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Religion on Naxalite radar

New Delhi, Oct. 14: On the eve of talks with the Andhra Pradesh government, two prominent Naxalite outfits officially announced their merger and their intention to raise 'police harassment' of Muslims in the state.

People's War and the Maoist Communist Centre of India merged on September 21 to form a new outfit called the Communist Party of India (Maoist), a PW emissary told a group of journalists here today.

A source said the new outfit decided to raise the minority issue of Muslims during the five-day talks beginning tomorrow because Naxalites were under fire for neglecting to fight religious divisions while combating class differences.

They also faced flak for keeping quiet on human rights violations in Gujarat following the Godhra carnage in 2002, the source added.

Writing in the Economic and Political Weekly, Left thinker Suman Banerjee recently blasted the two Naxalite outfits for being inert during the Gujarat riots and when the RSS made inroads into tribal areas of several states.

Lateef Khan of the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee recently said that Muslims were unhappy with the rebels' silence on 'police harassment' of community members.

Warning the state government against 'ignoring people's issues' a few days ago, PW Andhra secretary Akkiraju Hargopal had said he would ask for a halt to the harassment of Muslim youths by branding them Pakistan and ISI agents.

After 9/11, the state police had picked up several Muslim youths for questioning. Hargopal said he had received hundreds of representations from people, including families of the youths, to raise their demands during the talks.

An official appeal was first made a few days ago at a meeting of the youths' relatives organised in Hyderabad by the 'People's Assembly'.

It is an umbrella body of Dalit and Muslim organisations such as the Darasgah-e-Jihad--Shahadat, the Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee, the Praja Kala Mandal, and the Ambedkar Sangham Forum for Elimination of Caste System.

The meeting passed a resolution, urging the PW to include 'harassment of minorities' in the outfit's talks agenda.

Community leaders reportedly told the Naxalites that 1 crore Muslims in Andhra were especially unhappy with them for keeping quiet on the police action against Muslim women when they demonstrated against the harassment of youths.

Showing a CD of the merger conference held in an unspecified jungle camp (which appeared to be in Jharkhand or Bihar), a PW emissary said today the move was 'a very important step in Indian revolution'.

MCC's Kishen and PW's Ganapati were shown signing the merger document, with women cadre in army fatigue, carrying the outfits' flags and rifles, marching and singing in the background.

It has thus ended two decades of bloody battle for hegemony between the two outfits and is expected to strengthen the Naxalites in 13 states.

Declining to disclose his identity, the emissary claimed that the new outfit has no link with the Maoists of Nepal and described the so-called extremist 'corridor' (Nepal to Andhra) as fiction created by some reporters, government officials and police.

Talks are on with the Jana Shakti for a merger, he added.

The CPI (Maoist) will continue to be an underground organisation, the emissary emphasised.

Jharkhand, he said, was leading in human rights violations followed by Tamil Nadu and Bihar. There have been no encounter killings in Andhra after the new government came to power, he said.

The CPI (Maoist), the emissary added, would not object if any of its state units wanted to talk with the government concerned, depending on local conditions. 'Our interest is that human rights violation be minimised,' he said.

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