than 4,500 lives in Andhra Pradesh since 1990, according to the South Asia Intelligence Review. Statistics weren't available for the other eight states where the rebels have a presence.
The leftist insurgency in India is broadly termed the Naxalite movement, named for a 1967 peasant uprising in West Bengal. It is fueled by ineffective and corrupt governance, entrenched feudalism, and militant ideology, analysts say.
"At the heart, it's a land war between the upper class and the lower classes," says V. Balachandran, a former deputy director of India's foreign-intelligence agency.
Other analysts add a less quantifiable factor: respect. "The Naxalite movement promised land and social dignity. One cannot be removed from the other," says author Prakash Louis, who has studied the movement.
And so even as elected communists hold seats in India's Parliament and in many state legislatures, the Naxalites continue a daily war, waiting for the day they can march on New Delhi as Mao marched on Beijing.
There are concerns that Maoist rebels in Nepal are finding common cause with groups here. India's two main leftist insurgent groups have increased cooperation with Maoist rebels who control much of Nepal, sharing arms, training sites, and sanctuary.
Captured documents cited by the Indian home ministry describe a strategy by the People's War Group, the Maoist Communist Center, and Communist Party of Nepal to create a liberated "compact revolutionary zone'' stretching across four Indian states, to Nepal. The state of Bihar, home to the violent Maoist Communist Center, recently moved to increase the number of police guarding its northern border with Nepal.
One explanation for the movement's tenacity may lie in its birthplace.
West Bengal went from being a hotbed of Naxalite violence to a state where the movement's strength is minimal. The state brutally suppressed its rebels in the 1960s and 70s and in 1978 began two decades of sweeping land reforms by the elected communist government. More than 3 million tenant farmers gained rights over more than 2 million acres of farmland, a boon that farmers in other Indian states have yet to see.
"Land reform in West Bengal stole a big issue from the Naxalites," Mr. Balachandran says.
In the impoverished rural districts controlled by the People's War Group, the rebels keep local support by dispensing "instant justice," Balachandran says. "When there's a dispute, they call the parties together and the punishment is given right away," he says. "The villagers seem to like it very much. If you go to the police they will side with the landowner."
In Bihar, where the Maoist Communist Center holds sway in seven of 35 districts, low-caste villagers "walk with their heads held high," free of abuse and assault by high-caste men, Mr. Louis says. Farm wages are 30 to 35 rupees a day, higher than the legally mandated minimum wage of 25 rupees (about 50 cents).
At the same time, Naxalite violence has largely continued, with a steady toll of attacks on police, politicians, and uncooperative villagers.
The rebels survive through extortion of landowners and businessmen. They have "redistributed" 350,000 acres of farmland, but most has lain fallow, untilled by landlords who fear the Maoists and peasants who fear the police.
Analysts say they see little hope for a political resolution, noting the intractable ideology of the Maoists, which rejects elections, and a hard line by the government.
"They are very clear," Louis says of the Maoists. "A classless society cannot be approached through nonviolent means."
Balachandran agrees. "No amount of dialogue will bring them back into the mainstream," he says.