|CURRENT ISSUE JULY 05, 2004|
|states ANDHRA PRADESH|
For the outlawed People's War Group (PWG), it is a welcome reprieve. Last week, the Andhra Pradesh Government ordered a three-month freeze on combing operations and use of firearms against the PWG as it prepares to bring the militants to the negotiating table. In a positive response to the proposals of the PWG, the Government has also agreed to constitute an observers' committee, involve mediators in the talks and hold discussions between representatives of the state Cabinet and the PWG.
But it is not all one way. State Home Minister Jana Reddy appealed to the Naxalites not to move about in the villages carrying arms. The PWG turned the appeal down, saying it "required weapons for self-defence" as the ban on it was still very much in place. At the same time, it directed all its cadres in Andhra Pradesh not to use firearms first. However, Jana Reddy is optimistic about bringing the militants on the peace path. "We are ready to talk to all the leftwing extremist groups. Unless all are involved there will be no meaningful solution," he says.
Predictably, the PWG set preconditions to accepting the offer of talks made on June 8 by the new Congress Government led by Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. The Government agreed readily to the preconditions, including complete cessation of violence for three months, constitution of a committee of "neutral intellectuals" to monitor human-rights violations during the period of ceasefire and protection for PWG emissaries.
In pushing the process ahead, the Government has asked the PWG to suggest the names of two or three representatives for inclusion in the conciliation committee being formed for the talks. After the modalities are worked out, the PWG will send its state committee secretary Akkiraju Haragopal, known as Ramakrishna, and Mallojula Koteswara Rao, alias Ramji, considered the No. 2 in the PWG after Muppala Lakshmana Rao, for the talks for which a date has not been set.
However, in all this the PWG may be playing for time to regroup and rebuild its force. There have been mixed signals already. The Naxalite outfit contends that if the Government is sincere in its attempt to establish peace, it should order a judicial enquiry into all encounter killings, lift the ban on it and its related organisations, withdraw rewards on Naxalites and arrest private gangs that were hired for extra-judicial killings. It did not insist on these demands as pre-conditions for talks but argued that such steps would "create mutual confidence".
Peace talks like the one proposed are always a slow, excruciating process and an issue that will crop up is extending the ban that expires on July 21. The Government is still in a dilemma on whether it should extend the ban pending negotiations or succumb to pressure to lift it if there are no ceasefire violations.
Anti-poverty measures and other steps to solve the problems of disadvantaged groups will have to be taken not only in Andhra Pradesh but also in other states where the PWG is active to make the present peace bid meaningful. In the contiguous Chhattisgarh and Orissa the Naxalite outfit has made the first move swiftly and set similar preconditions as in Andhra Pradesh to come to the negotiating table. But leftwing extremism will remain an intractable issue in the state given the PWG's stand that Naxalism is not a problem but a solution to the problems.