Colonial Origins of Maoist Insurgency in India: Historical Legacies of British Indirect Rule

64 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2013

See all articles by Shivaji Mukherjee

Shivaji Mukherjee

Department of Political Science, University of Toronto; Yale University

Date Written: August 25, 2013


A fundamental question remains unanswered by theorists of civil war — do colonial institutions matter in explaining civil wars? The linkages between the literature on colonial institutions and civil war have not been explored by scholars. My project addresses the puzzle of why the long lasting Maoist insurgency in India (1967-72 and 1980-ongoing), considered to be the country’s most serious internal security threat, affects some Indian districts (almost 25% of the total) along the central eastern corridor of India, but not others. Theories of civil war based on opportunity or grievance mechanisms do not fully explain this puzzling spatial variation, since forest cover, hilly terrain, as well as tribals and lower castes who have socio-economic grievances also exist in other parts of India that have no Maoist insurgency. Using qualitative and quantitative data, I demonstrate that sub-national variation in different types of colonial indirect rule explains the spatial variation in initial Maoist control in India. These British colonial institutions set up political opportunity structures for rebellion through persistent and path dependent mechanisms of low state penetration, tribal alienation, and caste inequality.

A crucial issue with econometric analysis of the effect of indirect rule institutions on post colonial insurgency is the possibility that the British administrators intentionally selected districts for indirect rule based on their terrain, governability, economic value and other unobserved qualities, which make such districts intrinsically more prone to rebellion. This could create selection bias. I address this issue by developing two new instruments for the British choice of indirect rule through princely states in an instrumental variable analysis. The instrumental variable analysis shows that the different measures of colonial indirect rule are still statistically significant. This is the first sub national econometric analysis of Maoist insurgency in India that develops instruments for colonial institutions.

Keywords: maoist insurgency, civil war, india, colonial origins, historical, legacies, rebel control, naxal, naxalite

Suggested Citation

Mukherjee, Shivaji, Colonial Origins of Maoist Insurgency in India: Historical Legacies of British Indirect Rule (August 25, 2013). APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper, American Political Science Association 2013 Annual Meeting, Available at SSRN:

Shivaji Mukherjee (Contact Author)

Department of Political Science, University of Toronto ( email )

100 St. George St
Sidney Smith Hall
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G8

Yale University ( email )

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