In May this year, social worker Swami Agnivesh served as the medium for an unlikely exchange of letters between Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and CPI (Maoist) spokesperson Azad regarding the possibility of a ceasefire.

The letters, now available online, suggest that Azad's death came at a time when the Central government and the CPI (Maoist) were contemplating the broad contours of a possible ceasefire.

In his letter dated May 11, 2010, Mr. Chidambaram asked that the CPI (Maoist) “say that they will not indulge in any violent activity beginning a specific date, say, June 1, 2010.” In return, the Home Minister promised that the Central government would come up with a response that included an invitation for talks. To quote from the letter, the government “would closely observe whether the CPI-Maoist will maintain the position of ‘no violence' for 72 hours … during the said period … the security forces will not conduct any operation against the CPI-Maoist” after which talks would begin.

On May 31, 2010, the Maoists replied at length. In a letter signed by Azad, the CPI (Maoist) indicated its willingness to consider talks if there was “ceasefire or cessation of hostilities by both sides simultaneously instead of asking one side to abjure violence.” Azad also asked the government to “initiate measures to release party leaders as a prelude to the release of political prisoners and … stop all its efforts to escalate the war, including the measure of calling back all the paramilitary forces deployed in the war zones.”

In an indication of the advanced nature of the process, on June 18 Swami Agnivesh sent out an email inviting the media to a press conference “to announce the peace process that has been initiated by me between the Government of India and the CPI (Maoist).” However, the press conference was called off at the last minute without any explanation.

“Swami Agnivesh was going to unveil a concrete proposal and a firm date regarding a possible ceasefire,” said Gudsa Usendi, spokesperson for the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee of the CPI (Maoist). “But the press conference was called off under pressure from the government.”

Asked for their response to this charge, North Block sources denied applying any such pressure.

They also played down the importance of Swami Agnivesh's aborted press conference and dismissed a possible link between the proposed ceasefire and Azad's death. “Why would the Government of India want to scuttle someone's initiative for peace,” asked a senior official. “It is to be encouraged.”

The Hindu was unable to contact Swami Agnivesh for his comments on the ceasefire.

On July 2, Azad was shot in an encounter in Adilabad, leaving the possibility of a ceasefire in tatters. “For us [CPI-Maoist], comrade Azad was the central figure involved in the possibility of a peace process,” Usendi said, adding that the Central Committee was yet to decide on the future course of action regarding a ceasefire.

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