Maoist guerrillas declared on Tuesday they were ready for talks provided a three-month truce was declared but the government insisted the Left wing rebels first abjure violence. They also suggested Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee as the possible mediator for talks.
The announcement, two days after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked the ultras to come for talks, was made in an audio tape sent out to select media houses in Kolkata by Maoist leader Koteshwar Rao alias Kishanji, who only months ago had been rumoured to be seriously wounded or even dead.
The outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist also proposed social activist Swami Agnivesh or Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee as the possible mediators between the government and the rebels.
The government was quick to react, saying the Maoists must first abjure violence.
"It doesn't really matter what Kishanji says. Nobody is interested in it (a ceasefire)," Home Secretary G K Pillai said in New Delhi.
"He will say whatever he wants to. We have made our stand clear. They have to abjure violence before we start talking," Pillai said.
Kishanji said in the audio tape: "Both the government and our outfit will declare the three-month armistice simultaneously. Then only the ground will be prepared for the talks."
The West Bengal-based Kishanji, who in recent years has emerged as the public face of the CPI-Maoist, referred to Manmohan Singh's Independence Day address on Sunday calling upon the Maoists to talk to the government.
"The President (Pratibha Patil) and the prime minister have appealed to the Maoists to abjure violence and come for talks," Kishanji said. "We would like to make it clear that we are not in favour of violence. On the contrary, it is the government which has forced us to take up arms," the CPI-Maoist politburo member said.
The Maoist leader, however, insisted the ceasefire should be a bilateral move by both the government and the rebels.
"We will not declare any unilateral ceasefire unless the government comes up with some positive steps. Let the prime minister take the initiative to withdraw the joint forces if he is really sincere to restore peace and normalcy in the troubled areas," he said.
Kishanji said the Maoists had got information that the government could ask Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee to be the go-between for the talks. "If she doesn't have any problems to mediate, we are game".
The CPI-Maoist top gun referred to writer Arundhati Roy, Trinamool Congress MP Kabir Suman, human rights activist Gautam Navalkha and B.D Sharma as the other facilitators for the talks.
Tuesday's dramatic announcement follows repeated savage attacks by the Maoists on security forces mainly in central India, resulting in a nationwide crackdown by police and paramilitary forces.
The prime minister had devoted a considerable part of his Sunday's speech from the Red Fort to the Maoist issue, but made it clear that the government was determined to overcome the rebel challenge.
The CPI-Maoist commands hundreds of fighters armed with an array of weapons and are known to have been linked with Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger guerrillas in the past.
The Maoist movement erupted in India in May, 1967, in a West Bengal village called Naxalbari, earning the terminology Naxalites for the guerrillas.