Maoists are acquiring weapons through Bangladesh, Myanmar and possibly Nepal, according to Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who has expressed government’s willingness for a dialogue with them provided they abjure violence.
Naxalism remains the biggest internal security threat to India, he said and hit out at intellectuals who still try to “romanticise” the naxalites.
In a wide-ranging interview to PTI on Saturday, Mr. Chidambaram said the government is practical enough to understand that the Naxals would not lay down arms.
He said said the West Bengal government has “learnt a lesson very late” after the Lalgarh operation but he would not comment much on the West Bengal government’s decision to secure the release of an abducted police official by not opposing the bail application of about 20 pro-Maoist trials.
“In terms of the threat to security from Indian sources or internal sources, Naxalism remains the biggest threat.
There is, of course, the other threat which is cross border terrorism but that is emanating from across the border,” he said.
“There is no evidence of any money flowing in from abroad to the Maoists. But there is certainly evidence of weapons being smuggled from abroad through Myanmar or Bangladesh which reaches the Maoists.”
Asked whether some weapons are coming through Nepal, he said “it is possible”.
To a question whether there is any Pakistan angle to it, Mr. Chidambaram said they were not sure where the weapons are originating from.
“We know now that the weapons are coming through Bangladesh and Myanmar and possibly Nepal. The border is very porous. The Indo-Nepal border is a very porous border.” He said police has not found any weapons with Pakistani marking.
The Maoists had looted “our own armouries” and they had said that the objective of the attack on the Sankhrail police station in West Bengal was weapons and money.
“Even after this statement, if people romanticise the naxalities, all I can say that only God can help them,” he said.
Asked if there are any groups from abroad backing the Maoists, the Minister said “I don’t know. It is possible that they get some intellectual support. I hear voices of some human rights group from abroad which say that we have unleashed a war on the Maoists. That is the intellectual support I am referring to.”
Asked if there is any evidence of external help to Maoists, Mr. Chidambaram said it may be at the level of intellectual or ideological level.
Queried about the Maoist leader Kishenji’s statement that they would not surrender arms and that forces should be withdrawn from the entire naxal—affected areas along with the release of the cadre and their supporters, he said “I am not not going to respond to Kishenji.”
Mr. Chidambaram said “he (Kishenji) is the leader of an organisation declared as unlawful. Therefore, as one representing the government, I have no intention of responding to him.”
He said a few days ago when former Lok Sabha Speaker Rabi Ray and his friends issued a statement suggesting that violence should stop and talks should begin he felt it was his duty to write to him and State what the government policy is.
“Let me state it in carefully chosen words that if any group abjures violence we are willing to talk to that group about any genuine grievances. This is what the Prime Minister has said, this is what I have said. We have not asked them to anything more. We simply say halt the violence and then we can talk,” he said.
Asked if laying down arms is not a condition, Mr. Chidambaram said he had not used those words.
“Besides I am too practical to know they will not lay down arms. They have to halt violence which means halt the wanton destruction of railway track, roads, telephone towers, school buildings, bridges, halt kidnapping and extortion.
“Violence must be stopped and then with the help of well-meaning people, we can find a way in which the state governments primarily can talk to the groups in that state and the Central government will afford any assistance it can to facilitate such talks,” he said.
To a question whether the government was working on an out-of-the-box solution to break the logjam with the Maoists to bring them to the negotiating table, Mr. Chidambaram said “there is no jam. It is only those who romanticise left-wing extremism think that there is a jam.
“This is the land where Mahatma Gandhi won us freedom through non-violence. Can you have a greater oppressor than a colonial government?”
The Minister said if the naxalites claim to have the majority of the people behind them what prevented them from contesting elections and implementing policies which they think are the right policies.
“Be that as it may, the elected government today says you halt violence and come and talk to us about your grievances,” he said.
‘Maoist should join mainstream politics’
Asked if he was inviting them to join the political maintstream, Mr. Chidambaram said “They should. They should join the political mainstream if they want to work for the people.”
About a perception that under his stewardship in the Home Ministry there is a concerted attempt to take on the Maoist challenge, he said these perceptions were not quite right. State governments were acting against naxalities. But by and large the naxalites had a virtual free run.
The governments, he said, were not engaging the naxalities and in this period of 10 to 12 years, the naxalites have expanded their area of influence and dominance.
Mr. Chidambaram said there is massive extortion, destruction of public property, massive disruption of normal life. This has reached a tipping point.
Referring to the two meetings of Chief Ministers in January and August and a meeting he had with Chief Ministers of the left-wing affected states, he said now State governments are the ones who have come to the Centre seeking help to meet the challenge.
“The government of India’s response is a response to the demand of the Chief Ministers of the affected states. It is the Chief Ministers who want us to send more paramilitary forces. It is CMs who have said that they are willing to take on the challenge of the naxalites,” he said.
Maintaining that there is no change in the policy of the Centre, the Minister said “it is just that the states have woken up to the challenge, the grave threat and that have asked for greater assistance.
On West Bengal government’s swap of tribals for the release of abducted police officer, Mr. Chidambaram said the decision was taken by the State government.