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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 July, 2004, 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK
Andhra Pradesh Maoists talk tough
Omer Farooq
BBC correspondent in Andhra Pradesh

PWG state committee member Shakamuri Appa Rao. Photo: Omer Farooq
PWG state committee member, Appa Rao, helps reveal its agenda
As you hit the narrow dirt-road, the eerie silence of the Nallamalla forest at night hits you.

Spread over five districts of Andhra Pradesh, this is a forest rich in wildlife and famous as a tiger sanctuary.

It is also home to the rebels of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People's War, popularly called the PWG.

I was here to meet one of its top policy makers.

'Propaganda'

After four hours trekking across a hill we reached the hideout at around midnight and were received by one of the main leaders, Prakash.

He was armed with a sten gun, while his colleague, the state committee member Shakamuri Appa Rao, held an AK-47 rifle.

After sleeping for a few interrupted hours, we gather to discuss the PWG's approach to the peace talks with the state government that are making painfully slow progress.

"Both sides announced a ceasefire in June, but the government is under pressure from a section of the police not to go for a formal agreement and not to talk to us," says Prakash.

PEOPLE'S WAR GROUP
In 1980, PWG launched by teacher Kondapally Seetharamaih
Police started action against the PWG in the mid-1980s
Muppal Lakshman Rao, alias Ganpathy, ousts leadership in 1991 to bring more extremist agenda
Failed assassination attempt on Chandrababu Naidu in 2003
Agrees ceasefire on 16 June, 2004

A few of the security personnel head off to make breakfast.

Prakash and Appa Rao talk of the future.

The police and state government fear the PWG will exploit the ceasefire to strengthen itself.

"It is all propaganda by the police," counters Prakash, "who have developed a vested interest in continuing violence."

Prakash, one of seven members of the group's politburo, adds: "They have made [millions] of rupees under [former chief minister Chandrababu] Naidu's rule. They want this situation to continue. There is a lot of money in it."

Infiltrator

Many of those now questioning the peace talks want to know whether the PWG will give up its arms.

Prakash is unequivocal.

PWG members in Andhra Pradesh. Photo: Omer Farooq
Our aim to capture political power through armed struggle is non-negotiable
Prakash, PWG leader

"It is impossible. Our aim to capture political power through armed struggle is non-negotiable.

"We want to throw out the imperialist and feudal ruling class. We have a right to carry the weapons but we assure that we will maintain peace as long as the ceasefire continues."

Then what would be the point of talks?

"We want to create a fear-free atmosphere and a democratic climate for the people's struggle," says Prakash.

"We want to reduce the level of violence by observing the ceasefire for as long as the police observe it. But if the police resort to armed action, we will retaliate."

He adds: "We want to keep our arms only for self defence as there is a serious threat to our security from the network of informers and the police agents.

"There are private armed gangs of former extremists who are being used by the police to kill our leaders. Our very existence is at stake. We cannot take risks."

Appa Rao says the group recently discovered an infiltrator planning to poison the leaders in the camp.

"We discovered him and averted a major disaster," he says.

Judicial inquiry

Prakash then expands on the PWG's agenda - to be carried out through mass groups like farmers', student and youth organisations.

"First we want to distribute land to the landless. We want to cancel all debts which are forcing farmers to commit suicide.

PWG TALKS AGENDA
Freedom to organise masses to fight issues such as land reform
Autonomy for village-level bodies
Rejection of World Bank conditions for project funding
Review of state economic policy
Division of Andhra Pradesh to include separate state of Telangana

"We will raid and burn shops selling spurious seeds and pesticides, declare villages out of bounds for blood-sucking money lenders and set up committees of villagers to run their own affairs."

The PWG will also force the government to order a judicial inquiry into the killing of more than 2,000 people during the nine-year rule of Mr Naidu.

It says many were PWG members who were victims of extra-judicial killings by the police.

"Unless a judicial inquiry is conducted and guilty police officials are punished, it will not create confidence among the people," says Prakash.

But if the PWG continues its armed struggle, why would the government continue with talks?

"If it has any respect for the aspirations of the people and it wants to respect the promises it made in the election, the government must talk," says Prakash.

The PWG says the same principle for peace talks will apply to the other 12 states in which it is active.

"If the governments in those state also stop repression and observe ceasefires we will respond positively and go for talks," says Prakash.


SEE ALSO:
Ban lifted on Indian Maoist group
21 Jul 04  |  South Asia
Peace offer to India's Maoists
08 Jun 04  |  South Asia
India's Maoist revolutionaries
08 Apr 04  |  South Asia
India rebels vow to fight on
20 Jun 03  |  South Asia


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