By S.R. Ramanujan
Whenever the government changes in Andhra Pradesh, among the first few items of priority for the newly elected government will invariably include ‘tackling Naxal violence’. This has nothing to do with the colour or shade of the government.
It was the Congress government under N. Janardhan Reddy that imposed a ban in the first instance. N.T. Rama Rao, who declared himself the ‘natural ally’ of Naxalites, lifted the ban. When N. Chandrababu Naidu became CM, he reimposed the ban. Now, with the Congress government back in power, the ban is lifted to bring the Naxalites to the negotiating table. Why does this happen with every change of government or in other words, after every general election? Thereby hangs a tale!
Interestingly, this Marxist-Leninist extremist group that believes in power through barrel of gun and certainly not through EVMs treats our Constitution and democratic institutions with utter contempt, has declared a ‘war’ against the state and plays power politics at the time of elections. It is an open secret that its fiat alone runs in most of the Telengana and north-coastal Andhra districts and during the run-up to the polls, it makes its preference clear to those who matter. So, it was NTR who was the first beneficiary of Naxals’ generosity, followed by Dr M. Chenna Reddy, and now, it is Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy to benefit from their ‘blessings’.
Peace talks with ‘war’ group
It is not without reason that the Naxal ideologue and Revolutionary Writers’ Association'sleader, Varvara Rao, remarked that this government was indebted to Naxalites, for it was they who let them come to power. It is a different matter that there is a difference of opinion among the Naxal ideologues and such ideologues are aplenty with varied masks. One such outfit is Human Rights Forum. Its convener K. Balagopal feels that the government'sdecision to hold peace talks is political and he would not play any role. What is apolitical about Naxalism, one doesn’t know. Especially when the Naxals’ declared objective is to overthrow the constitutionally elected government by means of armed struggle and to capture power.
Be that as it may, and without getting into any ideological conundrum, one has to understand the anxiety of the new government to break bread with the Naxalite groups, and in particular the People'sWar Group (PWG). If you recall, it was Chandrababu Naidu who cried hoarse during the election campaign that the Congress Party had been in league with the Naxalites. It was promptly dismissed as one of those election rhetorics. Now, the pre-poll scene is slowly unfolding. During the later years of Naidu’s rule, Naxal violence and counter-violence were at their peak, culminating in an assassination bid on Naidu himself. Not to be outdone, Naidu wanted to use this unfortunate incident to turn the table against the PWG by going in for a ‘sympathy vote’. Return of Naidu would have meant greater trouble for the PWG, who was already forced into a tactical retreat after its aborted Alipiri venture.
Take any extremist or terrorist outfit. After every misadventure or unsuccessful attempt, or extreme pressure on its ranks, it talks of peace. This is a world phenomenon, whether it is LTTE, ULFA or other similar outfits in the north-east. Having helped the Congress Party come to power, the PWG wants its pound of flesh. Ironically, the name of the game is ‘peace’. No one is clear as to what is the scope of peace talks.
Representatives from both sides have been named for the peace talks. One does not know whether the government got any ‘secret’ assurance from the PWG that it would abandon the path of violence, declare allegiance to the Indian Constitution, disband its terrorist training camps in the interior forests and stop meddling with the civil administration in the villages. On the contrary, what was made obvious by the Politburo members of the Naxalite outfit, PWG, was that the armed revolution was non-negotiable in the peace talks. It was also made clear that during the so-called ceasefire, the Naxalites would carry arms for self-defence.
Take any extremist or terrorist outfit. After every misadventure or unsuccessful attempt, or extreme pressure on its ranks, it talks of peace. This is a world phenomenon.
In an interview to select journalists in the Nallamala forest, two Naxal leaders were quite candid. They said that their decision to participate in talks had been prompted by the desire to “create democratic space where people can follow their ideology”.
Even before coming to the negotiating table, their first demand was to remove the state Director General of Police, for he has been accused of helping the ‘covert’ operations. Other demands of the PWG include separate Telengana, total prohibition, removal of police camps, disbanding of Grey Hounds, recalling of CRPF, freedom for all political prisoners, putting an end to the exploitation by World Bank and MNCs and restoration of all democratic rights. The Politburo members have also rejected a clause in the draft ‘ceasefire agreement’ that the PWG should not take up a recruitment drive, collect weapons and explosives, threaten people, and summon government officials and question them. If the government of Andhra Pradesh concedes these demands, there can be a comfortable swap of power centres. YSR and his company can shift to Nallamala forest range and the Naxals can park themselves at the state secretariat. It would not make any difference and the Naxals would have achieved their goal without much of armed struggle.
Keeping aside Andhra Pradesh for the moment, let’s look at the national scenario. The Andhra Pradesh government’s ‘peace struggle’ has the blessings of the Central Government. PWG and organisations professing similar ideologies like Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI), Janashakti and others are having considerable presence and influence in states like Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. So far, there have been no serious efforts on the part of the respective state governments to bring the PWG or allied groups to the negotiating table nor does the UPA government at the Centre seem to have any plans to coordinate with the state governments on this issue. Is it because there is no need for quid pro quo in those states and the state governments need not pay back to the Naxals for what they got as electoral support?
What does the AP government expect from Naxalites of PWG whenever the ‘peace talks’ are held, especially after their categorical statement that armed struggle is non-negotiable?
Is it because there is no need for quid pro quo in those states and the state governments need not pay back to the Naxals for what they got as electoral support?
The PWG has restarted the people'scourts in the villages for instant justice, settling disputes and extorting money from contractors. Large-scale recruitment of youth is taking place in the villages. This explains why certain clauses in the draft agreement, especially pertaining to recruitment and movement with arms in the villages, are not acceptable to the PWG.
YSR is trying to present a contrast. Chandrababu Naidu allied with ‘communal’ BJP and allegedly ran a ‘repressive’ regime with a ban on people'smovement. Hence, the process of reversal. Reddy may score a brownie point against Naidu with his peace overtures and in his efforts to project himself as a secular politician with reservation for Muslims and as a liberal by allowing a free run to the Naxalites. Will he succeed in this game? The answer lies with the state police. Even before the talks could begin, there are charges that the police are trying to sabotage the talks.
When the PWG insists on continuing the armed struggle despite ‘peace talks’, who will be its target for the armed struggle? It can’t be against the innocent villagers. It can only be against those who represent the state or what is termed as ‘state terrorism’. Yes, back to square one. Face-off between the police and the Naxalites. With a brief interlude to help consolidate their position. Till then…talks to continue.
(The writer is the former executive editor of Newstime, Eenadu and director, Eenadu Television.)