Mains Articles

Economic Determinants of the Maoist Conflict in India [Mains Article]

The importance of economic factors in explaining changes in the intensity of the conflict might appear at odds with the lack of robust predictors of Maoist-related violence in a cross section of districts.
By IT's Mains Articles Team
October 21, 2017


  • Introduction
  • Grave Concerns
  • Economic Determinants of the Maoist Conflict in India
  • Conclusion

Economic Determinants of the Maoist Conflict in India [Mains Article]

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GS (M) Paper-3: “Linkages between development and spread of extremism.”



  • Economic deprivation is largely believed to be the root cause of India’s Maoist movement.
  • Evidence from a district-level data set on Maoist conflict indicates that the relationship between underdevelopment and Maoist activity cannot be explained in simple economic terms.


Grave Concerns

  • Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, almost decade ago famously characterised that India’s Naxalite movement was by the then as the single biggest internal security challenge.
  • The conflict continues, having claimed more than 7,000 lives between 2005 and 2017 (SATP 2017).
  • Both the Maoist rebels and the security forces seem engaged in a cycle of violence, with ordinary citizens caught in the middle, suffering losses of lives, livelihoods, and living in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.
  • It is widely accepted that the Maoist-affected regions are trapped within a vicious circle in which economic hardship and conflict reinforce each other.

Economic Determinants of the Maoist Conflict in India

Economic Determinants of the Maoist Conflict in India

State-level Results

  • Maoist movement is active in a contiguous set of states while some states are affected infrequently.
  • While Maoist violence has affected almost all districts of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and has claimed a large number of lives even in proportion to the total state population, other states like Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh have seen a small number of incidents in a limited number of districts.
  • When growth trends are compared between affected and non-affected states; The states that are most severely affected by Maoist activity are clearly poorer, the growth patterns are remarkably similar. At the state level, there is no evidence that the Maoist-affected regions have been “left out” of India’s growth experience.

District-level Analysis

  • Maoist-affected districts suffer from underdevelopment. They are significantly less literate, have less access to electricity, and lower road connectivity. They are also more forested, less densely populated, and have a higher share of the Scheduled Tribe (ST) population.

Human Development and Social Status

  • At first place, poor literacy does not seem associated with increased Naxalite activity once all differences between districts at state-level are accounted.
  • However, it is clear that Naxalite districts are less literate than the average district, this is true for the Naxalite-affected states as well.

Mineral Resources

  • The interaction between mining resources and SC/STs is a powerful predictor of Maoist activity within a subset of affected states.
  • A predictor of Naxalite activity that stands out in empirical analysis is mining activity. Mining activity could affect Naxalite violence through a set of channels:
  1. the increased financing opportunities for the Maoist movement;
  2. grievances stemming from displacement as a result of mining activity;
  3. higher stakes for conflict over mining zones.
  • The relationship between mining activity and conflict is not a deterministic one: among the heavily affected districts we can easily give examples of districts with important mining activity (for example, Dantewada) and districts with a small mining sector (for example, Gaya, West Midnapore).
  • Analysts and policymakers alike have pointed to the mining sector as an important source of income for the Naxalites.
  • By threatening to disrupt mining activities, the Maoists are thought to attract contributions from the mining sector.
  • It is worth pointing out that, even if mineral resources do not cause the conflict or affect the intensity of violence directly, they could still have an important impact on the dynamics of violence through an indirect mechanism.
  • As an example of such an indirect influence, poor rainfall is associated with increased violence against security forces, but only in those districts that are sufficiently rich in mineral resources.
  • Access to income collected from local mining activity could make it easier for the Maoist groups to mobilise support in response to local agricultural shocks.
  • While the mining sector could offer financial benefits to the Naxalite movement, the sector is also responsible for the displacement of civilian population and soil degradation
  • Mining sector could represent a windfall to the Maoist movement as the anger at mining activity could clearly mobilise communities against the state.
  • While the relationship between mining activity and Naxalite violence is complex, there is little doubt over the importance of the sector in shaping the strategies of the actors in the conflict.

Forest Resources and Agriculture:

  • According to analysists, tendu leaf production is associated with increased Naxalite violence.
  • The tendu leaf trade could provide a source of income for Maoists and could also generate disputes between the tribal population and the Forest Department.
  • Moreover, the tribal population in India’s Naxalite belt relies heavily on forest resources and on subsistence agriculture (through slash and burn agriculture). This dependence could generate a strong link between forest cover and Naxalite activity through two channels.
  • Forest Department policies that limit access of the tribal population to forests may have generated grievances and economic hardship that has generated support for the Maoist movement.
  • Moreover, the importance of climate shocks for the intensity of violence points indirectly
  • at severe economic deprivation in Maoist-affected areas.

Bringing Development to Affected Communities

  • Observers of the Naxalite movement have long emphasised the plight of the civilian population, which is literally caught “between two sets of guns”
  • Civilian victims (inflicted by the Maoists) account for more than one-third of all recorded fatalities related to Maoist groups, and there are no systematic data on civilian casualties inflicted by the security forces.
  • Maoist fighters need to be able to strike and hide, civilian cooperation is indispensable for either party to achieve its goals. Arguably, the civilian population is the most important asset in the conflict between state actors and Maoists.
  • The scale of violence against the civilian population has profound implications: any development intervention that disturbs the equilibrium between the parties holds the risk of backfiring against local communities. This possibility has been underlined by recent work on the Philippines, where eligibility for a development fund led to an intensification of violence.


  • The importance of economic factors in explaining changes in the intensity of the conflict might appear at odds with the lack of robust predictors of Maoist-related violence in a cross section of districts.


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