After killing 36 securitymen in West Bengal during the past week, the Maoists on Monday matched Union Home Minister P Chidambaram’s 72-hour ceasefire proposal with a counter offer.
They agreed to halt violence not just for 72 hours but 72 days — on condition that the Centre stops its operations against the outfit.
“We are ready to observe a ceasefire for 72 days from February 25 to May 7,” CPI(Maoist) politburo member Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji told media organisations on the phone from an undisclosed location on Monday.
The offer was made hours after President Pratibha Devisingh Patil lashed out at the Maoists for their cowardly actions and echoed Chidambaram’s call to the left wing extremists to abjure violence and come for talks.
The offer came in the backdrop of a meeting Chidambaram wants to hold in Delhi with the chief ministers of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar to discuss anti-Maoist operations.
In New Delhi, Home Secretary G.K. Pillai said the government would consider the offer if there were no pre-conditions attached.
But the home ministry later decided to wait till Tuesday to come up with a considered response.
Parliament is in session and the home minister is expected to articulate the government’s response in the House.
A.S. Gill, former chief of the CRPF that is the leading anti-Maoist force, said he believed the 72-day ceasefire seemed like a “very, very conditional kind of an offer”. It appeared to be aimed at buying time to consolidate, he said. In Hyderabad, Maoist sympathiser Varavara Rao said, “The ball is now in the Centre’s court.”
(With inputs from Hyderabad)