INDIA’S FEDERAL GOVERNMENT wants talks with the Maoists only if they abjure violence, but it has been silent on the conditions put forward by the Maoists for starting talks. Earlier in February, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram offered to start negotiations with the Maoist leadership only if they agreed to stop the violence. “We are not asking them to surrender weapons but they should stop using them,” Chidambaram told a news conference in Kolkata after a meeting of four states called to finalise the ‘next stage,’ Operation Green Hunt. The Maoists responded the next day by agreeing to talk, but they put up two preconditions. Their military wing chief, Koteswara Rao, alias Kishenji, said that the government would have to stop Operation Green Hunt and release four top leaders, all politburo members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). “These four leaders will be part of our negotiating team,” Kishenji told this writer.
But there is no indication that the Centre is willing to release their four leaders, Narayan Sanyal, Amitabha Bagchi, Kobad Gandhi and Sushil Roy. A senior home ministry official told this writer, “The Maoists should first commit in writing that they will stop violence and guerrilla activities all across India. Only then we can review the situation and stop Operation Green Hunt.” So it is a ‘pahélé aap’ (you first) situation: the Maoists want the government to stop Operation Green Hunt and release their leaders first, the government wants the Maoists to stop the attacks, but it is not yet clear whether the government is at all interested in releasing the four top leaders. The home ministry official said that the Maoists could negotiate with the leaders they had Chairman Ganapathy, military wing chief Kishenji and one or two other politburo members who are still free. “Releasing the arrested leaders would be a blow to the morale of the security forces,” the official said.
Within a week of Chidambaram’s Kolkata conclave, the Maoists responded by launching a blistering assault on a camp of the paramilitary Eastern Frontier Rifles at Silda, adjoining the troubled enclave of Lalgarh. While many of the force’s jawans lay dead or seriously injured, some half burnt by the blaze set by the Maoists, Kishenji called this writer and a few other journalists to tell them this was the beginning of ‘Operation Peace Hunt.’