The Maoists have raised yet another precondition before they agree to any peace dialogue with the West Bengal government - disarm vigilante groups in the Jangalmahal area comprising the three districts of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia.
"Several armed groups have cropped up in the Jangalmahal area. Some groups are operating legally, but are trying to procure arms. The main stakeholders (read Maoists) have demanded the government should first try to disarm them," said activist Sujato Bhadra on Saturday.
Bhadra is heading the six-member interlocutor team appointed by chief minister Mamata Banerjee on July 7 to initiate peace talks with the Maoists. She is the second chief minister in the country, after Andhra Pradesh's YSR Reddy to do so.
On Saturday, Bhadra and a co-interlocutor Choton Das went to the forests of West Midnapore district and met Maoist leader Akash. They had a seven-hour-long discussion before Bhadra and Das returned to Kolkata.
"Our role as interlocutors will be reduced henceforth. The state government and the Maoists will very soon sit together for the peace process. The date will be announced by the state government," Bhadra said after a two-hour meeting with the chief minister later in the day. There was, however, no confirmation from any government official on the issue.
Bhadra mentioned CPI(M)-backed 'harmads' as one of the armed groups operating in Jangalmahal. However, Maoist sources claim several groups backed by the ruling Trinamool Congress have cropped up as well. One of them is the Janajagarn Mancha.
Shortly after the CM announced the government would recruit 10,000 youths from the Jangalmahal area to build a special police force, leaflets were distributed in West Midnapore warning villagers of dire consequences if they dared to join the force.
Recently, rights activist Binayak Sen told HT that the Trinamool government was trying to replicate Chhattisgarh's Salwa Judum, which has been declared illegal by the Supreme Court.