In an exclusive interview to The Hindu, Azad, Spokesperson of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), answers in writing questions on his party's attitude to dialogue with the Union government.

The written questions were sent in the second week of March and the answers received at the end of the month. The 11,400-word text of the interview is available at The Hindu's website. An edited excerpt:

There have been statements in recent months by government and Maoist leaders saying they favour talks but each side seems to lack seriousness. There has also been an element of theatre, with Kishenji and P. Chidambaram exchanging statements through the media. Could you clarify whether Kishenji's statements can be treated as authoritative pronouncements of the CPI (Maoist) central leadership in pursuance of a national strategy? Or are these tactical announcements by him keeping only the specifics of the West Bengal situation in mind.

Our party leadership has been issuing statements from time to time in response to the government's dubious offer of talks. But to generalise that there is lack of seriousness on both sides does not correspond to reality. To an observer, exchanging statements through the media does sound a bit theatrical. But the stark fact is the lack of seriousness has been the hallmark of the government, particularly of P. Chidambaram. It is Mr. Chidambaram who has been enacting a drama in the past four months, particularly ever since his amusing 72-hour-abjure-violence diktat to the CPI (Maoist) last November. As regards Kishenji's statements, they should be seen with a positive attitude, not with cynicism. Though our Central Committee has not discussed our specific strategy with regard to talks with the government at the current juncture, as a Polit Bureau member, Comrade Kishenji had taken the initiative and made a concrete proposal for a ceasefire. Whether his statements are the official pronouncements of our Central Committee is not the point of debate here. What is important is the attitude of the government to such an offer in the first place. Our Central Committee has no objection to his proposal for a ceasefire.

Mr. Chidambaram says the Maoists should “abjure violence and say they are prepared for talks… I would like no ifs, no buts and no conditions.” Now ‘to abjure' can mean to renounce or forswear violence, or even to avoid violence, i.e. a ceasefire. What is your understanding of Mr. Chidambaram's formulation?

This is a pertinent question as no one knows exactly what Mr. Chidambaram wants to convey. Some interpret his statement to mean Maoists should lay down arms. Some say it means unilateral renunciation of violence by Maoists. Yet others say what this could mean is a cessation of hostilities by both sides without any conditions attached. The Home Minister himself displayed his split personality, not knowing what exactly he wants when he says Maoists should “abjure violence.” To a layman this proposal obviously implies that the State too would automatically put a stop to its inhuman atrocities on the adivasis, Maoist revolutionaries, and their sympathisers. But not so to our Home Minister! When you ask what our understanding of Mr. Chidambaram's formulation is, our answer is: the real intent is not a ceasefire between the government and the Maoists, like that with the NSCN, but an absurd demand for a unilateral renunciation of violence by the Maoists.

Mr. Chidambaram wants the Maoists to surrender. Or else his paramilitary juggernaut would crush the people and the Maoists under its wheels. While repeating that he never wanted the Maoists to lay down arms — as if he had generously given a big concession — he comes up with an even more atrocious proposal: Maoists should abjure violence while his lawless forces continue their rampage creating more Gachampallis, Gompads, and so on. Not a word does he utter even as inhuman atrocities by his forces are brought to light by magazines like Tehelka, Outlook, and, to an extent, some papers like yours.

The Maoists also have their preconditions. In a recent interview to Jan Myrdal and Gautam Navlakha, Ganapathi listed three demands for any kind of talks: “1. All-out war has to be withdrawn; 2. The ban on the Party and Mass Organisations has to be lifted; 3. Illegal detention and torture of comrades has to be stopped and they be immediately released.” He added that if these demands are met, then the same leaders who are released from jails would lead and represent the Party in talks. Are these realistic preconditions? For example, the “all out war” can be suspended first before it is “withdrawn”, i.e. a ceasefire, so why insist on its withdrawal at the outset? Are you asking for a ceasefire or something more than that?

I concur with the logic of your arguments. It is logically a valid argument that such demands could be resolved in the course of actual talks and not as a precondition for talks. But you must also understand the spirit of what Comrade Ganapathi said. What he meant when he said the government should withdraw its all-out war is nothing but a suspension of its war, or in other words, mutual ceasefire. Let there be no confusion in this regard. What Chidambaram wants is a unilateral ceasefire by Maoists while the state continues its brutal campaign of terror. On the contrary, what the CPI (Maoist) wants is a cessation of hostilities by both sides simultaneously. This is the meaning of the first point. A ceasefire by both sides cannot be called a precondition. It is but 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.

Ganapathi also wants the ban on the party and its mass organisations lifted and prisoners released. Usually in negotiations of this kind, the lifting of a ban is one of the objects of talks rather than a precondition. And the release of political prisoners an intermediate step. Is the Maoist party not putting the cart before the horse?

If peaceful legal work has to be done by Maoists as desired by several organisations and members of civil society, then lifting of the ban becomes a pre-requisite. Without lifting the ban on the party and mass organisations, 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? According to us, the ban itself is an authoritarian, undemocratic, and fascist act. Hence the demand for the lifting of the ban is a legitimate demand, and, if fulfilled, will go a long way in promoting open democratic forms of struggles and creating a conducive atmosphere for a dialogue. What Comrade Ganapathi had asked for is that the government should adhere to the Indian Constitution and put an end to the illegal murders in the name of encounters, tortures, and arrests. We must include the term ‘murders,' which is missing in the third point. There is nothing wrong or unreasonable in asking the government to stick to its own Constitution. As regards the release of political prisoners, this could be an intermediate step as far as the nature of the demand is concerned. However, to hold talks it is necessary for the government to release some leaders. 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.

