Raipur: Naxalites in Chhattisgarh have expressed their willingness to engage in peace talks with the government, but on the condition that the central and state governments should first stop the crackdown against them.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel acknowledges the offer, but with a condition of his own — the Naxalites should abandon the path of violence before peace talks can be held.
“The Naxalites cannot impose their conditions on us. First of all, they will have to leave the path of violence and armed struggle; only then is it possible to have any sort of talks with them,” Baghel told ThePrint in an interview.
“The state government is not shying away from holding negotiations with the Naxalites, but the negotiations can only be held within the framework of the Constitution of the country and according to our government’s policy,” the Congress leader continued.
“They will have to first give up arms and swear allegiance to the Constitution of India, only then can any sort of peace talks be held. There can be no dialogue with conditions from the Naxalites,” he added.
The Naxalites’ proposal came in the form of a pamphlet issued on 12 March, in which they said they would agree to peace talks if certain conditions are met.
Issued on behalf of the spokesperson of the Bastar-based Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC) of the CPI (Maoist), the pamphlet called for the removal of camps established by the Chhattisgarh Police and central security forces in Naxalism-hit areas, and the ban/sanctions imposed on their party, besides the release of their imprisoned leaders.
“We are always ready to enter into peace talks for the overall benefit of the common public,” it said.
While Baghel stated that the Naxalites are under tremendous pressure as a result of the government crackdown through a campaign called ‘Samadhan’, civil society leaders in the state have welcomed the offer of peace talks, even though they note that the conditions complicate matters.
Between January 2018 and December 2020, security operations resulted in the killing of 216 Naxalites, with Sukma recording the maximum fatalities (82). Another 966 Maoists surrendered during the same period, as announced by Chhattisgarh Home Minister Tamradhwaj Sahu in the assembly on 23 December 2020.
The figures for this year have not been released so far. On 20 March, two Naxalites were killed by Dantewada police following an attempted ambush.
“On the one hand, incidents of Naxal cadres surrendering have increased due to action being taken by the state police as well as the central security forces, and, on the other, their popularity among the village youth is diminishing fast,” he said. “Due to all this, the Naxalites are extremely distressed.”
Home Minister and Baghel confidant Sahu told the media on 17 March that “unconditional peace talks can be considered if the government receives any letter/proposal from the Naxalites”.
“Our government’s intent is to establish complete peace. We will talk to the chief minister regarding this,” Sahu said.
The Naxalites’ statement came on the day a peace march was organised by journalist Shubhranshu Choudhary, who has been working as a peace activist for the last 12 years, and a society of 20 tribal leaders that was formed on 3 March. The march started from the Naxal-hit region of Abujhmad, and will culminate in state capital Raipur on 6 April.
The Naxalites have denounced Choudhary as a “corporate thug” and “mask of government repression”, and described the peace march as a “betrayal”. Even so, they have appealed to civil society leaders to pressure the state government to stop Operation Samadhan.
In the pamphlet, they have also noted the past failures of peace talk initiatives.
“The civil society should take a leaf out of the past experiences of dialogue between our party and the government. In 2004, our peace talks with the Andhra Pradesh government were initiated due to honest efforts by the Citizens Committee comprising various intellectuals and human rights activists. After two rounds of discussion, the government unilaterally withdrew from the negotiation and unleashed severe repression against us,” they said.
“After that, in 2010, another initiative was launched by Swami Agnivesh for peace talks that was not only disbanded by cheating him, but Comrade Azad, a politburo member and spokesperson of our Central Committee, was also brutally murdered in a false encounter,” the Naxals alleged.
Members of the civil society who participated in the peace march, however, said their proposal for peace talks honours the demands of the local population, and the ball is now in the government’s court.
“The problem of Naxalism has become extremely complicated. It does not seem that the process of peace talks would start so easily because various conditions will be laid down from both sides,” said former Union minister Arvind Netam, also of the Congress, who is a member of the tribal leaders’ society.
“In such a situation, apart from civil society, other such individuals of the country will have to come forward who can provide credible and concrete mediation between the government and the Maoists.”
Choudhary, who took the initiative for the formation of the tribal leaders’ society, said he was “extremely happy that the Maoists have taken this step in view of the demand of the common public”.
“However, the pre-conditions put up by them are too harsh and now the ball is in the government’s court. Now it is for the government to understand how it can take it forward,” Choudhary said.
“The fresh offer of Maoists can be taken under consideration and some sort of middle ground can be discovered between the conditions laid down by both sides. The sooner this is done, the better it will be because the time ahead can be even more frightening,” he warned