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People's War: is Andhra Pradesh committing hara-kiri?

By K. Srinivas Reddy

HYDERABAD, JULY 12. The Andhra Pradesh Government's move to hold talks with the proscribed People's War (PW) has been welcomed by the intelligentsia, notwithstanding the apprehensions being expressed by the security agencies.

But the Government's reported move to allow the ban on the PW to lapse on July 22 has raised the question of its impact on other States which have also been facing the extremist problem.

Though the Congress Government has not yet officially announced its decision, it is inferred that the principal demand of the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist (MLM) party would be considered favourably.

Can the Andhra Pradesh Government allow the ban to lapse while it is in force in other States where the PW has consolidated its position so much so that Left wing extremism has become a major law and order issue? This has now become a matter of interest not only for political parties but also for the Central Intelligence agencies.

It is a peculiar situation in Andhra Pradesh where the PW and six of its front organisations were banned under the A.P. Public Securities Act (APPSA) in 1992 by the Congress Government led by N. Janardhana Reddy. After a series of experiments in which the successive Telugu Desam Party and Congress Governments adopted a soft approach followed by a severe crackdown, it was N. Chandrababu Naidu who reimposed the ban in 1996. In the meanwhile, came the Central Government's decision to include the PW in the list of banned organisations under the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA).

The peculiarity does not end here. Recently, the United States too included the PW and another MLM party, the MCCI operating in Bihar, in the list of organisations to be kept under watch.

And now, with the process of holding talks gaining momentum day by day, the Chief Minister, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, went to Delhi to discuss the issue with the Union Home Minister, Shivaraj Patil, and other officials.

Though nothing is being stated officially about the points of discussion and the Centre's views on the developing situation, authoritative sources indicate that the Centre wanted Andhra Pradesh to tread cautiously.

If Andhra Pradesh goes ahead with relaxing the ban, either by scrapping the ban under the APPSA or allowing it to lapse without renewing it, the Centre would have to be convinced that the provisions of POTA would not be invoked against the PW activists.

This appears to be the most practical solution, since the Centre had already made its stand known on the repeal of POTA. In other words, till the repeal of the Central Act, the ban under APPSA would be allowed to lapse and POTA would not be enforced.

But how would it affect the other States? In its 30 plus years of revolutionary struggle, the PW spread its activities from a few pockets in Dandakaranya region to almost 15 States. It has a considerable presence in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and in a few pockets of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. The concept of forming a "Compact Revolutionary Zone" linking Andhra Pradesh to Nepal via the forest tracts of central Chattisgarh, north Orissa, north Bihar and Uttar Pradesh is no more a pipedream for the Maoists.

The merger of the PW with Party Unity in Bihar and the imminent coming together of the MCCI and the PW indicate the growing influence of the Left wing guerillas in the country.

In such a backdrop, the efforts of the Andhra Pradesh Government to hold talks and lift the ban are being increasingly viewed as a piecemeal effort to solve the problem, when the need of the hour is to have a consolidated approach towards Left wing extremist all over the country.

The necessity for having a coordinated approach on such a vital issue has somehow missed the focus and it is Andhra Pradesh alone which is taking the initiative to hold talks with the Maoist revolutionaries.

Incidentally, ever since the efforts to bring the PW and the Government to the negotiating table began in Andhra Pradesh, only in Jharkhand a similar move was initiated.

In Karnataka too efforts have begun, but considering the sluggish pace, this could well end as an ill-conceived political gambit, whose outcome could only mean providing additional space for the revolutionaries to further consolidate and launch an all-out offensive against the State once again.

In other words, the absence of a coordinated effort covering all the States could only mean that Andhra Pradesh could be committing a tactical hara-kiri.

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