Media Coverage, Ideological Effects, and Naxal Violence
Author: Ran Vijay
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on 03/05/2010
The last decade has witnessed a resurgence of the Naxal movement in certain parts of Eastern and Central India. A group of left radical communist brought an uprising against the local Jamindar in a small village of West Bengal state of India, named Naxalbari. The term Naxalism or Naxalite came after the name of this village. Although the movement was cracked down by the government, it has left a long-lasting impact on Indian society. Despite government efforts to suppress it, the ideology of Naxalism soon assumed a larger dimension and spread across many parts of India.
History and Ideology of the Naxal Movement
Although the term Naxalism was first coined in 1967, the ideological apparatus for this movement can be traced back in 1925 when the Communist Party of India was founded in colonial India. Marx and Lenin were the sources for the ideological back up for the movement during the initial years. Later, the Communist Party of India came under the influence of Mao Tsetung’s new democracy. In 1948, a peasant movement took place in Telangana. The villages of the region were organised into ‘communes’ as part of the movement. The famous Andhra Thesis was announced by the communist party and for the first time they demanded that the ‘Indian revolution’ follow the Chinese path of protracted people’s war. Consequently, in June 1948, a leftist ideological document, the ‘Andhra Letter’ laid down a revolutionary strategy based on Mao Tsetung’s New Democracy. In post-independence India, the differences within the within party appeared on the issue of ideology. During the India-China war, a serious rift within the party surfaced. The group who believed in the internationalism of communism supported China, keeping in mind that the winning of China would lead to the spread of communism, while the nationalist group supported India. These ideological differences led to the split of the party in 1964, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) also known as CPM was formed. CPM postponed the idea of armed struggle and decided to participate in the general election.
In 1967, CPM participated in elections and formed a coalition United Front government in West Bengal with Bangla Congress. This development led to frustration in the party with younger cadres. The rebel cadre under the leadership of Comrade Comrade Charu Majumdar launched the Naxalbari uprising against the local landlord.
Present Context of Naxal Movement
Today, several areas including Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal, are badly affected by the armed conflict. An increased number of violent attacks against state agencies, particularly against police establishments, have been launched by the Naxals. This group has also widened their geographical areas of operation. Recently, on 15 September 2009, while addressing the All India Conference of Director Generals and Inspector Generals of Police in New Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed the view that Left wing extremism (Maoism) is “the gravest internal security threat that our country faces.”
According to an estimate by Ploughshares, a Canada based civil society organisation which works for peace building, “more than 6,000 people have been killed as a direct result of the conflict in the last twenty years, with an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 deaths occurring in the last decade.” Since 1990, the Naxal insurgency has cost more than 4,500 lives in the city of Andhra Pradesh alone. The current scenario of armed insurgency is more serious. According to the Delhi based think tank South Asia Terrorism Portal, in 2008 alone, the death count across the six states (Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh) was near 794. This number included 399 civilians, 221 security force personnel, and 174 insurgents. The number provided by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs confirmed this estimate with projected deaths around 721.
Media and Coverage of Naxal Activities
Although the Naxal movement originated in the 1960s, the movement did not produce frequent violent activities until the beginning of the new century. But the last decade has witnessed increasing amounts of Maoist violence. The continual violent activities of these groups have attracted much media attention. The Naxal movement has been given front-page coverage in the print media and broadcast on prime time on televised news casts. There are two major factors which have contributed to the increased coverage of Naxal news. First, the number of private media groups has increased in the post Cold War era due to the adoption of a neo-liberal market policy by the central government. The private media in this new environment has had to play a more vital role in terms of objectivity of news coverage and its dissemination. Second, the increased number of media groups has increased competition. The domestic media in India is now looking for topics of coverage which have been traditionally neglected or less covered. Although the print media had been covering the Maoist issues even before this period, the more recent coverage from private/satellite television has politicised and sensitised the issue as it is today. Consequently, armed insurgencies led by Naxal groups have been given special attention in both print and television media.
