PUCL Bulletin, February 2005
Peace talks with Naxalites must continue
Kannabiran’s letter to the Prime Minister
[ See also, Prime Minister's reply ]
Dear Prime Minister,
You may kindly recall that I met you on the 31 October 2004 and explained to you the details of the ongoing Peace Talks between the Government of Andhra Pradesh and the Naxalite Parties. You appreciated the efforts and assured that talks will continue, expressing your conviction that violence has no place either in governance or resolution of political issues. You were also good enough to mention that Shri Sankaran and I could write to you on the matter.
As I mentioned to you, the first round of talks were completed on the 18th October 2004 in a cordial atmosphere. The next round of talks are yet to start. In the meanwhile, the period of six months of agreed “ceasefire” is coming to an end on 16th December 2004 and there seems to be some hesitation on the part of the Government to extend the period of ceasefire further. As no meaningful talks will be feasible, without the extension of ceasefire, the announcement of extension of ceasefire has to be done immediately, so that the next round of talks could commence.
I may mention that there has been relative peace and no loss of life, after almost 35 years (of which the last ten years have seen extremely brutal violence) and hence I am anxious that this opportunity for resolution of conflict through talks should not be lost. I am setting out the details of the initiation and conduct of peace talks in the State in the following paragraphs.
The Constitution of India enjoined on the State obligation to bring about social transformation; but this obligation inscribed in Part IV of the Constitution never got fully translated into practice, resulting in the emergence of various movements, during he last fifty years, principal among them being the three and a half decades of naxalite movement. This movement is undoubtedly political in nature and has distinct social and economic roots. A situation has emerged in Andhra Pradesh, particularly in the Telengana area, where the States and its agencies show little respect for law and life and the naxalite parties too practice ruthless violence regardless of peoples concerns and sufferings. While one death is as tragic and as a meaningless as another, over 2500 persons have been killed by the State in police encounters during the past 35 years, and almost as many have lost their lives at the hands of Naxalites during the same period. In this discourse of violence that has been engaging the State and the Naxalites, the society is getting progressively brutalised and people becoming increasingly, insensitive, often reduced to passive spectators.
For about seven years, the Committee of Concerned Citizens- a group of persons from different walks of life - has been engaging itself in this issue interacting with various sections of people, meeting the leaders of CPI-(ML) Peoples war, meeting the Chief Minister of State holding discussions with various political parties and other sections of the civil society. In the course of its efforts, the Committee has unequivocally condemned the lawlessness on the part of the Government, especially the regular and unabated extra judicial murders commonly known as encounter killings. The Committee has also unhesitatingly condemned the arbitrary and mindless violence of the naxalites and their policy of extermination of individuals and destruction of Public property. The Committee has taken the stand that the State must abide by the legal legitimacy and sanction to hold the reins of power. Rule of law is not just a weapon in the hands of the State, but also a restraint on its behaviour. On the other side, the Naxalites must adhere to higher human values and human concerns through their theory and practice, and this alone can provide legitimacy and justification in the easy of he people for nay revolutionary or transformatory movements.
The Committee took note of the Report of the visit by a Central Team headed by you (as the then Member Secretary, Planning Commission) in May 1982 to the affected areas in Andhra Pradesh and the observation that the cause of tribal discontent could be traced to exploitation in land and forests, the poor economic standards of the tribals and inadequacy of basic amenities. The Committee also noted the recommendations contained in the 88th Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee (headed by Shri Pranab Mukherjee) of the Ministry of Home Affairs (April 2002) of the Government of India which had recommended that the Government should make sincere efforts to engage in a dialogue with Naxalite groups that a dialogue is a step in the right direction.
It is in this background that the Committee made earnest efforts towards bringing both sides to agree for talks with the objective of restoring peace in the State. However, the earlier efforts in 2002 for having talks failed primarily due to lace lf a proper understanding and earnestness on the part of the then Government. Again the hopes of talks revived when the election to the Andhra Pradesh Assembly as well as the General elections took place in April-May 2004. The issue of Naxalism became a central issue in the elections, as the Assembly was dissolved and the elections were advanced soon after the mine blast attempt at the then Chief Minister on 1 October 2003. While the Telugu Desam Party wanted to deal with the issue with an iron hand, the Congress Party, declared in its election manifesto that they would resolve the issue through talks with the Naxalite parties, considering Naxalism as rooted in socio-economic problems.
