PUCL Bulletin, June 2003

Dialog with the People's War Group

[Early in 1997 a group of 15 citizens came together to form the Committee of Concerned Citizens. It was an attempt to reflect the voice of a large democratic section of the society which is tired of being side lined in the game with people's lives being played between the state and the 'revolutionary' parties. The moving spirit behind this Committee is S.R. Sankaran, a retired IAS officer of Andhra Pradesh cadre, who has held several posts in the welfare and rural development areas in the State and at the Centre (he was amongst the eight IAS officers who were abducted by the PWG a few years ago. The State government requested Shri K.G. Kannabiran to try to contact the PWG to get them released. He walked long distance in dense forests searching for them and ultimately succeeded in negotiating their release). The group has started a process of open dialogue with the CPI-ML-PW on various issues. We have been publishing excerpts their documents, now and then since December 1998. The CCC has recently brought out its third Report in a book form. We have already published excerpts beginning with February 2002.(Also)

Correspondence, press statements, and appeals in this three corned scenario went on. There were unilateral ceasefires from the side of the PWG, more then once, and there were talks between the emissaries of the PWG and the State Government. Varavara Rao and Gaddar were the nominees of the PWG. In the meanwhile 'encounters' continued. The PWG withdrew from the table as a protest. We continue in this issue the last installment of the report by the CCC. - Chief Editor]

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Committee of Concerned Citizens
Press Statement on furtherance of talks between Government and Peoples War Appeal for breakthrough in talks

On the eve of the forthcoming talks on the 20th June 2002, the Committee of Concerned Citizens reiterates its appeal to the Government and the Peoples War to continue the talks in a spirit of give and take, as, people, especially in Telangana, are anxiously looking forward to the outcome of talks with high hopes and expectations. The Committee would urge that the deliberations should be guided by the concerns and aspirations of the people.

The Committee considers that ceasefire should be strictly observed by both sides and peaceful conditions should prevail in the State till some reason agreement between both the parties is reached. There should be no fear or harassment from either side. It should be specifically ensured that there is no loss of lives.

In this context, the Committee deplores the encounter near Govindaraopet in Warangal district on 13 June 2002 with Prathighatana group in which two people were killed and the incident in Dachepalli Mandal in Guntur district on the 15 June, resulting in the death of one person reportedly caused by Janashakti Group. The Committee once again urges all sides to refrain from such inhuman actions as well as any utterances which will hinder the process of talks. Notwithstanding these unfortunate incidents, the Committee notes with a sense of satisfaction, the welcome change in the overall atmosphere and the sense of relief among the people.

The Committee would like to emphasise that the present phase of talks on modalities should lead to the emergence of a favourable atmosphere and building up confidence for the next stage of talks. For this purpose, the Committee urges both the sides to focus upon and agree on the essential issues relating to modalities and continue the dialogue on other matter at the later stages. Committee would strongly appeal to both the parties that the talks should not be allowed to break down and must result in a break through in the larger interests of the people of the State. -- S. R. Sankaran, Convener, Committee of Concerned Citizens, 17 June 2002
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The representatives of the PWG also issued a statement on June 18:
Press Statement By PW Representatives
Whose Demands Are Unrealistic? Who Has Been Flexible?
When the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People's War announced both of us as its representatives, we held a press conference on June 1 and accepted that responsibility. In that press conference we recollected the Chief Minister's wish, on the floor of the State Legislature on April 3, 2000, to talk to us. Since the negotiations would include political, economic and social issues, we thought it fit to talk to the Chief Minister and thus we reminded him of his own wish.

"Me? With them? They will ask unrealistic demands," commented the Chief Minister in Adilabad. We didn't insist. We let it pass without even raising it again. We offered our willingness to talk to political representatives (though the nominees' political life hasn't even completed probation). Even as we aspired that the talks should be held openly in Lal Bahadur Stadium, we have come down to discuss in camera within the four walls of the Commercial Taxes Minister's chamber, amongst four of us. We asked for observers for the sake of transparency and we reminded that the People's War strongly suggested the presence of the CCC members. However, we are not saying we will go back on talks just because of that.