Another reason for the heightened coverage of Naxal activity is the sensitive nature of news. Sensational news generally receives more attention from viewers; therefore TV channels which were covering Naxal news had more viewer and in turn had more chance to become popular. Here, it should be noticed that violent news is always sensitive, but the media, particularly the satellite media, has negatively sensationalized the Naxal’s violent activities. The same news is aired many times within a day, and the increased frequency of the same violent news has a greater reach to cadres and sympathisers of the movement, in terms of ideological effects. Contrary to the satellite media, print media by virtue of its nature could not attract as much audience attention. However, in the neo-liberal environment, the number of print media outlets has increased, particularly in the Hindi region as many new Hindi newspapers have been recently introduced by the private sector. The introduction of these new media outlets has obviously led to increased competition within the sector; in order to attract audience ratings, and sensational news items like Naxal violence has received more frequent coverage and has been featured on the front-page more often than other issues.
The Naxal Terror Watch, an online blog on Maoist Insurgency, has documented specific print media news coverage since 2000. According to the media monitoring report, since 2004 to 2007, every year the number of coverage of violent activities by Maoist increased. For example, in 2004, the amount of news about the Maoist activity totalled 43, while in 2007 the number increased to 2287. In 2008, a lesser number appeared in Maoist news; however, 1879 articles appeared during this year, still an impressive number.
Similarly, during the same period, television news agencies devoted more space to Maoist events. The leaders of Maoist groups were interviewed and the broadcast was aired many times. It has been observed that the increased coverage and the airing of Maoist leader interviews gave audiences an image of Robin Hood among their cadres and sympathisers; which in turn boosted the morality of comrades to prepare for more violence.
Ideological Effects and Naxal Violence
It would not be inapt to assume that more coverage of Maoist violence by the media has contributed to more violence during that period; however, it cannot be hypothesised that the increased coverage of Maoist violence has directly caused more violence. There are some ideological effects of the news coverage. On the one hand, the information dissemination about the Maoist insurgency has provided legitimacy to the cause of Naxals; and on the other hand, it has shown the failure of government armed forces to counter the movement. These two phenomena have created a sense of confidence among the cadres and its sympathisers; this confidence encouraged the comrades to bring about societal changes through violent means. This sense of confidence is the ideological effect which has recently led to more Maoist violence.
 Indian Express, 15 September, 2009. Retrieved on 7 February 2010 from http://www.indianexpress.com/news/naxalism-gravest-internal-security-threat-pm/517294/0
 Armed Conflicts Report, India – Maoist Insurgency (1980 – first combat deaths) Update: January 2008, Retrieved 8 February, 2010 from http://www.ploughshares.ca/libraries/ACRBriefs/ACRBrief08-IndiaAP.html
The Christian Science Monitor, October 29, 2003] Cited in Armed Conflicts Report India (January 2009). Maoist Insurgency (1980 – first combat deaths) Retrieved on 8 February 2010 from http://www.ploughshares.ca/libraries/ACRBriefs/ACRBrief08-IndiaAP.html
 South Asia Terrorism Portal , Maoist Assessment http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/maoist/Assessment/index.html)
Cited in Armed Conflicts Report India – Maoist Insurgency (January 2009) (1980 – first combat deaths) Retrieved on 8 October from http://www.ploughshares.ca/libraries/ACRText/ACR-IndiaAP.html#Deaths
 Kujur R. K. February 2009; “India govt admits Maoist-Naxal challenge as ‘formidable’.”, IPCS Issue Brief93, Cited in Armed Conflicts Report India (January 2009) – Maoist Insurgency (1980 – first combat deaths) Retrieved on 8
October 2009 from http://www.ploughshares.ca/libraries/ACRText/ACR-IndiaAP.html#Deaths
 Naxal Menace: The War Within, Retrieved on 6 February, 2010 from http://www.ndtv.com/news/specials/naxal_menace.php. See also, http://video.google.com/videosearch?hl=en&oq=&q=ndtv+naxal+movement&um=1&ie=UTF-8&ei=V_5wS9K2A8WtgfO_7TrCQ&sa=X&oi=video_result_group&ct=title&resnum=4&ved=0CBgQqwQwAw#, http://www.ndtv.com/news/india/underground_naxal_leaders_on_youtube_tv.php
Interview of Ganesh Ueike a Naxal Leader, on NDTV, Retrieved on 4 February, 2010 from http://naxalrevolution.blogspot.com/2006/07/interview-with-naxal-leader-ganesh_26.html
Bio: Ran Vijay, PhD (JNU) is an UPSAM fellow in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University for Peace.