NEW YORK - Indian Maoists, once dismissed as a ragtag band of outdated ideologues, are now present in 20 states and have evolved into a potent and lethal insurgency, a leading US newspaper reported the other day. In a dispatch from Barsur in the eastern state of Chattisgarh, The New York Times said that Indian leaders are now preparing to deploy nearly 70,000 paramilitary officers for a prolonged counterinsurgency campaign to hunt down the guerrillas in some of the countrys most rugged, isolated terrain. It said the Maoists have killed more than 900 Indian security officers over the past four years, a figure almost as high as the more than 1,100 members of the coalition forces killed in Afghanistan during the same period. For India, the widening Maoist insurgency is a moment of reckoning for the countrys democracy and has ignited a sharp debate about where it has failed, The Times said. In the past, India has tamed some secessionist movements by coaxing rebel groups into the countrys big-tent political process. The Maoists, however, do not want to secede or be absorbed. Their goal is to topple the system. The Maoists say they represent the dispossessed of Indian society. Especially hard-hit, they say, are indigenous tribal groups burdened with the highest rates of illiteracy, poverty and infant mortality. The insurgents charge the government wants to push tribal groups from their lands to grab valuable natural resources, the Times says. Maoists have escalated their efforts to sabotage roads and bridges, and even have attacked an energy pipeline. There have been efforts to open peace negotiations, but with the government offensive drawing closer, talks remain stalemated, the Times says. The dispatch opens on a dramatic note: At the edge of the Indravati River, hundreds of miles from the nearest international border, India effectively ends. Indian paramilitary officers point machine guns across the water. The dense jungles and mountains on the other side belong to Maoist rebels dedicated to overthrowing the government. 'That is their liberated zone, said Bhojak, one of the officers stationed at the rivers edge in this town in the eastern state of Chattisgarh. Or one piece of it... For India, the widening Maoist insurgency is a moment of reckoning for the countrys democracy and has ignited a sharp debate about where it has failed... If the Maoists political goals seem unattainable, Indian analysts warned that they will not be easy to uproot, either. Here in the state of Chattisgarh, Maoists dominate thousands of square miles of territory and have pushed into neighbouring states of Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, part of a so-called Red Corridor stretching across central and eastern India, the report said. Violence erupts almost daily. In the past five years, Maoists have detonated more than 1,000 improvised explosive devices in Chattisgarh. Within the past two weeks, Maoists have burned two schools in Jharkhand, hijacked and later released a passenger train in West Bengal while also carrying out a raid against a West Bengal police station... With police officers dying in large numbers and Maoists carrying out bolder attacks, the debate around the insurgency has sharpened in Indias intellectual salons and on the opinion pages and talk shows. The writer Arundhati Roy recently called for unconditional talks and told CNN-IBN that the Maoists were justified in taking up arms because of government oppression.