Initially the CCC recommended that both the parties should announce "cease-fire" and implement their suggestions (six each), and if the ensuing conducive atmosphere prevails for three months, the talks would begin. The People's War categorically announced its "cease-fire" and implemented it form on January 19 to March 12 Tupakulagudem "encounter", and again from May 10 to June 10. The People's War had explained what was meant by "cease-fire" and stuck to it by letter. On the other hand, the government not only not announced "cease-fire", but also went ahead with encounter killings on March 11 and June 5. In fact, the government never stopped its encounter killings except for a brief period from May 10 to June 5. As if to provoke, the government indulged in encounter killings against different revolutionary organisations. Encounter killings took place in Guntur, Vijayawada and Hyderabad in the name of dacoits and robbers. There was no respite in combing operations and attacks on villages as suggested by CCC. Even then the People's War has not obstructed Mahanadu in Warangal or Janmabhoomi programmes elsewhere.

Even without waiting for three months conducive atmosphere, the People War unilaterally declared its second "cease-fire" on May 8 and announced its representatives on May 31. The negotiations began on June 5. The time and place were decided by the government itself.

Though we were supposed to decide modalities and withdraw and the first meeting was supposed to be courtesy call exchanging pleasantries, government invited us into the Secretariat with the encounter killing of Balanna, a legal activist of Janasakthi. We never thought that encounters would form part of the discussion on modalities. But that became inevitable. The minister said they didn't know about the encounter. They said they were embarrassed. They promised us that it would not happen again. We trusted them. We believed that the government was unable to control the police officers. We shared same feeling with press. However we told the ministers that neither the encounter killings nor the deaths in the hands of police (like encounters, lock-up deaths and firing on people) would stop without booking each case under Sec. 302. In saying this we were only echoing the recommendations of bodies like the National Human Rights Commission to the Cabinet Sub-committee. The ministers responded that it would be suffice to have magisterial enquiry.

Similarly we believed that the lifting of the ban would only be apart of the agenda and we didn't want to discuss it under modalities. But we said, if the People's War leadership were to come out to discuss the agenda and demands charter, the ban and the cash rewards on their heads would be obstacles and it would be a life threat for them. We put forth limited demands of partial lifting the ban till the talks process ends and withdrawal of cash rewards on at least the delegates for the talks. In fact we asked the government to reconsider its decision on the ban in the light of the demand of the opposition parties in the All Party Meeting to lift the ban. We also clarified this not only as the People's War demand, but also as the demand of the opposition parties. In this context we reminded PUCL, National Prescient K.G. Kannabiran's suggestion to partially lift the ban during the talks. We also reminded the People's War state committee secretary Ramakrishna also suggested the same in a press release. The ministers, at least in June 5 meeting, said they would reconsider the lifting of the ban and it would not be difficult to withdraw the cash prizes on the heads of delegates.

But, within a couple of hours, the Home Minister categorically said that there was no question of lifting the ban. The Chief Minister, from New Delhi or on arrival from New Delhi, went a step further and said there was no question of lifting the ban until cessation of armed struggle and coming back to the main stream. He asked whether there wouldn't be encounters if they face each other with guns. This was a signal once again to the police that "cease-fire" does not mean restraint on the use of arms but cessation of arms on the part of the People's War. Thus encounter killings have become a daily affair from June 5. Again, the government wanted to show the seeds of despicable prejudice and doubt by killing activists of other revolutionary organisations excepting the people's War.

Because of this in our second meeting on June 9, we could not go into modalities and registered our protest on encounters and had to raise the issue again. This time round we told them that these have to be seen not as acts of uncontrolled police officials but as a government policy. We demanded judicial enquiry into all the encounter killings between June 5 and June 8. More important than that we demanded the government to spell out its policy on encounter killings. We told them that there would not be any encounters if there was a government will and that was demonstrated in several instances in the past as well as between May 10 and June 4. However, this time round we didn't even see any embarrassment on the faces of the government's nominees. They just said they would give directions to the police.

