Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee on Monday urged the Maoists to eschew violence and come for talks, and appealed to social activists and thinkers like Swami Agnivesh, Medha Patkar and Mahashweta Devi to broker the discussions.
Addressing a huge rally in this Maoist-hit area of West Midnapore district, Banerjee also promised to shower development goodies like renovating schools, setting up hospitals, colleges and a railway factory for giving employment to the local people.
"I request everyone with folded hands, please eschew violence, stop killings. I am telling all those, including the Maoists who are indulging in violence, to help in restoring peace. Medhaji (Medha Patkar), Swami (Agnivesh) are here. They should talk to the Maoists and ensure restoration of peace."
Banerjee said she was not in favour of establishing peace by using rifles, condemning the manner in which Maoist spokesman Cherukiri Rajkumar alias Azad was "killed" last month.
"What happened is not right. Azad had reposed faith in the democratic process," she said at the "apolitical" rally organised under the banner of the Anti-Atrocities Democratic Forum.
The Moists and the pro-rebel tribal body People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) had extended support to the rally also attended by social activists like Agnivesh and Patkar, and pro-rebel writer Mahasweta Devi, among other intellectuals.
"Let the peace process start from today. Let negotiations begin. Let Bengal show the way to India, wherever there is disturbance and misunderstanding," Banerjee said.
"Tell us when and where you will sit. We all want to sit. However, if my presence poses problems in the peace process, I won't mind if I am kept out of it," she said.
"If a policeman dies, or a mediaperson, or a Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) activist or a Maoist, that's equally sad. All are human beings. I don't want anybody to die. I don't want politics of death".
She also appealed to the left ultras not to obstruct railway services as it adversely hit the daily life of the common man.
Categorically saying she did not support the Maoists' politics of violence and killings, Banerjee asked the CPI-M and Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee should think why the Lalgarh movement was on despite their 34-year rule.
"There is a dearth of development, schools, colleges and hospitals. The government could ensure only 12 days' work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS)," she said.
Banerjee said Rs.20 lakh would be sanctioned for the Ramakrishna Vidyalaya here from Minister of State for Shipping Mukul Roy's MPs Local Area Development fund.
Apparently referring to the Maoists, she asked: "What do you want? Schools, college, rights over forests? I feel tribals should have rights over forests."
The Trinamool chief, whose party is the second largest constituent of the ruling United Progressive Alliance at the centre, however, said her powers were limited.
"We are in power. But our party has only 19 MPs. It's not that they (Congress) listen to whatever we say".
On land acquisition, she said she was against taking land by force.
"In railways whenever we have to take land we provide employment to the landlosers and take minimum land with their consent".
"Show me one area where I have deviated. If I have, I will publicly admit it and apologise," she said, in an apparent reply to some questions made by the Maoists in an open letter to her on and acquisition and some other issues.
Banerjee told the ultras that their policy of violence was only benefiting the CPI-M.
Accusing the CPI-M of misleading the people and committing atrocities by putting on police and military fatigues, she appealed to Patkar and Agnivesh to visit other violence-prone areas of the state. "If necessary, we can go to areas outside the state like Dantewada also to bring back peace".
Addressing a party rally at Tamluk of East Midnapore district, state Congress chief Manas Bhunia welcomed Banerjee's rally at Lalgarh.
However, Congress general secretary in charge of the state K Kesava Rao stayed away from the Trinamool Congress' invitation to attend the Lalgarh rally citing the party's meeting at Tamluk around the same time.