On March 18, 2014, a secret meeting was arranged in the outskirts of Bengaluru, between the Citizens' Initiative for Peace and two Naxalite leaders to discuss bringing them to the mainstream. Among them was Noor Shridhar, former secretary of Karnataka State Committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
“It was supposed to be a one-hour meeting, but it went on for hours. I remember, Gauri Lankesh didn’t speak much, but it was the other two members, HS Doreswamy and AK Subbaiah, who did most of the talking. But at the end of the meeting, she assured that she will do her best to let us continue our struggle in a democratic way,” Shridhar told The Quint.
This meeting happened more than eight years after Shridhar and Sirimane Nagaraj dropped their arms and expressed their desire to work in the mainstream.
Naxalite Came out Because of Internal Struggle, Not Gauri
Days after journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh’s cold-blooded killing, Shridhar has clarified that they didn’t come out of the movement because of her, but because of internal differences in the party. His clarification gains importance in the wake of speculation that Naxals may have murdered Gauri, who was bringing naxalites to the mainstream.
Shridhar explains that following the encounter killing of Saket Rajan, a prominent leader of the Naxal movement in February 2005, there were major differences in the party.
While one section argued that an armed struggle is not the way forward, another stood by it. “In 2006, we made the announcement that we are moving out of the Naxalite movement. We had never met Gauri Lankesh at that time,” Shridhar said.
After splitting from CPI (Maoist), Shridhar started the Revolutionary Communist Party and expressed his intention to work in the mainstream. However, while they were still being hunted down by police, they remained underground. It was during this time that they wrote to several civil society leaders, including Lankesh.
Her Credibility Came from Her Journalism
Lankesh was one of the first journalists to write about the Naxalite movement in the Karnataka. In 2005, when the movement was picking up traction, she travelled to the forests in the Western Ghats and interviewed their leader Saket Rajan. Her article 'Naxal roar in Malnad' captured a rare glimpse of the new naxal movement in Karnataka.
Years later, she was instrumental in forming the Citizens' Initiative for Peace, which negotiated for peace between the police and naxals.
'Gauri Stood to Get Us Our Respect'
According to Shridhar, Lankesh stood by them to help them get their due respect. “Following the split, we had expressed our desire to come out of the forests, but the government wanted us to surrender and it came with preconditions. We had to announce that our struggle for the people was wrong, we had to provide all information about the Naxalite movement and take money from the government and set up a business,” he said.
But they were not ready for it. “Our struggle was for the people, it was not wrong. We might have had differences on ideological levels, but couldn’t rat out those who were in the forest, and we did want any money from the government, because we wanted to continue our struggle in a democratic way and not run businesses. When negotiations were stuck, Lankesh played a crucial role,” he added.
Along with Doreswamy and Subbaiah, Lankesh convinced the state government to allow both Shridhar and Nagaraj to come into the mainstream with dignity. Lankesh also convinced Naxalites that the due process of the law will have to be followed and they will have to face trial.
Thus, the historic agreement was made.
She Criticised Naxalites Too But Never Received Any Threats
Shiv Sundar, a journalist who worked with Lankesh for over 28 years, said that she had been a strong critic of the Naxalite movement. “In the past 10 years, Gauri and I have authored over 20 articles criticising the policies of the Naxalites. But we never got a letter of threat or condemnation,” said Shiv Sundar.
Only one letter was sent by the Naxal movement to Lankesh in 2008. “It was not a threat, but an explanatory note on why Naxalites didn’t believe that constitutional democracy was working in India. But she got threats when she wrote about the right wing,” he added.
I Was Part of the Committee Too, No one Threatened me
HS Doreswamy, who was part of the committee, which brokered peace between the Naxalites and the Karnataka government, said that it was a collective effort to ensure that Naxalites could continue their struggle in civil society. He also pointed out that he did not receive any threats for being a part of the process of bringing Naxals to the mainstream. “It was a good move, the Naxalites are now mobilising the people in need of civil society and doing a good job,” he said.
Why is CPI (Maoist) Silent?
While wild allegations have been made by certain media channels that Naxalites killed Lankesh, why isn’t the party responding? According to Shridhar, sending a message from the forest would take days. “A physical statement will have to be passed through carriers, it will take time,” he explained.
What Does Her Death Mean to the Peace Process?
Shiv Sundar said that Lankesh was a watchdog, who ensured that the government respected the promise they made. “In December 2016, when the tribals went on a protest, the former Naxalites had joined them. During this time, the police tried to cancel the bail they had obtained from court (as they were asked to face trial), Lankesh then took up the issue and reminded the government of their promises,” said Shiv Sundar.
Among the three committee members, Subbaiah and Doreswamy were above the age of 80 and it was Lankesh who took the cause with the government. With the journalist-activist gone, a void has been created in the process of bringing peace between the government and Naxalites.
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