January 25, 2012
January 25, 2012
by Ranjit Sur
To begin with I want to draw attention to a peculiarity of the so called “peace talks” between the CPI(Maoist) and the Government of West Bengal. Generally in such cases, rights workers and civil society members represent the Movement; civil servants or top security personnel represent the Government. It’s a worldwide phenomenon. Look at the peace talks between ULFA and the Centre in Assam. The late Indira Goswami, an eminent Assamese writer represented ULFA; P C Halder, who was a top IB personnel, represented the Government. But here in West Bengal, the government appointed the rights workers and so called civil society members as the interlocutors or mediators from their side. Rather I should say, they agreed to be appointed by the Government in violation of international practice.
Interestingly, in a recent article in Mainstream magazine the chief of the interlocutors, Mr Sujato Bhadra, fraudulently referred to the interlocutors appointed by the government as “Concerned Citizens”. This was only to hoodwink the people by equating themselves with the representatives of the Committee for Concerned Citizens—interlocutors in Andhra Pradesh during talks between erstwhile CPI(ML) PWG and Andhra Pradesh Government. But there is a gulf of difference between the two peace processes.
Committee for Concerned Citizens was an organization built upon a long process of initiatives by a huge number of intellectuals, lead by personalities like K G Kannabiran & S R Shankaran. They offered to mediate and both the parties agreed. Moreover, their functioning was totally different from the functioning of the interlocutors in Bengal. Their loyalty was to the people of Andhra Pradesh and their functioning was democratic in essence. But Mamata Banerjee’s team was formed in the cosy chambers of the Chief Minister in the Writers Building and consisted of people hand-picked by the Chief Minister. They were answerable only to the Chief Minister. Their functioning was hush-hush and “secret” and hidden from the people. Let us quote a paragraph from the PUCL bulletin regarding the functioning of the Andhra mediators:
It is almost three years since the Committee of Concerned Citizens commenced its endeavours. Looking back, the work of the Committee during the period may be broadly visualized as having taken place in three phases. The first phase from April 1997 to December 1997 comprised touring of several districts in Telangana and meeting people in the villages. The observations of the Committee based on these visits and discussions were presented to the public as well as the Government and the Naxalite groups through the first report of the Committee released in a Press Conference in June 1997 and the second report of the Committee released similarly in December 1997.
As the response of the Government and the Naxalites was somewhat encouraging and there was a general optimism in the public about the Committee’s efforts, the second phase of the work of the Committee commenced in January 1998 with a detailed discussion with the representatives of the CPI (ML) Peoples War towards the end of January. Later, the Committee met the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh on April 10, 1998 and had detailed discussions, when some of his Cabinet colleagues and the top officials of the Government including the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police were present. During these two meetings, the Committee communicated its concerns to both the CPI (ML) Peoples War and the Government and was able to elicit the CPI (ML) Peoples War and the Government and was able to elicit certain specific assurances from them.
The Committee’s work thereafter entered the third phase. Having initiated a direct dialogue with the Naxalites and the Government, the Committee considered that there was an atmosphere for a more open and comprehensive debate on substantive issues. The Committee also felt that it was necessary to share with wider sections of the people all that transpired at the closed-door discussions with the Government as well as the Naxalites. A publication in the form of a documentation of the efforts of the Committee was brought out in English and Telugu titled In Search of Democratic Space/Moodo Gontu Kosam to facilitate a wider debate [PUCL Bulletin, June 2000].
Did we ever find any such move from the Bengal interlocutors ? They could not even imagine this type of functioning.
One more surprising thing is the agreement between the interlocutors and the Government. Two clauses of the famous 7 July agreement were widely condemned by the social activists and rights workers of all hues.
A clause of the agreement claims that a surrender package (not only arms as Sujatobabu claimed) would be offered by the Government. My dear readers, have you ever heard of any such thing that any rights workers or interlocutors or civil society members signing an agreement with the Government for surrender package at the beginning of the talk process? What does this mean? Was the talks about surrendering of Maoists? Was there any secret understanding between the two? As we saw in the later phase, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee claimed complete surrender of arms by the Maoists.
In another clause of the agreement, it is said that the Joint Forces will be withdrawn from Junglemahal only when Junglemahal becomes free from arms and complete peace is returned in the area. Imagine the position! The new Government came to power with the assurance that, as soon as it assumes power, the Joint Forces from Junglemahal will be withdrawn. Mass organisations and rights workers of the all hues were hitting the streets of Kolkata for this withdrawal. Government was finding places to hide its face. A team of activists under the leadership of Sujato Bhadra came to the Chief Minister’s rescue and signed the agreement. The agreement said that Joint Forces would be in Junglemahal until and unless complete peace is established in the area. What does this mean? It’s meaning is simple. They gave her the required license in the name of the civil society.
