The Maoists have caught on to the technicality of the Chhattisgarh Home Minister promising 'unconditional' talks and Chief Minister Baghel reiterating that Maoists should first declare allegiance to the Indian Constitution
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has been making deliberate efforts for reaching out to the Maoists by visiting Maoist-infested areas, mass contact and 'meet and great' programs. Baghel started his state wide tour on May 4, 2022, touring a number of assembly segments in Surguja District in Chhattisgarh's northern region, After these initial visits and contact programmes, Baghel restarted his state-wide mass contact programme after a gap from Konta in Bastar region on May 10. He went to visit three remote villages in Konta constituency located in the state's southern tip on May 18 and the next day, he visited the villages in the Maoists affected region in Bijapur constituency, and Dantewada constituency the day after that.
Baghel's mass contact programme was naturally under heavy security arrangements including intensified patrolling and employment of road opening parties. As part of his state-wide mass contact program, from May 23 to May 28, Baghel visited other tribal constituencies in the tribal region of Bastar. This part included visiting the villages of Keshkal, Kondagaon, Chitrakot, Jagdalpur and Bastar. Senior tribal leader and Excise Minister Kawasi Lakhma accompanied Baghel during his visit to the tribal region.
Referring to the Maoists statement seeking 'conducive atmosphere for talks', Chief Minister Baghel said, "There can't be a more conducive atmosphere (to hold peace talks) in Bastar than that prevailing now."
On May 18, the Maoists Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee spokesman Vikalp issued a statement saying, "We have shown our willingness to hold talks and made our stand clear. Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel's reiteration that his government was ready to hold talks if they (Maoists) expressed faith in the Constitution and his silence shows that the government is adamant." Vikalp pointed out that Chhattisgarh Home Minister Tamradwaj Sahu had made a statement that any such talks could be held "unconditionally". He said, "We want to make it clear that talks could be held only if the atmosphere is conducive. No peace talks are possible when there is aerial attack, repression and threats from security forces. If the government is serious about talks, it should create a suitable atmosphere."
The statement further said that the Maoists had not put any pre-conditions but had only wanted withdrawal of ban on the party and its frontal organisations, opportunity to work freely, stopping aerial strikes, removal of camps of security forces and withdrawal of forces from strife torn areas, release of their (Maoists) jailed leaders, and "whenever the talks take place, real issues could be discussed". Earlier, Baghel had said that his government is ready for talks with the rebels if they expressed faith in the government.
On May 19, on the second day of Baghel's assembly constituency-wise tour of Bastar region, he interacted with the locals and media at Sukma, one of the Maoist-violence hit districts. He reiterated his government's offer to hold peace talks with Maoists but emphasised that the Maoists should express faith in the Constitution before any talks are initiated.
During the course of his mass contact programme, Baghel handed over forest land right recognition certificates and announced a slew of development measures
Referring to the earlier Maoists statement seeking 'conducive atmosphere for talks', Baghel said, "There can't be a more conducive atmosphere (to hold peace talks) in Bastar than that prevailing now. In Sukma, where Naxalism started, there is very little Maoist activity now. If they (Maoists) want to talk, our doors are always open. But what is the basis on which the talks will happen? I am in India, which is a Federal Republic. As a Chief Minister of a State, I am in a constitutional post. If I talk, it will be only on the basis of the Constitution of India. I have only one point to make, if you (Maoists) don't have faith in the Indian Constitution, I can't talk to you. The first declaration should be this – that you have faith in the Constitution. Then I will come to Sukma to talk, or wherever you want, I have no problem. But there is only one condition, as citizens of India; they should express faith in the Constitution." He greeted a former Maoist commander turned Inspector of District Reserve Guards (DRG) force Madkam Mudraj who was in uniform.
During the course of his mass contact programme, Baghel handed over forest land right recognition certificates to 291 beneficiaries under the Konta assembly constituency. He also announced a slew of measures that included:
The Maoists have caught on to the technicality of the Chhattisgarh Home Minister promising 'unconditional' talks and Baghel reiterating that Maoists should first declare allegiance to the Indian Constitution. One way is to open dialogue and then see whether they are ready to respect the Indian Constitution though that may be seen as a comedown for Baghel and may be propagated as some sort of victory by the Maoists.
Maoists continue to enjoy foreign support, the server of their propaganda website was earlier reported in China, and they maintain links with radical outfits like the Popular Front of India (PFI) which is indulging in subversive activities in the country
The Maoists have also been hit hard by the pandemic and have suffered losses also. At the same time, the Maoists continue to enjoy foreign support, the server of their propaganda website was earlier reported in China, and they maintain links with radical outfits like the Popular Front of India (PFI) which is indulging in subversive activities in the country. Moreover, Chhattisgarh though worst hit by Maoists violence, is not the only state that is infested with the rebels, This implies that talks with the Maoists requires a central approach though Chhattisgarh could take the lead even though the State is not ruled by the same political party as the Centre. Poor Centre-State relations in states ruled by opposition parties should not come in the way of talks.
Most important is the need to establish administration, security, and access to law, healthcare, employment, restoring tribal rights and eliminating external mischief in the Maoists infested regions, especially in the 23 villages in the vast Dandakaranya Forest covering 72 sq km. These are the real measures required to bring the Maoists into the mainstream.