Social Activist Swami Agnivesh, the interlocutor appointed by Home Minister P Chidambaram for talks with the CPI (Maoist), is at a loss. He has not been able to sleep ever since Maoist leader Azad’s death.
Azad’s letter to Swamiji was replete with optimism and promise towards ending violence. But before that could happen, Azad was killed by the Andhra police in an alleged ‘encounter’. Swamiji is unable to shrug off some accountability as he feels responsible, being the one to have played the pivotal role in trying to bring the Maoists to the talk table.
Disappointed at the Home Minister’s rejection of his demand of conducting a probe into Azad’s killing, but not utterly hopeless about the progress of the talks, Swami Agnivesh in an exclusive interview with Smita Mishra of Zeenews.com speaks about how the talks had reached a positive ground, what happened to Azad and what prospects lie ahead in bringing peace to the Naxal ravaged land.
What is your opinion regarding the killing of Maoist leader Azad?
Since I am part of the peace talks, I will not give an opinion. But there is no denying the fact that the death of Azad occurred under very mysterious circumstances. Most people and Maoists say that he was murdered after being captured by the Andhra police. The police staged a fake encounter to cover up their act.
When I met Chidambaram recently, I told him that the death of Azad has filled people with doubt regarding the real intensions of the government. Killing of a man who was ready for peace has tarnished the government’s image. Hence he should conduct an enquiry into the killing of Azad. But the reply that I got was very unexpected and disappointing. He straightaway told me to ask Andhra government about it, as it is their responsibility.
What kind of discussions were you having with Azad? As per the discussions what were the views of the Maoists about the peace talks?
I got Chidambaram’s letter on 11the May. I sent them the letter and their first response came to me on 31st May. It was a two and a half page letter in which they had expressed their willingness for talks and had clearly mentioned that they do not want any violence.
They wanted removal of ban from them and also wanted to participate in the democratic process. They sounded very positive and hopeful in the letter.
When I discussed the contents of the letter with the Home Minister, he said that the Naxals have not given any dates…and I assured him that I would get one from them soon. But before the talks could move any further, this unfortunate incident happened.
The Maoists want to participate in democratic process…does that mean they want to fight elections?
No…no. They basically want to join the main stream and lead normal lives. They desire the redressal of their grievances in a constitutional way. They want their rights and issues to be addressed peacefully and lawfully.
Did the Maoists ever regret the loss of human lives in their attacks, be it civilian or military?
Yes, they have. They kept repeating in their letter that they do not want to kill. Besides this, whenever they have indulged in mindless killing, they have realized it. Kishenji had profusely apologized after Jnaneshwari train mishap, saying that it was not they who did it, demanding suitable compensation for the victims. In fact another leader Godsa Usendi had even written a long letter of the government regretting the loss of lives in one similar act of violence in Chhattishgarh.
They have said this several times that they do not want to kill innocent people and they do not even want to kill the police personnel, unless they hunt for them or carry search operations in their area.
But I do not support the Maoists in this. I consider it absolutely wrong and condemnable. You cannot bring about revolution at gunpoint.
What are the exact demands of the Maoists from the Government?
First of all, they want ceasefire from both the sides. The Home Minister has agreed to this demand but has asked them to give a prior notice of 8-10 days.
In fact the Home Minister has never asked them to give up arms. But his demand for this notice period is quite fair as it will take time to communicate this to the state and regional police.
They have expressed desire for peaceful solution of issues like human rights violation of the adivasis (tribals), restoration of their land rights etc.
Do you think the government actually has any plan vis-a-vis the Maoist problem?
Very apt question, very rightly asked…because even I am in deep contemplation regarding this. Sometimes I do feel inclined to doubt the government’s intensions. The talks were progressing smoothly, the Maoists were also coming around. And then Azad was killed and now after hearing Chidambaram’s reply on having a probe into his killing, I am actually confused. I feel morally responsible to some extent.
Do you support evicting Maoists from their strongholds, so that development can reach there?
What is the need to evict them for developing their land? They never are against development of any sort. After all what do they demand? A rightful ownership of their own lands and its assets! Why should development be done at the cost of the poor. For how long will the government be doing this? And what actually happens to these evicted people, do you really know? The Bhakhra Dam was constructed in 1907 and people still have not been given proper compensation. Their children and grand children are still fighting cases.
Where did the displaced people of Tehri and Narmada go? What happened in Bhilai, Rourkela and Bokaro, are you aware? Development should not be done at the cost of the locals. It should be for the locals.
Won’t it be fair to use armed forces against an armed rebellion?
Common people may hold this opinion, but not if you know the problem in its depth. It is true that violence angers people and they want that the Maoists should be crushed with an iron hand. But I am a follower of Gandhiji and believe that peace is the only lasting and true solution. You can crush someone with violence, but you cannot crush his seething discontent. So why not find an answer to the root of the problem.
Besides, police is for arresting and not killing. They could have killed Kasab. But why was he caught and is now being tried?
What according to you is the solution to the Naxal problem?
The only solution is peace and development. It is my sincere appeal to the Maoists and the government not to back out from the journey of peace that we had just begun. We have already lost many lives and there is no point in losing more.
After Azad what is the status of talks with Maoists?
No doubt the death of Azad has marred the entire peace process. But the picture is still not completely gloomy. After Azad, we had sent feelers and the Maoists are not averse to holding peace talks even now. The 45-hours bandh called by them was more or less peaceful except a few sporadic instances of violence. This is enough to indicate that they can still be brought around if only the government makes sincere and honest efforts.