“I am a nationalist and not a Maoist,” Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee declared on Thursday.
Quizzed on her August 9 statement at Lalgarh describing Maoist leader Azad’s death as “murder”, Banerjee said Swami Agnivesh was the one to have used the term.
“What I feel is that underground leaders who are willing to talk and come into the democratic mainstream must be provided protection by the state,” Banerjee told reporters in an informal interaction.
Substantiating her argument, Banerjee recalled that the underground leader of the Tripura National Volunteers, Bijoy Hranghkhawl, had been provided state protection when he decided to come over-ground for talks with then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the early Eighties.
“I do not favour violence of any kind. In fact, I condemn it. All I want is that the political process of talks with the Maoists should begin.”
Asked if she was willing to mediate in such talks, Banerjee said she had never made such a suggestion.
Earlier, speaking in the Lok Sabha, Banerjee alleged a political conspiracy to defame and downplay her achievements.
Referring to recent incidents of rail accidents, Banerjee said state governments had to take equal responsibility for ensuring passenger safety. Banerjee said states must either take responsibility for protecting passenger lives, or hand over powers to the Railways Protection Force (RPF).
“Let rail live. If the country has to live, rail must live,” she said while replying to the ministry’s demands for grants.
In the Rajya Sabha, the Left and BJP leaders slammed the Trinamool chief for her remarks on Azad’s killing.
Raising the issue during Zero Hour, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said, “P M Manmohan Singh has repeatedly said Maoists pose the gravest threat to India’s security. How can a cabinet minister openly support the Maoists?” he asked, prompting a vociferous protest from three Trinamool ministers.
Deputy Chairman K. Rahman Khan intervened to say “no member can disturb the proceedings, particularly a minister...”