Sunday, October 17, 2004

India: Maoist Talks - War, peace and the people

The Maoists are unwilling to yield any ground on this score as they proclaim the weapon as an inalienable part of their struggle. Their aim is not just to liberate the masses from exploitation but also to sustain the movement with arms again. On the other hand, the Government is clear that the naxalites must part with their weapons since the people have opted for a democratic system, which enjoins upon everyone to work within the constitutional framework. The naxal leaders see no merit in this argument as the Congress manifesto merely promised talks with extremist groups without laying down any conditions.


War, peace and the people

That the Andhra Pradesh Government and the naxalites are talking is itself a step forward. S. Nagesh Kumar on the ongoing dialogue.


WHEN THE representatives of the Andhra Pradesh Government and Maoist leaders sat across the table in Hyderabad on October 15 to discuss peace, it was in recognition of the truth that they had to respect the people's wishes. The Congress Government had a political advantage over its predecessor since it had received a fresh mandate on a plank that included initiation of peace talks with the naxalites.

Both sides made a positive beginning on October 15 when they agreed to cease hostilities during the peace process though they quibbled over the issue of arriving at a written agreement to give effect to it.

What is it that the Government and the naxalites will discuss in the days ahead?

Apart from economic issues, what will dominate the talks are issues like creating a minimum democratic atmosphere, land distribution, right to education and health, restoring social welfare on top of the Government's agenda, right to decent livelihood, right to social justice and empowerment of depressed sections. Total prohibition is also on the agenda.

While these problems may not defy solutions, the most contentious issue is the Government's insistence that the naxalite cadres should not carry weapons during the ceasefire period. So far, some foresight on the part of both the sides has helped in preventing the talks from getting bogged down on the weapons' issue.

The Maoists are unwilling to yield any ground on this score as they proclaim the weapon as an inalienable part of their struggle. Their aim is not just to liberate the masses from exploitation but also to sustain the movement with arms again.

On the other hand, the Government is clear that the naxalites must part with their weapons since the people have opted for a democratic system, which enjoins upon everyone to work within the constitutional framework. The naxal leaders see no merit in this argument as the Congress manifesto merely promised talks with extremist groups without laying down any conditions.

With a little flexibility, a few other items in the 11-point agenda may not prove so difficult to resolve. Take for instance, the land issue. The Government is willing to go the extra mile to distribute regular lands as well as degraded lands after making them suitable for cultivation. Its stand is that re-generation of the rural economy is part of its manifesto.

A sticky issue is the naxalites' demand that the World Bank agenda pursued by the previous Government be abandoned. They contend that this agenda, driven by Western powers, is responsible for all economic ills. The Government's response: it has already downgraded the World Bank's importance by tapping nationalised banks.

The CPI (Maoists) seems to have softened its stand on having `a democratic Telangana' by urging the Government to at least pass a resolution in the Assembly seeking separate Statehood for the region.

A question often asked is whether the ongoing peace talks will yield any tangible results. The Government's response is that the end may not always be important. It recognises that the opinion of every section of people matters in a democracy. As the Home Minister, K. Jana Reddy, put it, "even the naxalites are part of the people who inhabit this land."

Hindu 17/10/2004