Not a single rights or civil society organisation endorsed this agreement, rather all condemned it as a betrayal to the people of Junglemahal in particular, and peoples’ movement in general. Friends of Democracy, an organization that was formed before assembly elections to work for TMC candidates, and to which five of the interlocutors along with other pro-change intellectuals belong to, disassociated itself from this agreement. It started during the assembly election to work for TMC candidates; but in a SMS campaign, disassociated itself from this agreement saying : “ Friends of Democracy disassociates itself from the meeting of 5 individuals with CM about Jangalmahal & “Conditional” withdrawal of Joint forces.” A huge number of intellectuals active in social and rights movement in West Bengal condemned this agreement through signed leaflets and banners.
Sujatobabu knew very well that their action is highly condemnable. So he tried to hide under a bunch of lies and half-truths. He wrote in his article that APDR issued a statement that pending withdrawal, the minimum acceptable condition for talks will be suspension of operations by joint forces. But as an active member of the organization, I assure you that during the last 8 months of Mamata Banerjee’s rule APDR never issued any such statement. Rather APDR consistently demanded unconditional withdrawal of joint forces and organised a series of programmes on that demand along with unconditional release of political prisoners. Sujatobabu tried to hide their misdeeds behind a false APDR statement, one that APDR will never issue in the future.
The selection of individuals as interlocutors by the Government is itself an eye-opener. This selection itself shows the government’s non-seriousness (or hidden agenda) for the peace talks. Let us look at the names in the list – Debasish Bhattacharjee is a member of Chief Minister’s Secretariat. This was not mentioned by Sujatobabu in the article – the deception was once again exposed when other members
of the team were described in the article, probably in an attempt to give a respectable look to the team of interlocutors for an English reading public. Sujatobabu introduced Ashokendhu Sengupta as a senior journalist; this is nothing but a joke. I am sure Ashokendhu Babu himself will be ashamed by this introduction. Actually he was a Lecturer of Physics and after retirement he started contributing articles in Newspaper in support of Paribartan. He introduced Prasun Bhowmik as a poet, only to draw a similarity with the poet Varvara Rao’s presence in the Andhra talk process. Is Prasun Bhowmick a respectable political personality like Varvara Rao ? He preferred not to introduce Mr Kalyan Rudra, a specialist on rivers. Who knows why !
Even a novice would not believe that such a team would solve the Junglemahal problem. It is beyond the team’s collective capacity to go deep into the complexities of the problem. Actually the government was never serious about the talk or peace process. The team reported every details of their movement to the Chief Minister. Moreover, it was impossible for this team to impress the government or the Chief Minister. Their employee mentality and lack of personality and depth created no pressure on the Government. Even the TV viewers and news paper reading public started ridiculing the interlocutors. So it was natural that the breaking of talks was a matter of time.
Surprising enough that the Maoist leaders failed to understand the tricks of the Government. Overconfident Maoist leaders did not bother to check the credentials of the “Concerned Citizens” with activists who regularly work with these people or who have known these people for a long time. Instead Maoist leaders depended on the feedback of people who were ignorant of the latest developments and of the past or present activities of the interlocutors. So they believed that Sujatobabu would arrange safe passage for them. A section of the Maoists were eager to sit for the peace talk at any cost with the intention of making it an example to other states; this we heard from Sujatobabu’s lips many times and in his writing also. Their approach was apolitical and opportunistic. Was there really a social cry for peace talks in West Bengal after establishing the new Government ? Is it a reality that the Maoists are so powerful in West Bengal that the Government will feel compulsion to negotiate with them ? They did not bother to ponder. And people like Kishenji paid for this mistake with their lives.
The CPI (Maosit) should come out with their introspection report. It is not enough to blame the Government only. Why did they believe the Indian State so blindly? Why did they offer people like Sujatobabu so much importance despite knowledge of the agreement and its surrender package? Why did the Maoists not select interlocutors to represent them? Why did the Party shift from their declared position of talking peace through their jailed leaders? What assurance did the government interlocutors offer to the Party? The people of Bengal want to know the truth and it is the Party’s responsibility to offer it to the people.
