“We had taken up the issue with hope; the issue is now dead….”

The West Bengal Government's initiative to broker peace with the Maoists suffered a major setback on Monday with all but one of the six interlocutors appointed by it in July to explore the possibility of talks with the Left-wing extremists informing Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of their decision to pull out of the exercise.

The decision comes on the fourth day after the killing of Communist Party of India (Maoist) Polit Bureau member Koteswar Rao alias Kishenji by joint security forces in the Burisole forest of Jangalmahal region in the State's Paschim Medinipur district.

“Our role comes to an end. We had taken up the issue with hope. The issue is now dead,” one of the main interlocutors told The Hindu here.

“The suspension of joint security operations in the Jangalmahal area was a requisite for the dialogue. While it is true that murder, violence and dialogue cannot go together, neither can military operations and dialogue,” he said, alluding to the most-recent security operations in which Kishenji was killed. “One cannot have dialogue at gunpoint.”

“None of the two sides involved seems to be listening, and the government is more responsible [for this situation] as it failed to take advantage of the month-long truce offer by the Maoists from September 30,” he said.

“The prevailing situation in Jangalmahal does not allow us to carry forward the peace talk. We have expressed our helplessness and inability to the Chief Minister,” said a statement signed by Sujato Bhadra on behalf of five of the six interlocutors, adding that one of the interlocutors had “differed on the issue”. Mr. Bhadra and his associates had intimated Ms. Banerjee their desire to withdraw from the peace process earlier this month, but decided to carry on with their efforts after the latter prevailed on them to reconsider their move at a meeting on November 19.

“But this time round, the situation has undergone a qualitative change. The entire dimension of the issue and its complexity is altered. It is worst than the last time. One of the stakeholders [the Maoists] has reportedly said that it will not sit for discussions anywhere else in the country. It must be understood that Kishenji was not a simple cadre of the CPI (Maoist). He was one of their most important leaders,” the interlocutor told this correspondent.

“Under the changed circumstances, if we carry on as interlocutors it will only create confusion and could be ascribed as a design [of the government]. We do not want to be accused of being part of such a design,” he added.