Mamata in Lalgarh, echo in Parliament

TMC chief Mamata Banerjee urged the Maoists to come to the negotiation table.

Lalgarh (West Bengal): Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee Monday condemned "the manner" in which Maoist spokesman Cherukiri Rajkumar alias Azad was "killed" last month, virtually echoing the Left wing rebels` allegation that he was gunned down in a staged shootout July 2.

"I feel the way Azad was killed is not right," Banerjee told a huge rally in this Maoist-hit pocket of West Midnapore district.

Police have claimed that Azad, the number three in the Maoist hierarchy, died during a firefight with the security forces in the jungles of Adilabad in Andhra Pradesh.

Banerjee said social activist Swami Agnivesh, the interlocutor between the government and the Left extremists, had persuaded Azad to agree to talks.

"What happened is not right. Azad had reposed faith in the democratic process," Banerjee said during the "apolitical" rally organised under the banner of the Anti-Atrocities Forum.

Pro-Maoist tribal body People`s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) had extended support to the rally also attended by social activists like Agnivesh and Medha Patkar, and pro-rebel writer Mahasweta Devi, among other intellectuals.

Banerjee, whose party is the second largest force in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), condoled Azad`s death. "He is not among us any more. I pay my respects to Azad."

Agnivesh has sought a judicial inquiry into Azad`s killing, alleging the authorities used his communication channels to track the Maoist leader and kill him.

The Maoists have said Azad and another activist Hemchandra Pandey were picked up from Nagpur July 1 by security forces and eliminated at Adilabad the next day as their spokesman was preparing ground for peace talks between the Communist Party of India- Maoist (CPI-Maoist) and the government.

Uproar in Lok Sabha over Lalgarh rally

The Left parties in the Lok Sabha Monday asked the central government to clarify its stand on the Maoists after a "responsible party in the government and their ministers" decided to hold a rally in Maoist-affected Lalgarh.

The Trinamool Congress, however, rejected the allegation, saying that the party and its leader, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, stand "for peace and harmony".

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) member A. Sampath, who was allowed to speak after Left MPs created an uproar and gathered near Speaker Meira Kumar`s podium after the zero hour, said an important United Progressive Alliance (UPA) partner and its ministers were acting irresponsibly by joining hands with "anti-nationals."

The government should clarify its stand, said Sampath, an MP from Kerala.

He, however, did not name Banerjee or the Trinamool Congress.

Sampath said the minister and her party were joining hands with the Maoists, undermining Prime Minister Manmohan Singh`s declaration that the ultras are the biggest threat to national security.

Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay said Lalgarh was a part of West Bengal and argued that Banerjee as a union minister had every right to spread "peace and harmony" in the troubled area.

"We are totally against politics of violence," Bandyopadhyay said.

Earlier, there was an uproar in the Lok Sabha over Banerjee`s "apolitical" rally in Lalgarh.

Left party MPs tried to raise the issue at the beginning of question hour but the Trinamool Congress MPs protested vociferously.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal and his deputy, V Narayanasamy, had a tough time pacifying members from both sides.

With senior CPI-M MPs away to attend the extended central committee meeting at Vijaywada, their colleagues Bansa Gopal Chowdhury and Sampath tried to raise the issue.

The Trinamool Congress countered through Sudip Bandyopadhyay.

The Speaker could bring the house to order only after the ministers reached out to the agitating members.