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The Rediff Special/P V Ramana
January 25, 2005
Naxalites of the Communist Party of India-Maoist and Communist Party of India -- Marxist-Leninist (Janashakthi) trashed the peace process in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh on January 17.
Accusing the government of being insincere, the Naxalites walked out of the peace process as the state witnessed a spate of violence by the Naxalites and encounters by the police.
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The breakdown of the peace talks was not unexpected. It was never meant to succeed.
The government and the Naxalites sat at the negotiating table for four days between October 15 and 18 merely out of expediency, not to thrash out a negotiated settlement.
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The Congress-led government in Andhra Pradesh launched the peace process merely out of political compulsion, without forethought and careful preparation.
It clearly failed (or was calculatedly blind) to assess either the true intentions of the Naxalites or the full ramifications of adopting a 'liberal' attitude towards them. The government directed the police to call off operations against the Naxalites, let the proscription on them lapse and permitted them to operate freely -- hold public meetings, inaugurate martyrs memorials, and undertake recruitment as well as extort from wealthy persons.
In its manifesto ahead of the election to the state legislature in April 2004, the Congress promised that it would initiate peace talks with the Naxalites.
The promise was made against the backdrop of the failed assassination attempt by Naxalites of the then Peoples War Group on the then Chief Minister, Nara Chandrababu Naidu, on October 1, 2003, following which Naidu dissolved the assembly and called an election.
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The PW and the Maoist Communist Center of India subsequently merged on September 21, 2004 to form the CPI-Maoist. The merger was made public just a few hours before talks with the government were to commence.
The Congress wanted to 'act differently' from Naidu's hard-line approach towards the Naxalites. Along the way, the Congress is also said to have struck an unholy and unprincipled deal with the Naxalites for electoral gains. It, therefore, had to repay its 'debts'.
The Naxalites agreed to sit at the negotiating table because they knew that they could make hay while the sun was shining. They badly needed respite from the constant fear of imminent death at the hands of the state police in real or staged encounters. More importantly, their campaign of violence was fast eroding their support base. In 2003, 44 instances of the people revolting against the Naxalites were reported.
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Besides, the Naxalites had suffered numerous, severe body blows during Naidu's regime.
They lost three central committee members (Nalla Adi Reddy 'Shyam', Erramreddy Santosh Reddy 'Mahesh' and Seelam Naresh 'Murali', in 1999), a few Special Zonal Committee/State-level leaders (such as Anupuram Komaraiah, in 2003) and some district-level leaders (such as Polam Sudarshan Reddy, of Warangal, in 2003 and Nelakonda Rajitha of Karimnagar, in 2002), besides numerous cadres in encounters with the police, either real or staged.
They had nearly been wiped out from what they term is their flagship guerrilla zone –– North Telengana Special Zone (NTSZ).
The peace process the government initiated was, thus a 'Godsend' for the Naxalites.
The Naxalites hoisted red flags in lands –– private, forest and Endowments Department –– thus signaling that they stood occupied for redistribution among the landless and hence their rightful owners could not till them.
There have been several reports of the CPI-Maoist occupying land in various parts of the state.
An October 25 media report said in the third week of that month alone, the CPI-Maoist occupied 1,142 acres of land in Kurnool and Prakasam districts; earlier, they had occupied and redistributed 400 acres in Kurnool, 2,005 in Guntur, 10,000 acres in Karimnagar and 3,800 in Warangal. The list runs long.
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During the October peace talks with the government, CPI-Maoist leader Akkiraju Garagopal 'Ramakrishna' stated that they had, until then, 'liberated' 120,000 acres of land from different land owners.
Earlier, in a June 4 speech in the state legislature, Home Minister Jana Reddy said, 'the government expected the armed extremist groups to refrain from intimidation, extortion or other forms of violence.'
However, the various acts of the Naxalites unambiguously indicate that the government's expectations have been thoroughly belied. At the same time the Naxalites have been able to regroup and enlarge their cadre strength.
The government then realised that it was actually paying disproportionately high and in 'excess' of what it originally 'owed' to the Naxalites and had bargained for. Further, the Union government reportedly apprised the state government of the linkages of the CPI-Maoist with Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence.
A report from Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh's Bastar region, quoted two local commanders of the Maoists, held on January 10, as saying they had received sophisticated weapons from Pakistan-based terrorist groups. Thereafter, the state government ordered a disguised crackdown on the Naxalites.
Eventually, the talks broke down.
The state government embarked upon an unprepared and futile exercise in initiating the peace process, leaving the fear-struck people in Naxalite-affected areas to the mercy of the trigger-happy.
The fear psychosis has been aptly summed up by Sridhar Babu, the young Congress legislator from Manthani constituency, Karimnagar district, on January 10. Arguing that the local politicians are terrified, he said: 'The situation is volatile and when things get hot, they will be the first people to be targeted.'
Incidentally, Babu's father and former speaker of the state assembly, D Sripada Rao, was shot dead by Naxalites in cold blood in April 1999.
The AP government had declared cessation of armed hostilities on June 16, 2004 and the Maoists reciprocated on June 21. Even though it had in effect declared a cease-fire, it refused to actually term it as one and chose to observe an informal cease-fire.
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The proscription on the Maoists was not lifted, but was permitted to lapse on July 21, 2004. The government, thereafter, failed to convince the Naxalites in arriving at mutually agreeable terms of cease-fire that would have resulted in signing a formal agreement.
The Naxalites insisted on their right to bear arms, insisting that arms were inseparable to their movement. Moreover, it had asked the smaller Naxalite groups to abide by the informal cease-fire, without even involving them in the peace process.
Strangely, the government constituted a 20 member-committee to monitor the cease-fire agreement that it never signed with the Naxalites. On January 17, a day after the talks broke down, it asked that same committee to probe into violations by the Naxalites.
One hopes that in future, the state government would learn not to make itself look foolish.
More so in the eyes of the CPI-Maoists, whose armed, underground cadre strength has been variously estimated to be between 7,000 and 12,000, with a presence in nearly 150 districts across 14 Indian states.
P V Ramana is a Research Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.
Photograph: Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images
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