Although the Naxal movement in Maharashtra is not recognized, the Maoists have carved out a guerrilla zone in the underdeveloped tribal area of eastern Maharashtra in the last two decades. It was during the 1980s that the Naxals entered from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh with the slogan 'liberation against state repression.' They managed to establish rapport with the local poverty stricken tribals by regularly visiting their villages. While the Naxals were making inroads into eastern Maharashtra, the government was terming them as the 'spill over effect' from Andhra Pradesh. Today, there are fifteen dalams working in Maharashtra, among which the Platoon dalam, Tipagarh dalam and Khobramendha dalam are the most vicious; using LMGs and other sophisticated weapons. The CPI (Maoist) has around 250 fulltime armed cadres and a strong contingent of 3,000 local supporters.
Gadchiroli has become the Red bastion in Maharashtra, whereas Chandrapur, Gondiya, Yavatmal, Bhandara and Nanded districts are declared "Naxal prone areas". All these districts are situated adjoining to the Naxal-infested regions of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh. Apart from this favourable geographical setting, the economic backwardness and undulating terrain of these districts are fertile grounds for Left extremism.
The Ministry of Home Affairs' Annual Report (2004-05) registers an alarming 15 per cent increase in Naxal violence in Maharashtra during 2004. Last year proved to be more eventful with the Naxals systematically choosing their targets and spreading their area of operation. Throughout the year, the Naxals have targeted security personnel, what is surprising is their sustained attack on the Panchayat Raj institutions. This shows they do not people to taste political power as they are apprehensive that it might bridge the gap between the government and the people. The Andhra fiasco in 2005 had its impact in Maharashtra, evident from the arrests of Naxalites and their sympathizers from previously Naxal-free districts such as Yavatmal and Wardha in Vidarbha and Aurangabad in Marathwada. A firearm manufacturing unit was unearthed in Nagpur. Gadchiroli Superintendent of Police, Shirish Jain, has confirmed the presence of Nepal Maoists in the region.
The tribals are caught in the crossfire between the police and the Naxalites. In and around Gadchiroli, police records show that more then 80 per cent of the people killed are tribals. Gadchiroli is one of the least developed districts in Maharashtra where the poorest of the poor live amidst extreme violence and abject poverty. The Vidarbha region has also witnessed highest number of suicides among the farmers in 2005. Although these deaths are not related to the problem of Naxalism, the Naxals have used this situation to win over the disgruntled farmers by criticising the failure of the state government to rescue of farmers.
The state government has formulated a surrender policy that provides cash benefits to those surrendering and providing them self-employment and education. This policy can yield results only when people are confident about the government. Earlier, under the gaonbandi programme (prevention of Naxals from entering the village), the government had declared a Rs 2 lakh cash award for the gaonbandi villages; however, out of the 232, only 112 gaonbandi villages have been given half of this reward. This has undermined the credibility of government among public. Some time back the government had also announced the recruitment of local tribal youth into the police for countering the Naxals. Considering the track record of successive governments many in Gadchiroli are convinced that this will only remain a proposal.
For decades, Naxalism has remained relevant because it embodies a response to socio-political and economic wrongs. But the Naxal presence has made development non existent. It is ironical that in the name of revolution, Naxals are collecting money, but government funds meant for tribal and rural development remain unspent or fall into the wrong hands. The government must realize that this is a political problem and needs to be solved politically. People in this area have never obtained political empowerment. The government must find ways to empower the marginalized sections of its population as this would provide equitable economic growth which is the best way to deal with the Naxal slogan of "people's war for people's government."