What do the Maoists hope to achieve with talks? Are you only looking to buy time and regroup yourselves — which is what the government said you did during the aborted dialogue in Andhra Pradesh? Or is it part of a more general re-evaluation of the political strategy of the party, one which may see it emerge as an overground political formation engaged in open, legal activities and struggles, and perhaps even entering the electoral fray directly or indirectly at various levels in the kind of “multiparty competition” that Prachanda says is necessary for the communist movement?

The proposal of talks is neither a ploy to buy time or regroup ourselves, nor is it a part of the general re-evaluation of the political strategy of the party that could lead to its coming overground, entering the electoral fray and multi-party competition as in Nepal. You asked me what we want to achieve with talks. My one sentence answer is: we want to achieve whatever is possible for the betterment of people's lives without compromising on our political programme of new democratic revolution and strategy of protracted people's war. People have a right to enjoy whatever is guaranteed under the Indian Constitution, however nominal and limited these provisions are. And the government is duty-bound to implement the provisions of the Constitution. We hope the talks would raise the overall consciousness of the oppressed people about their fundamental rights and rally them to fight for their rights. Talks will also expose the government's hypocrisy, duplicity, and its authoritarian and extra-constitutional rule that violates whatever is guaranteed by the Constitution. So talks would help in exposing the government's callous attitude to the people and may help in bringing about reforms, however limited they may be.

Another important reason is that talks will give some respite to the people who are oppressed and suppressed under the jack-boots of the Indian state and state-sponsored terrorist organisations like the Salwa Judum, Maa Danteswari Swabhiman Manch, Sendra, Nagarik Suraksha Samiti, Shanti Sena, Harmad Bahini, and so on.

Would the Maoists be prepared to establish their bona fides on the question of talks by announcing a unilateral ceasefire or perhaps the non-initiation of combat operations (NICO) after a particular date so as to facilitate the process of dialogue?

It is quite strange to see intellectuals like you asking the Maoists to declare a unilateral ceasefire when the heavily armed Indian state is carrying out its brutal armed offensive and counter-revolutionary war. How would unilateral announcement of ceasefire or NICO after a particular date establish the bona fides of our party on the question of talks? What purpose would such an act serve? It is incomprehensible to me why we are asked to “display this generosity” towards an enemy who has the least concern for the welfare of the people. And how would this “generous Gandhian act” on our part facilitate the process of dialogue with the megalomaniacs in the Home Ministry who do not spare even non-violent Gandhian social activists working in Dantewada and other places?

The Maoists are engaging in armed struggle but have not hesitated to use violence against non-combatants. The beheading of a policeman, Francis Induvar, while in Maoist captivity, was a blatant violation of civilised norms and of international humanitarian law, which the Maoists, like the Government, are obliged to adhere to. If civil society condemns the security forces for killing civilians in Chhattisgarh and elsewhere and demands that the guilty be punished, it has an equal right to condemn the Maoists whenever they commit such crimes.

Our attempt will always be to target the enemy who is engaged in war against us. Non-combatants are generally avoided. But what about the intelligence officials and police informers who collect information about the movement of Maoists and cause immense damage to the movement? It is true most of them do not carry arms openly or are unarmed. What to do with them? If we just leave them they would continue to cause damage to the party and movement. If we punish them, there is a furore from the media and civil society. Caught between the devil and the deep sea! Our general practice is to conduct a trial in a people's court wherever that is possible and proceed in accordance with the decision of the people. Where it is not possible to hold the people's court due to the intensity of repression we conduct investigation, take the opinion of the people and give appropriate punishment.

I agree there is no place for cruelty while giving out punishments. I had clarified this in one of my earlier interviews while referring to the case of Francis Induvar. But it is made into a big issue by the media when a thousand beheadings took place in the past five years by the police-paramilitary and Salwa Judum goons. Do you really think the government is adhering to the law?

Just recently, two of our party leaders — Comrades Shakhamuri Appa Rao and Kondal Reddy — were abducted from Chennai and Pune respectively by the APSIB and the Central Intelligence officials and were murdered in cold blood in the early hours of 12th March. What is civil society doing when such cold-blooded murders are taking place in police custody? When our comrades hear of these cold-blooded murders committed by the APSIB or other officials of the state, it is natural that their blood would boil and they will not bat an eye-lid to hack any of the perpetrators of these inhuman crimes, say a man from APSIB or Grey Hounds, to pieces if he fell into their hands.

In the war zone, the passions run with such intensity, which one cannot even imagine in other areas or under normal circumstances. Could someone who has seen women being raped and murdered, children and old men being murdered after hacking them to pieces in the killing fields of Dantewada and Bijapur, ever give a thought to your so-called non-existent international laws when the perpetrator of such crimes happens to fall into their hands? The pent-up anger of the masses is so intense that even the party general secretary will perhaps fail to control the fury of the adivasi masses when they lay their hands on their tormentors.

Why has the CPI (Maoist) decided to reach out through the columns of a newspaper to clarify its views on the issue of a ceasefire and talks?

I think the media can play a role in carrying the views of a banned party to the government and the people at large, particularly at a time when facts regarding our party are distorted, misinterpreted, and obfuscated in a meticulously planned manner. And when there is no scope for a dialogue given the determination of the rulers to carry out their pre-programmed war offensive, we think it appropriate to reach out to the people at large through the media too. I thank The Hindu for the thought-provoking and incisive questions it has placed before our party. We look forward to more of such interaction with the media in future.