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Trigger-and-talks policy rolls - Forces launch first post-Mamata raid on Maoists; CM asks team to focus on dialogue

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By KINSUK BASU AND SREECHETA DAS
  • Published 19.10.11
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Calcutta, Oct. 18: The Mamata Banerjee government today launched its first big operation against the Maoists and simultaneously committed itself to talks, unveiling a two-pronged strategy intended at keeping up pressure on the rebels.

The operation unfolded in a Jhargram forest where joint forces mounted a raid in search of Akash, the state secretary of the CPI(Maoist), and Jayanta, an action squad leader. The forces apparently caught by surprise a group of suspected rebels bathing in a pond, following which a shootout started and continued for half an hour.

Three persons were detained but they did not appear to be senior Maoist leaders. A rifle, suspected to have been snatched from police earlier, and ammunition were found.

The raid, the first notable offensive since an encounter on March 10 when the Left Front was in power, is being seen as a message to the rebels that the government would not ease pressure as they mull over the seven-day ultimatum served by the chief minister on Saturday. Mamata had asked the Maoists to lay down arms and join the talks process, for which she has named a team of interlocutors.

Before the dust of the raid settled down, the chief minister told the team of interlocutors to push ahead with the dialogue they have initiated with the Maoists.

But she also told the team to convey to the rebels that operations by the joint forces would continue till the state government was “convinced” that they would shun violence.

After the meeting, the leader of the team of interlocutors, Sujato Bhadra, confined himself to saying: “The dialogue process is on and it will continue. I am not entitled to say any more.”

Asked about the seven-day deadline, Bhadra said: “There were no talks about the deadline. Besides, the seven-day period is not over yet.” The seventh day will fall on this Saturday.

But an officer who attended today’s meeting told The Telegraph: “The chief minister made it clear to the interlocutors that the state would not sit back with folded hands and watch the Maoists continue with their killings. The Maoists cannot take the government for granted. This was Mamata’s message to them.”

The official said Mamata told the interlocutors that she had received no official communication from the Maoists about the month-long ceasefire that they had promised. Neither had she got any response to the seven-day deadline.

“The chief minister told the interlocutors to convey to the Maoists that operations by the joint forces would continue against them, at least till the government was convinced that they would not indulge in violence,” the official said.

Another member of the government who attended the meeting said Mamata told the interlocutors to tell the Maoists to print leaflets saying that they too want peace and circulate them among the villagers.

“Mamata is still not convinced that the Maoists want peace. So she wants to keep the pressure on them by starting operations. But at the same time, the talks offer will remain as only a dialogue can find a lasting solution,” he said. “She said that the Maoists should be told to stop killings and extortion.”

When the interlocutors informed Mamata that the Maoists had asked for a month-long ceasefire in Jungle Mahal from the government’s end to reciprocate a similar rebel gesture, the chief minister said the government was in no mood to consider such a proposal.

“Since the first meeting, there has been no co-ordinated combing operation or any raid by the combined forces. The Maoists have taken this opportunity, regrouped and murdered at least four people,” the official said. “The chief minister asked the interlocutors how, after this, the Maoists could now say that there should be no action against them for another month.”

Writer and human rights activist Mahasweta Devi, part of Mamata’s culture clan, today said that operations against the Maoists and the peace talks could not go on simultaneously. “The two can’t go hand in hand,” she said. “The government should find a solution.”

“If the chief minister can sort out the problem within the seven days that she has given the Maoists, it is fine. Otherwise, there are other hundreds of ways of sorting out the matter by holding a dialogue with the Maoists,” the writer added.