India's Naxalite Insurgency: History, Trajectory, and Implications for U.S.-India Security Cooperation on Domestic Counterinsurgency

By Lynch, Thomas F., III | INSS Strategic Perspectives, October 2016 | Go to article overview

India's Naxalite Insurgency: History, Trajectory, and Implications for U.S.-India Security Cooperation on Domestic Counterinsurgency


Lynch, Thomas F., III, INSS Strategic Perspectives


Introduction

This paper frames the contours of the recent and ongoing expansion in U.S.-India security ties. Then it briefly sketches the trajectory of the Naxalite insurgency through its first two phases and then focuses on the factors that made its third phase-from 2004 to the present-such a serious security challenge. The paper highlights the unique domestic factors that allowed the Naxalite rebellion's rise to the status of India's most significant internal security challenge from 2007 to 2010. It also identifies those domestic factors that enabled effective counterinsurgency actions beginning in 2011 and effective containment of the threat by 2014. After indicating the kinds of bilateral security assistance offered by the United States to India in recent years, the paper indicates the limited appeal of outside assistance to India in the domestic counterinsurgency arena and assesses why India's self-selected counterinsurgency partnership limitations remain firmly in place. It concludes with some lessons learned for U.S. policymakers in terms of the opportunities and limitations for working with India in matters of domestic insurgency, advising that these limitations make sense on many levels. It also asserts that India's limitations should be respected in Washington and Honolulu to avoid backlash from New Delhi. Any such backlash might threaten far more important U.S.-India bilateral interests in which shared maritime and other strategic interests seem to increasingly diverge with those of China and in areas of mutual benefit from global counterterrorism cooperation.

The analysis in this paper is based on 3 years of author research into the unique features of the Naxalite insurgency in India. The research includes field interviews conducted on three visits to India during 2014 and 2015, one of which featured time in Kolkata and West Bengal.

Expanding U.S.-India Security Framework, with Limits

Growing for more than a decade, bilateral defense and security cooperation between the United States and India began accelerating quickly in 2014 and continued into 2016. Much of this acceleration, although not all of it, owed to the tone and tenor of the Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, elected and seated in 2014. Modi's government, which is Indian nationalist with a dynamic economic, diplomatic, and security agenda, followed a decade-long Indian National Congress (INC) government that had become sclerotic in its dealings with the United States and other global partners from 2009 to 2013. The INC government set the table for U.S.-India defense and security cooperation during the mid-2000s, demonstrating a broadbased Indian commitment to improved bilateral relations with the United States after decades of limited transactions. But the nationalist government of Prime Minister Modi has been driving it forward vigorously.

The ongoing acceleration in broad Indo-American relations has taken many forms, including high diplomacy. Prime Minister Modi made visiting the United States a priority, traveling to America within 4 months of his May 2014 accession to the position of prime minister. Modi then made President Barack Obama the first ever U.S. President bestowed the high honor as chief guest at India's Republic Day Parade in January 2015. During this visit, Obama and Modi signed a historic Joint U.S.-India Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region.1 Modi made a third informal visit to the United States in September 2015, using this historically rapid return to enhance economic relations between the national private and public sectors.2 The United States has committed to a wide array of economic projects in India featuring public-private innovation, deeper financial cooperation and inclusive digital networks, "smart city" development in selected Indian cities, and support for increasing economic connectivity between India and the states of South and Southeast Asia.3

The acceleration of broad bilateral ties has been showcased by the steady increase in defense and security cooperation between the two countries. …

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