Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram agrees to open a dialogue with the Maoists if they abjure violence, and gives a fax number for communicating with him.
The Maoists respond in the same vein by giving a mobile number on which the home minister can call on Thursday after 5 pm (there was no call till the time of going to press).
Before this they had announced a 72-day ceasefire. However, after the announcement, Maoist Lalmohan Tudu and Police Inspector Rabi Lochan Mitra were killed.
This is not the first time that the Centre has intervened ever since the Left-wing extremism surfaced in the late sixties (it has survived till this day in varying intensities).
Nevertheless, this gesture appears encouraging at first sight.
However, on closer inspection, it’s not so hunky-dory. It’s a game of nerves about striking a victory, and the pre-conditions set by both the parties before any kind of deliberations make the prospects of peace bleak.
Chidambaram wants the Maoists to abjure violence first for preparing the ground for talks, and the red brigade has matched it by asking the government to stop anti-Maoist operations and then talk about negotiations.
Will there be talks? Will they lead to any solution?
At one level, talks are a good option for the Maoists because they want to avoid direct collision with the security forces.
They also want to put their house in order because a number of their top functionaries — including politburo members Kobad Ghandy and Amitabha Bagchi — have been put behind bars. Should there be a major offensive against them, they would lack the military strength to combat the security forces — both in quality and quantity.
“Past experience has shown that the Maoists are not interested in talks,” said M.K. Narayanan, governor of West Bengal and former national security advisor.
A number of government officials share the view. “Under pressure ahead of the impending anti-Maoist offensive, the ultras are just trying to buy time,” a senior officer of the West Bengal government told Hindustan Times on anonymity. He said that the Maoists would not abjure violence until their military strength was severely weakened.
Kishenji had made the Maoist stand clear during several conversations with Hindustan Times in recent days. The Maoists are uncomfortable about talking on terms dictated by the government.
“An unconditional declaration or abjuring violence is impossible. We have no opposition to talks but for that (to happen), the government needs to prepare the ground. Otherwise, we will fight it out,” he said.
Communist Party of India (Maoist) General Secretary Mupalla Laxman Rao alias Ganapathi made his party’s war strategy clearer in an interview with Swedish scholar-journalist Jan Myrdal, son of economics Nobel laureate Gunnar Myrdal, in Chhattisgarh recently. Their strategy is to make the war as lengthy as possible as they still regard their party a “small one”.
The impending anti-Maoist operation, Ganapathi said, was definitely a challenge before them. “But we are confident that there is a long-run advantage that cannot be achieved in a short period. But unlike the enemy, which wants to finish this in a short period, we want to stretch this war and turn the situation to our advantage,” the Maoist top gun said.
The Maoists are apprehensive about the possibility of talks after the Andhra Pradesh experience in 2004.
They were cornered in Andhra Pradesh during the talks when their secret organisations came out in the open and it became easy for the security personnel to crack down on their secret network when the talks failed.
“Maybe this is why Ganapathi said that talks were possible only if government declared a ceasefire, lifted the ban (on the organisation) and released jailed leaders. He also said that the released leaders should participate in talks and not underground leaders like him and Kishenji,” a senior bureaucrat said.
Debabrata Bandopadhyay, a retired Indian Administrative Officer, who was a member of the committee constituted by the Planning Commission on the Maoist problem, however, feels that there are some positive signs as both sides have softened their stands.
“It seems as if both the sides have realised that dialogue is the best way to solve the crisis. The Maoists, realising after the Silda attack (on February 15 in West Midnapore; 24 Eastern Frontier Rifles troopers were killed in the attack) that a massive security offensive is on the cards, and have therefore softened their stand. Now the government needs to work on this,” Bandopa-dhyay said.
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Department Minister and senior Revo-lutionary Socialist Party leader Kshiti Goswami says that the government needs to be cautious while leading an armed offensive.
While he feels that the government should not talk on terms dictated by the Maoists, he cautioned: “The Maoists are trying to provoke the government into going on an all-out armed offensive because it would also increase the chances of civilian casualties. They are also waiting for mistakes on the government’s part so that they can capitalise on them and build up anti-government sentiments,” Goswami told Hindustan Times.