Communist, poet, activist and writer Vara Vara Rao is not known to mince his words. He is angry at the coming together of imperialism and Hindutva — a dangerous cocktail which, he says, is bent upon killing the Maoist armed rebels. Following the 24 October encounter in Malkangiri, Odisha, when 31 Maoists were gunned down in the wee hours of the morning while they were camping in the forest, Vara Vara Rao and other civil liberties activists have called for justice for those killed. They have also alleged that the encounter was "fake" and that Maoists were tortured brutally before being killed.
Rao’s engagement with the Maoist cause goes back many decades. He was one of the negotiators between Maoists and the YS Rajashekhar Reddy (also known as YSR)-led Congress government in united Andhra Pradesh in 2004. The talks failed and the state, once again, unleashed attacks not only on the Maoists but also foisted cases on Rao and other negotiators, throwing them in jail for months.
A renowned writer, poet and founder member of Virasam — a Revolutionary Writers’ Association, Rao lives in Hyderabad and spoke exclusively to Manasa Chennapragada on the recent Malkangiri encounter.
Manasa Chennapragada (MC): In your opinion, is the NDA government more aggressive towards Maoist rebels than the UPA government was? Please explain.
Vara Vara Rao (VVR): Green Hunt Operation started during 2009 at the time of Manmohan Singh. Now it has reached its third phase and Modi has given it another name — Mission 2016. If you talk from the philosophical point of view, the imperialist has joined the Hindutva brigade. The Modi government, during induction itself had said that it is going to implement Gujarat model all over India. What is the NDA government doing in Chhattisgarh, Dandakaranya and elsewhere? Rajnath Singh twice congratulated the Chief Minister and DGP (of Andhra Pradesh), in fact, earlier to this action (Malkangiri encounter) he had been to Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. It’s a green signal from the central government, and the result is the Bejangi encounter. And, Chandrababy Naidu being a part of NDA, is also responsible. Naidu and Modi alliance is more aggressive because they believe the Maoist moment is a law-and-order problem, not a socio-economic problem. Naidu and Modi government is more ruthless as they are serving a World Bank programme in implementing the imperialist globalisation policy along with Hindutva philosophy.
MC: What do you think happened in the Malkangiri encounter?
VVR: The government target was the leadership of the party RK (Ramakrishna, a prominent Maoist leader), Uday, Chalapathi and Aruna and that leadership was not caught. They targeted them 16 times but couldn’t find the place they were. During the 17th time they were able to locate and kill other people.
MC: Sudhakar Reddy, General Secretary of the Communist Party of India, alleges that the Malkangiri killing was not an encounter. He says it appears Maoists had been arrested and later gunned down. Your comments?
VVR: Some of them were caught in the second round and tortured — Prabhakar, Barathi and Daya. That way it is not an encounter.
MC: Do you feel the TRS (Telangana Rashtra Samiti) government in Telangana is friendlier towards the Maoists than earlier regimes?
VVR: It (TRS regime) is Naidu plus YSR, former Congress CM of united AP. See the silence of the TRS government. We see it was Naidu’s action that happened in the Andhra-Odisha border. Among the 31 people who died, three people are from Telangana. Prabhakar worked for Telangana (from 1997 to 2014) longer than Chandrashekar Rao (Telangana CM) who worked from 2001 to 2014. Daya from Nalgonda district has 25 years of experience and Bharathi comes from Medak district. Even for them Telangana government didn’t raise its voice. When we protested against encounter killings they implicated cases against us. They are not friendly, and we don’t any government to be friendly with us. We just want you to obey your principals and the Fundamental Rights of the Constitution. We want the government to be friendly with the people.
MC: Please tell us about the press release from Maoists threatening to kill the AP CM and his family.
VVR: It was a police statement. They (Maoists) did not make that threat. Also we don’t believe in suicide squads.
MC: Let us delve into some history now. You were part of the negotiators team that organised peace talks between Maoists and the YSR government. What has been the aftermath of the failure of the 2004 peace talks?