We have added two more issues regarding the lifting of the ban, with additional understanding we gained during June 5-9.

The ban on the People's War and the consequent implementations of the AP Public Security Act is endangering the lives of millions of common people. On the allegations of links with the People's War and being sympathisers, thousands of people in Telangana have been arrested under the AP Public Security Act. Bind-overs and harassment are daily occurrences. Thus, in Telangana and North Andhra, common people are experiencing a terrorised atmosphere where they are unable to raise their voice on simple issues like water, electricity tariff hike, and drought. The ministers said that a screening committee could be appointed on this but did not elaborate. The government of Sri Lanka not only lifted the ban on LTTE before the talks, but also seeking the government of India lift the ban and create conducive atmosphere in the neighbourhood also. We meant that it was the responsibility of the state government seek lifting of the ban under the POTA as it was the state government which insisted to impose the POTA on the People's War. Even then we did not want to insist on our point. More over we wanted to register our protest only on that day. We brought the issues of the interests of a large majority of the masses as a peace initiative in the ongoing political history to the notice of the government and the people.

Once again we reminded the ministers about the observers for the sake of transparency. "Why do we need them in between" was their comment. As we felt there was a change, or a demonstration of the change, of words, trend and attitude. We thought the presence of observers was necessary.
Even as we are showing such flexible attitude, the government came out with its unrealistic demand on June 9. The government handed over a written note to us for the first time on that day.

As the fourth point in the Objective of Talks, the government mentioned "to bring members of PW to mainstream by giving up armed struggle". Even if we think the title of the note, Objective of Talks, is the objective of the government. We would like to remind all the concerned that never in the last six years of efforts - in the proposals of CCC and its efforts in various statements, proposals and efforts by various civil and democratic rights organisations and individuals - this demand was put forth.

Similarly, as a response to our note of June 5, the government categorically said: as point No. 2 "Since lifting of ban is linked to armed struggle it can only be part of a permanent solution" and point No. 3 "Removal of names from rewards list will also be an outcome of permanent solution". The point No. 5 "Government has already created conducive atmosphere to facilitate the process of talks between PW and Government" is another travesty of truth.

Let alone "already", even after June 9, would the June 13 "encounter" near Koppugutta under Govindaraopet PS in Warangal district, create conducive atmosphere for the third round of talks? Since June 5, the encounter killings are directed against CPI(M-L) Prathighatana, a party that is not banned. The June 13 encounter is not only against Prathighatana, but there was also a woman in the deceased this time. She is 24-year old Jamuna hailing from Mallampalli of Warangal district. She lodged a complaint in police station against a person who ditched her and went to complain to the squad the next day. The person was arrested by the police based on her complaint only. He was an unarmed person. The police now concoct a story that she became a squad member a week ago. Similarly Manthani Mallaiah, even if he had Prathighatana politics, was an elected people's representative. He was a ward member in Machapur gram panchayat. All these issues were told by local people to the press and reported.

In the past AP Civil Liberties Committee had furnished a list of fake encounters in the state and the National Human Rights Commission accepted the prima facie of five cases and directed the state government to enquire them as cases of murder. The June 13 encounter is also like that five murder cases. The government very well knows about this.

It is not only about the conducive atmosphere where there are no encounter killings. In the last couple of days there have been lock-up deaths. People committed suicides due to police harassment. If scuttling the Gujarat Victims Solidarity meeting in Karimnagar is a case prior to June 5, there is the case of June 14 when thousands of people from Adilabad, Karimnagar and Warangal districts were obstructed from attending Telangana Polikeka Public meeting. Telangana Samanvaya Samithi -- consisting of Telangana Jana Sabha, Telangana Aikya Vediaka and Telangana Sadhana Samithi organised Telangana Polikeka rally and public meeting on June 14. The City Police Commissioner refused to permit the rally and the meeting on the ground that Naxalites from Telangana districts would mobilise people for attending the meeting.