Accordingly, in May 2004, after the Congress Party came to power, the Chief Minister immediately announced the stopping of police encounters and combing operations for Naxalites and called for talks. The CPI (ML) – Peoples War (Politbureau and State Committee) as well as CPI (ML) – Janashakti announced their readiness for talks and a ceasefire on their part, if a ceasefire was announced by Government. The Government announced a “ceasefire” for a period of three months commencing from 16 June 2004. at the initiative of the Home Minister of the State, a series of discussions took place on various aspects of modalities for talks with the emissaries of Peoples War/Jana Shakti, the Committee of Concerned Citizens and others.
The ban imposed by the State Government on the CPI (ML) Peoples War and its allied organisations which was in force for almost nine years was allowed to lapse on 21 July 2004. For the purpose of having a conducive atmosphere for talks, there was an exchange of letters between the Government and the CPI(ML) -Peoples War/CPI(ML) Janashakti parties laying down the ground rules, to be followed during the period of the talks (commonly known as ceasefire agreement). A set of seven ground rules was also agreed upon. A monitoring Committee was also set up to oversee the adherence to the ground rules.
After finalization of the modalities and the tentative agenda, the Peace Talks actually commenced on the 15th October 2004. The Government team was led by the Home Minister Shri Jana Reddy, and consisted of some other ministers as well as leaders of the Congress Party. The team of Mediators included Shri S.R. Sankaran, Shri K.G. Kannabiran and six others. The CPI (ML) -Peoples War (which has since become known as CPI (Maoist), after the merger with Maoist Communist Centre) and CPI(ML) -Janashakti were represented by their State leaders. The discussions were completed in regard to the first two items of the agenda (out of a total of eleven). The first item was in regard to the democratic atmosphere including withdrawal of cases against people for agitations; release of political prisoners; removal of price on the heads of revolutionary leaders and controlling of mafia and anti-social elements. The second item was discussed in great detail was land distribution to the poor, including issues relating to lands of tribal people. The first round of talks ended on the night of 18th October 2004 in a cordial atmosphere with the hope of meeting again for the next round to discuss other items such as self-reliance. The talks that have been started in the public interest responding to public pressure and peoples aspirations and are intended to enlarge the democratic space by reducing violence and conflict, and to secure peace and good governance for the people of the State.
The initial period of three months of cease fire commenced on the 16th June 2004. the last six months of ceasefire/talks have witnessed an atmosphere of peace, particularly in rural Telangana and it is indeed a creditable achievement that, after almost a decade, there has been no loss of life at all either in encounters by police or actions by Naxalite parties. There is an overwhelming sense of relief and security felt by the common people in the villages who were earlier often sandwiched in the cross fire between police and Naxalites.
On the other side, there were reports that the CPI (Maoist) were occupying Government or private lands unilaterally and planting red flags; but on an appeal by the Committee of Concerned Citizens, they stopped this type of action. There are reports from the police that CPI (Maoist)/ CPI (ML) Janashakti are indulging in extortions holding out threats and recruiting people to their cadre. There is a fear expressed by police that the Naxalites are strengthening themselves taking advantage of the talks. The emergence of all India CPI (Maoist) party as a result of the merger of CPI (ML)-Peoples War and MCC (I) is also viewed with a degree of anxiety. But there is no better alternative than talks and in fact, as mentioned earlier the talks have resulted in a peaceful atmosphere in the Naxalite areas of the State, for the first time after ten years.
Hence the Committee of Concerned Citizens as well as all the Mediators have requested the Home Minister and the Chief Minister by a letter on the 4th December to announce the further continuance of ceasefire beyond 16th December 2004 immediately, so as to facilitate the next round of talks.
The Chief Minister has been making statements from time to time to the effect that the Naxalite parties should lay down arms and then come for talks or that the modalities of laying down arms will be the agenda for the next round of talks Obviously, no talks will be possible on this basis. The abatement of violence can only come through a persuasive process of talks and by resolving peoples issues in such a manner that recourse to arms becomes unnecessary for any movement. One of the clauses (known as Clause 7 which was formulated by the Government) in the ground rules for ceasefire was intended to ensure peace during the course of peace talks by stipulating that no party including Peoples War will carry arms while addressing public meetings. But this clause was kept aside for further discussions as part of the main agenda by the Naxalite parties. This can be discussed in the next round and the Government may seek that the Naxalites may not move in the villages with arms during the period of talks.
If the Government takes up land distribution earnestly, fulfils the commitments made in the first round of talks and ensure that police do not play a repressive role, the talks will lead to an overall democratising process, leading to lasting peace with human dignity.
In the interests of people, it is absolutely necessary that there is no breakdown of talks and no recurrence of the cycle of police and Naxalite violence. The immediate need is to impress upon the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh to announce the continuance of the ceasefire beyond 16 December 2004 on the terms already agreed upon and move on quickly to the next round of talks. – Yours sincerely, K.G. Kannabiran
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