VVR: Talks have to be taken in two phases — first phase was restoration of democratic rights and second was land reforms. There was also a third phase called self-reliance in which ban on liquor and a separate Telangana was called for. Talks went on well for four days. The problem started when the government proposed 1 crore 20 lakhs acres of land, which is under occupation under 35 categories to industries, media etc. Under the (Maoist) leadership our people have occupied a portion of the land like in plain areas, (we have) three lakh acres of land and in forest area (another) three lakh acres of land. We urged the government to give pattas to the people who occupied this land and to distribute the rest. We also asked to keep land commission to work on this without just going by our word. Everyone was impressed and asked us to suggest how much land commission should be given to whom under the scrutiny of KR Venugopal, SR Sankaran, Tarakaram, Balagopal who are well versed in Dalit, Adivasi and landless poor issues. We gave 30 names and were waiting for the next meet. Instead of having a 30-member committee, only a 6-member committee was formed under the guidance of Koneti Ranga Rao who was the deputy chief minister. Rao also recommended that if Dalits had occupied land and if they were landless before the occupation then he proposed to give them the land. This was not taken into consideration. For any ruling party it will be difficult to implement things and during Rajashekar Reddy’s time we were called for a second term talk in which they put a condition to come by giving up arms, which was not proposed earlier. We thought we will make it an issue during the talks and be firm that we will not do so (lay down arms). But during talks they did not raise the issue. In the second phase they added that condition and started encounter killings in the month of January and killed many people on January 17, 2004. As the government violated the ceasefire we also thought we should reiterate by violating.
MC: You and several other human rights activists were jailed when the peace talks failed. How did that affect you?
VVR: It's natural (smiles). It’s not human right activists who were framed but those who represented the Maoists in the talks like myself and Kalyan Rao. We were arrested under the Public Security Act and within a week we got bail. But during imprisonment they implicated us in all retaliatory acts by foisting eight cases from January to April 2005 and kept us in jail for seven months. It’s a kind of frustration, since we represented them (Maoists), so they put us in jail.
MC: There is a lot of trouble within the Maoist groups. The issue of Telugu domination in CPI (Maoist) is plaguing the group now — more so than during the merger with the MCC group of Maoists. What is going on within?
VVR: No. No. During the merger, Telugu people were more. After the setback of Naxalbari in the Srikakulam struggle, it was only from Telangana in 1978 that the Jagtial Jaitra Yatra was started. This is as a result of the "Go To Village" campaign call given by RSIV conference in Warangal held in February 1978 and the ROI conference in Guntur in May 1978. One hundred and fifty villages, landless poor and agricultural labourers mostly from Scheduled Castes and oppressed castes had come to Jagtial with applications for pattas. This resulted in a great struggle called Jagtial-Sirisilla struggle that is the mass line taken by the party. A resolution was made in Nagpur during 1976 on the emergency road to revolution which was implemented from 1977 onwards, and that was continued in this Jagtial struggle. Naxalbari path was not there elsewhere in the other states and because of this continuation and experience (by Telangana armed rebels), they came into the leadership.
MC: What is the future of the civil liberties movement in Telangana?
VVR: You should not ask me about the civil liberties movement. I am a revolutionary writer. Of course, I was one of the founder members of APCLC (AP Civil Liberties Committee) but I was there only until 1983. As long as violation of fundamental rights is present, civil liberties and democratic movements will be there.
For example, in the Bejangi encounter you (the police) asked them to surrender when they fired for self protection. Even police fired, but when the police fires in self protection, Moists die but when they (Maoists) fire on you, you will be injured, you won’t die. You are not following the police orders and fundamental rights. Those people (Maoists) don’t have belief in your law, and are following their democratic rights and civil liberties. Though they fire, they ensure that you won't die, rather just get injured.
MC: Is there any plan to revive the CCC (Committee of Concerned Citizens)? How do you plan to go about petitioning the states and the Centre to stop the violence?
VVR: People who are still there in CCC and also the democratic and civil rights bodies have to intervene in this and ask the government to respect their own laws provided by the Indian Constitution. Because they have taken an oath and must abide by that, we expect people particularly in CCC, intellectuals and activists in CCC who worked for eight years to take up this issue and also other democratic rights institutions to intervene in this situation.