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Mamata stands by her comments on Azad
Kolkata, Aug 18 (IANS):
Published on 19 Aug. 2010 12:32 AM IST
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Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee Wednesday stuck to her comments suggesting Maoist leader Azad was killed in a staged shootout and said she was happy the rebels had responded to calls from the president and the prime minister to come for talks.
Speaking to reporters at her residence here, a day after the Maoists proposed a three-month ceasefire and sought her as one of the mediators in the proposed peace talks, Banerjee said the problem should be solved peacefully and democratically through negotiations.
Banerjee refused to make any firm commitment on Maoist leader Koteshwar Rao alias Kishanji suggesting her name as a mediator, but said: “If anyone wants to discuss the matter with me, I can give my opinion.
“I have seen media reports. But during these 10 days, I was not able to talk to anybody. Let me crosscheck. It is a government decision. I did not talk to the government regarding this,” she said. To queries about the furore in parliament over her comments about Azad’s death at a rally Aug 9, Banerjee said: “Whatever I said in Lalgarh as Trinamool Congress chief, I stick to it.”
At the rally, Banerjee condemned the “manner” in which Azad, nee Cherukuri Rajkumar, was killed at Adilabad in Andhra Pradesh July 2.“I feel the way Azad was killed is not right. ... what happened is not right. Azad had reposed faith in the democratic process,” Banerjee said at the rally organised under the banner of the Anti-Atrocities Forum.
Banerjee, who left for Delhi Wednesday afternoon, took on the opposition for raising a hue and cry in parliament over her comments. “In a democracy, I cannot impose my opinion on everybody. They also cannot impose their opinion on me,” she said.
“This is my view. It is my freedom of expression. Anybody can criticize me. I welcome it if it is positive. But I have a right to express my view,” the minister said.
“What Lalgarh? I went there. I am proud to say. I will again go. I want peace,” Banerjee shot back when reporters pressed for her comments about the criticism for holding the Lalgarh rally. The government has said that Azad was killed in an exchange of fire with the security forces.
Banerjee said in a democratic set-up, it was always preferable to have an amicable and peaceful solution.
“We want all our people to come to the mainstream. Let there be negotiations,” she said. “We have seen the bloodbath in Lalgarh. We have seen how the thing is going on throughout the country,” Banerjee said.
Banerjee said she has seen President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Independence Day speeches where they appealed to the Maoist guerillas to abjure violence and sit for talks.
“If anybody wants negotiations that is good. They (Maoists) have honoured the president and the prime minister’s speeches. That is also good for the country,” she said.
Agnivesh proposes 72-hour ceasefire
Welcoming the Maoist offer for a three-month ceasefire to begin talks, social activist Swami Agnivesh Wednesday proposed an initial three-day truce between the government and the guerrillas as a confidence building measure. “It’s a forthright decision by Communist Party of India (CPI)-Maoist politburo member Kishenji. It is a befitting response to the president and prime minister’s call for talks in their Independence Day speeches. I welcome it,” Agnivesh told IANS over phone.
Agnivesh, who blamed the central government for the July 2 killing of CPI-Maoist spokesman Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad that allegedly scuttled peace talks, said the rebels wanted a communication in black and white from the authorities, accepting the three-month ceasefire proposed by them Tuesday.
“Then a member of the CPI-Maoist politburo should give a specific date from when there will be no hostilities from their side for 72 hours. The government should also declare a 72-hour ceasefire from that date,” he said.
Agnivesh’s comments came a day after Kishenji, who only months ago was rumoured to be seriously wounded or even dead, told a section of the media through an audio tape that the rebels were ready for talks and proposed the three-month truce offer.
The offer was made two days after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his Independence Day address from the Red Fort in New Delhi asked the rebels to come for talks.
The CPI-Maoist also proposed the names of Swami Agnivesh or Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee as possible mediators between the government and the rebels. Home Minister P. Chidambaram had also earlier asked Agnivesh to play the role of a mediator.
Agnivesh, who said he was “always there” to act as a facilitator between the two sides, suggested that if the initial 72-hour ceasefire was successful, then both sides should give a letter of invitation for talks.
“Then the talks can resume. And why three months, the ceasefire can continue for six months, nine months and so on. There should be no hostilities so long as the talks continue,” he said.
Agnivesh said he expected to meet the prime minister on the issue. “Then I will convey to him Kishenji’s offer”.
The social activist will also apprise the prime minister of his observations about the situation in trouble-torn Lalgarh in West Midnapore district where he addressed a rally Aug 9 alongside Mamata Banerjee and social worker Medha Patkar.
The West Bengal-based Kishenji Tuesday night insisted that the ceasefire should be a bilateral move by both the government and the rebels.
The CPI-Maoist top gun also referred to writer Arundhati Roy, Trinamool Congress MP Kabir Suman, human rights activist Gautam Navalkha and B.D Sharma as the other facilitators for the talks.
Kishenji’s dramatic announcement followed repeated savage attacks by the Maoists on security forces mainly in central India, resulting in a nationwide crackdown by police and paramilitary forces.

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