The government is yet to make it clear what is wrong in mobilising people for a rally and a meeting on a specific political demand of a separate state. When the organisers move the High Court, the meeting alone was permitted. However, the Police violated the High Court orders and created obstacles and stopped people from attending the meeting. We are referring to this as all the obstacles and restrictions to this meeting were raised on the pretext of Naxalites. In fact the meeting was a legal public meeting held by three organisations headed by a Member of Parliament, a retired professor and a government employee, respectively and they booked the Nizam College Grounds duly paying the necessary charges.

This is the conducive atmosphere created by the government for the talks!
The newspaper reported that there was firing from the People's War also after May 10 at Ainavolu in Mahabubnagar district. When we gathered the facts, we came to know that a police officer went to that village along with Special Reserve Police after knowing that Jana Natya Mandali was performing in that village. An ordinary bus was stopped in front of the police station and policemen rushed into the bus. Fearing that the police were coming to attack them, the squad on the outskirts of the village fired on the bus. There was an exchange of fire. Two passengers got injured in the firing. This is unfortunate. It could have been avoided. Some more care should have been taken.

It is also reported that the Khammam district secretary of People's War threatened to take action against IAS officers also if the talks failed. If he really said that, it is an over-reaction to be avoided. Some IAS, IPS officers are themselves saying how the Gujarat carnage aggravated due to dereliction of duties by IAS and IPS officers. We hope that government would exercise that lawful legitimacy.

The political leaders of all parliamentary parties are themselves saying that they are able to go to villages in relative freedom during the cease-fire period announced by the People's War since May 10.

But blazing of the house of Narasampet MLA Revuri Prakasha Reddy at Keshvapur village in Warangal district on June 17, by peoples war squad, in any way will not help the process of talks. They should have thought a while, before resorting to this kind of action.

At the same time we would like to remind that there is no loss of life from peoples war side from May 10 to June 17. Whereas there are at least 10 unnatural deaths in the hands of police in the form of encounters, lockup deaths and torture during these 40 days. We also request to think about the declared and undeclared ban and consequent pressures and tensions, and sense of insecurity that has been an obstacle on the propaganda of not only the Naxalites but all alternative, opposition and democratic politics since 1985.

The last to be mentioned but the basic issue is the unrealistic demands of giving up armed struggle being put forth by the government as a precondition and demand even before setting up modalities.

We do not want to discuss what is meant by mainstream here. But we would like to ask whether anybody who proposed cease-fire and talks at any time raised this issue as basis. We would like to ask whether this was the basis of talks between the governments and the alternative politics anywhere in the world. The CCC did not raise this issue as a suggestion or a condition or a demand. This was not suggested by any democratic body or individual. Nobody in All Party Meeting raised this. In fact CPI-M once and again said that it would be irrelevant to seek the talks in the purview of the Constitution and giving up armed struggle or putting them in the agenda. Every body said that both the parties should implement cease-fire sincerely and establish meaningful peace.

The government on one hand has accepted that the Naxalbari line is a social, political and economic issue, though it has not accepted it as a political solution for social problems. The solutions for social problems would be there in the manifestos and practices of the political parties. They would be there in the respective models of development. People will consider, watch and find out for themselves in practice.

These are not the issues that would be clarified and settled by the representatives of both sides and both the parties on a negotiating table.
In that sense, what is an unrealistic demand?

Whether it is the demand of the government that puts forth its condition of giving up armed struggle even before setting up modalities.
Or our attitude that continues to go to talks despite the government's such demands and continued encounters as a policy?

We request people and democrats to think over these issues. -- Gaddar, Varavara Rao, Hyderabad, 18-06-2002
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The incidents of violence and the 'encounters' continues. The Committee of Concerned Citizens however, is continuing its efforts. It has published its well documented report covering the development up to November 2002. "


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