This is unambiguously a Maoist insurrection, and it seeks to harness the underclass in its various areas of influence. In many of the afflicted states, a substantial proportion of this underclass is tribal, and the Maoists consequently harvest their various grievances for political and militant mobilisation. However, in other areas, other grievances or conflicts have been similarly harvested.
Prominently, in Khairlanji, it was caste friction; in Kandhamal, communal tensions (coinciding with tribal conflicts as well); in several areas, developmental disruptions resulting in displacement, expropriation and loss of productive assets and capacities, often among settled agricultural communities; other issues that have been harnessed are the rise in prices of food products, declining earnings in various sectors, particularly, though not exclusively, in the rural economy, unemployment, general failures of governance, etc. Every grievance that can be exploited is manipulated to further the "people's war".
Crucially, there is little interest in actually redressing these various grievances. For instance, once the political victory had been won in Singur, the whole issue of returning the land to the displaced people was simply forgotten.
But broadly, these tribal communities are a forgotten, exploited and deeply oppressed people, subsisting on the farthest margins of national consciousness.
The fact that the leadership is essentially non-tribal and the following tribal is a transitional one. Tribal mobilisation has always been part of the Maoist movement, but it has come to play a more central role recently because of the increasing concentration of the movement in the tribal heartland. Since this is new, the leadership is still drawn from the traditional non-tribal pool, principally from Andhra Pradesh and Bihar.
This is a leadership that has evolved and become entrenched over decades. It will only slowly be transformed into a structure that more accurately reflects the demographics of the movement. Such a transformation, however, would be inevitable if the movement endures over time.
The government, central or those of the states, is confused about every aspect of analysis, assessment and response of the movement and this is one of the critical factors in the incoherence of state response.
What we have, at present, moreover, is a conflict of slogans rather than a contest of competing strategies. Political leaderships are simply not interested in dealing with the problem, and are more focused on scoring partisan or factional political points.
Economic and social development (or their absence) is certainly part of the problem. However, for a variety of reasons relating to the sheer magnitude of the developmental deficit, demographics and the infirmities of governance, these cannot be any significant part of the solution.
This does not mean we should forget about development. That is a fundamental duty of the state, whether or not there is an insurgency. Development, however, has no efficacy as a counter-insurgency strategy.
(The author is an expert on conflict studies)