Whatever one might say, the government of Mamata Banerjee was never serious about peace talks. She used it as a ploy to divide the rights movement and civil society organsiations and to deviate the peoples’ movement demanding release of political prisoners and withdrawal of joint forces from Junglemahal. It is really evident from the Government’s response to Dr. Binayak Sen and Varvara Rao’s emphatic offer to help the talk process. But the Government’s response was to ignore their offer. The CM even refused to meet Varavara Rao who offered to meet and talk with her regarding the peace process. I sometimes wondered why the interlocutors did not include Varavara Rao or Binayak Sen in their team. I am sure it is because their inclusion would have decreased the interlocutors’ importance to the Chief Minister and the Press would no longer cover the latter anymore. As both the aforementioned individuals are close to various people’s movements, the government should have accepted their offer of help. Instead the government’s reluctance proves undoubtedly that Mamata Banerjee’s government was never serious about the peace process. She had an ulterior motive. The conspiracy of the talk process no doubt helped the government in its effort to smash the movement and liquidate leaders like Kishenji. Some of the gang of six interlocutors (a variation of Ashokendu Babu’s ‘Team Six’ in Frontier-online) are victims of circumstances and others are willing partners.
Other aspects of the talk process should be given due importance. Many of the newspapers, from Anandabazar to Economic Times to Tehelka, informed their readers that the intelligence wing of the police had gathered the whereabouts of the Maoist leaders by following the interlocutors physically and tapping their electronic gadgets such as mobile phones. Sujatobabu ridiculed this information. But the fact is that many of the rights and social activists in Kolkata were aware of the fact that Sujatobabu was going to Jangalmahal to talk with the Maoists on 28th August. We thought earlier that the date was deliberately leaked to misguide the intelligence. But I am surprised to read in Sujatobabu’s writing that indeed they had a discussion on 28th August. How this has happened ? Who leaked this ?. It seems that the police were also aware of other dates and followed the iterlocutors.
But one point is still unclear. No writer, not even Varvara Rao, has cleared it till today. Sujatobabu wrote the dates of incidents leading to Kishenji’s death as 23 and 24 November. Ashokendhubabu wrote 24 November and VVR wrote that Kishenji was in custody at least since 23rd November. Many journalists wrote that Kishenji was lured by the interlocutors to come for peace talk with the false assurance of safe passage. Is this true? Reportedly, till today, many people in Junglemahal and some very important jailed leaders are convinced that on 23rd November Kishenji had an appointment with a section of the interlocutors for talks. But the interlocutors did not turn up for the meeting. They were not allowed to reach the appointed place by the police-establishment. While Kishenji and others were waiting to meet the interlocutors, they were gheraoed and arrested by joint forces and subsequently killed in a fake encounter. This may be just hearsay, a story may or may not be true. But it cannot be ruled out totally.
The truth should be probed to reveal the role played by different actors. This is very important for future actions as well. It is said that news of Kishenji’s arrival in Junglemahal reached Writers’ Building through the interlocutors. I urge all civil rights organizations of India to form a committee to probe all aspects of Kishenji’s death, including the role of the interlocutors. They should not carry unfounded suspicion through out their life. Lets investigate and absolve them from all sorts of doubts and discussions.
It is interesting to note that the attitude of the interlocutors towards the government and the role played by the interlocutors themselves in the three sets of peace initiatives in India with Maoists are very different. Sujatobabu and Ashokendhubabu virtually gave clean chit to the Government of West Bengal. Though Sujatobabu was a bit critical, Ashokendhu Babu is a ‘whateverist’ all through his writing – whatever Mamata does is right. On the other hand, both Swami Agnivesh, the central interlocutor for talks with Azad, and KG Kannabiran, the chief interlocutor for Andhra talks were very critical of the then governments for killing the Maoists and taking advantage of peace initiatives. Swami Agnivesh even filed a case against the government in order to start a judicial enquiry into Azad’s death. Regarding his role in Azad’s death, Swami Agnivesh told Zee news, “ I feel moral responsibility to some extent”. KG Kannabiran told the Deccan Herald, “We [interlocutors] unwittingly played a treacherous role in believing the bonafide of the government”. In case of Bengal, Mr Sujato Bhadra, the chief of the Government appointed interlocutors said in a recent television interview in Kolkatta that they claimed a share in the overall successful peace process. This claim is surprising! What is the success that they are claiming? There are two “successes” in Junglemahal. One is the killing of Kishenji and the other is the smashing of the peoples’ movement. Let Sujatobabu come out clearly stating which share he is demanding.
The Government initiated peace process has come to an end. What the Government meant by peace is now clear to all. A peace of graveyard is reigning in the area : no meetings, no rallies and no dissent from the rebels or from the people. Only the ruling party is doing the raj there. Was this the secret understanding between the interlocutors and the Government? They said in the agreement that ‘establishing peace” was their task and as Sujatobabu also claims in his writing “it was our responsibility also to bring peace”. So here is a group of rights workers and civil Society members (Concerned Citizens) that has taken the task of establishing peace in a rebel-dominated area on behalf of the Government by signing an agreement of keeping Joint Forces and offering surrender packages. They are “Concerned Citizens” indeed! But concerned for whom? Not for the people, but for the State.