Go for talks

As the government and the Maoists inch ever closer to a bloody all-out military confrontation, there are signs, albeit faint, that both sides may explore the option of talks. Maoist leader Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji has said that the Maoists would talk “if there was a ceasefire” on both sides and if the government withdrew paramilitary forces deployed in the Maoist-hit states. He has, however, ruled out laying down arms. Home Minister P Chidambaram has responded by saying that the government is willing to talk to the Maoists even if they do not lay down arms, so long as they abjure violence.

This is heartening as it opens the door if only a bit to the possibility of the two sides giving negotiations a try. It is likely that the tentative offer of talks by the Maoists is an attempt to stave off imminent military operations. It is possible that they see talks as an opportunity to buy time to regroup. However, even if the Maoists are not fully convinced about the efficacy of talks and there is an ulterior motive to the talks offer, there is no reason why the Centre should not take the offer seriously. Last week Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acknowledged that there has been a ‘systemic failure’ in ensuring the progress of tribals. He stressed the need to correct this failure. If he was serious about correcting mistakes his government should give the talks option another chance.

If the UPA government is committed to addressing tribal grievances it must refrain from military operations that will leave them devastated and weaker than before. And if the Maoists have the interests of tribals at heart as they claim they do, they must act quickly to follow up on their talks offer to avert the upcoming offensive. Despite offering to engage in talks the Maoists are persisting with violent attacks. In the circumstances, their offer rings hollow.

Hawks will argue that the Maoists are crumbling under pressure and that the government should press its advantage and ‘finish them off’ through military operations. But disaster lies ahead should they decide to go for military confrontation. A whole array of other less calamitous and more rewarding options exist to resolve the conflict. These should be explored honestly. Even at this juncture course correction is possible.

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