The challenges faced by the Naxalites in inducting new entrants help shed light on a key social science puzzle: How do people build relationships and organisations in environments in which there are no laws to protect contracts, and where trust is otherwise in short supply? Dr Pavan Mamidi explains the findings of a pioneering ethnographic study of Naxal recruitment strategies in south-central India and argues that underground organisations such as the Naxalites offer a fascinating laboratory for organisational scholars.
Mainstream discussions about the Naxalites often give in to the temptation to categorise them either as heroes fighting in the jungles for a higher social cause, or as terrorists destabilising the country and taking it down the path of communism. Very little empirical work about the Naxalites actually exists, and it is not uncommon for policy makers in India to let their subjective biases prevail. Based on ethnographic work spanning four years between 2007 and 2011, involving more than a hundred semi-structured inter views with various players who occupy the “Naxal landscape” in Telangana region in Andhra Pradesh, and south Bastar in Chattisgarh, I characterise the Naxalites essentially as political entrepreneurs who seek to provide governance services to civilians in exchange for “rents/taxes” from them.