Calcutta, Oct. 22: The first bargain between the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government and the Maoists saw both sides winning some and also losing some technical points.
For the government, conceding the Maoist demand for the release of some of the women arrested on sedition charges was a clear case of loss of authority and credibility. The state government had so far maintained that there would be no talks with the Maoists unless they gave up violence.
The chief minister obviously had to climb down from that position to get police officer Atindranath Dutta released.
But securing Duttas release was not the only gain. The larger gain, if followed through, could be the first effective breakthrough in opening a channel of negotiation with the rebels. Whether this will lead to opening the talks door wider, either at the Centre or in the state, is another issue.
As for the Maoists, they too were clearly looking for a face-saver rather than an outright victory. If they wanted to strike a harder bargain, they could have insisted on the release of Chhatradhar Mahato or CPI (Maoist) politburo member Khobad Ghandy demands difficult to be met.
By demanding the release of the tribal women, the Maoists signalled their wish for an easier deal. But why did the Maoists want a face-saver? Several answers seem plausible.
First, the display of willingness to release Dutta was a damage-control exercise for the Maoists. The beheading of Jharkhand policeman Francis Indwar had led to a public outcry and even their supporters in civil society had to condemn it. Releasing the OC through a deal was part of their strategy to recover lost ground in public opinion.
Second, the Maoists wanted the deal to have its effect on an offensive being planned by the Centre and the state government. The Maoists normally do not do such things for nothing. Every time they have been under attack, they give a little to buy time and space and ease the pressure. So that could well be the case now, knowing that a crackdown is in the offing, an analyst said.
The Maoists had made another point: their writ runs not just in the tribal belt but also in Writers Buildings now.
At the end of the day, the government had to finally bow to the demands of the Maoists, even if it meant the release mainly of people who may not have committed crimes as grievous as the ones they have been charged with, the analyst said. The release of the women will also help the Maoists further consolidate their strength in the tribal belt.