The Communist Party of India (Maoist) is not willing unilaterally to “abjure violence” as Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram wants them to but is prepared to accept a mutual ceasefire with the security forces across the country, Azad, spokesman for the banned group, has told The Hindu in an exclusive interview.

This newspaper was invited to interview Azad last month through written questions, since a face-to-face meeting was impossible. The answers were received a few days before Tuesday's deadly ambush of a CRPF company by the Maoists in Chhattisgarh.

Azad said it was clear that Mr. Chidambaram wanted the unilateral renunciation of violence by the Maoists and not a ceasefire with the government “like that with the NSCN.” Dismissing this demand as “absurd,” he said: “What the CPI(Maoist) wants is a cessation of hostilities by both sides simultaneously.” Such a mutual ceasefire would be “an expression of the willingness on the part of both sides engaged in war to create a conducive atmosphere for going to the next step of talks.”

The Maoist spokesman added that if his party was to engage in “peaceful legal work” as many were demanding, the ban on the CPI(Maoist) must be lifted. “Without lifting the ban … how can we organise legal struggles, meetings etc. in our name? If we do so, will these not be dubbed as illegal as they are led by a banned party?”

Though Azad was sceptical about the prospect for dialogue “given the attitude of the Central government,” he said talks would be possible only if the government released some party leaders from jail. “Or else, there would be none to talk to since the entire party is illegal. We cannot bring any of our leaders overground for the purpose of talks.”

Asked whether the Maoist support for talks was a ploy to buy time or part of a wider re-evaluation of strategy in favour of overground politics, Azad said their aim was different. “The proposal of talks is meant… to give some respite for the people at large who are living under constant state terror and immense suffering” caused by the government's counter-insurgency operations.

Excerpts from the interview will be published in The Hindu in two parts next week while the full transcript will be available on our website.