Speaking exclusively to HT at a training camp on Jharkhand-Chhattisgarh border, top leaders of CPI Maoist Bihar-Jharkhand-Chhattisgarh Special Area Committee said they were ready for talks with the government provided a favourable atmosphere was created.
"We have burnt our fingers many times in the past. We lost our top central committee leader Cherikuri Rajkumar alias Azad and politburo member Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji who went that extra mile to broker peace and were instead killed in cold blood," said the committee secretary Deenbandhu. He asked the governments to immediately release all prisoners of war (Maoists) lodged in various jails and then initiate the peace process.
While Azad was killed on July 2, 2010 in Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh, Kishenji was killed on November 24, 2011 in West Midnapore district of West Bengal.
Maoists allege both their top leaders were killed in fake encounters. Days before his killing, they said, Azad had begun process for dialogue with the Centre.
The leaders conceded that the organisation was going through an acute leadership crisis, but quickly asserted that they were used to these ups and downs and would soon bounce back with a vengeance.
"You may kill us but you cannot kill our ideology," said zonal commander Sanjayji, 50, elucidating the increasing police atrocities on people who supported them.
"We have not budged from our ideology. We are pro poor people. Allow us to work in a peaceful manner with the farmers and working class. We do not believe in gun power. Guns are not our political weapons. It is for self-defence. We are fighting a political battle," he added.
Maoists are distributing pamphlets among villagers urging them to raise their voices to secure the release of "revolutionaries, who have been arrested unarmed from bus stops, railway stations, markets, hospitals, homes, marriage functions, even temples and are languishing in jails for years". Some of them, the rebels alleged, were in their seventies and battling old-age related diseases behind bars.
"Look at the paradox, actor Sanjay Dutt, convicted for terror charges, gets successive paroles but 63-year-old Kobad Ghandy, without a single conviction and battling cancer along with heart conditions, fails to get bail," he said.
Sanjayji also thanked the Doon School Old Boys' Society for supporting Ghandy's release. "If Ghandy is anti-national, why haven't such charges been leveled against the MPs who threw chairs and sprayed pepper in Parliament, bringing disrepute to the country, globally," asked another rebel leader, Deenbandhu.