Bastar, Chhattisgarh: As the countdown begins to the government's planned offensive against the Naxals, many are wondering if peace still has a chance or are we looking at a bloody confrontation?
This week NDTV's Sudhi Ranjan Sen caught up with a top Maoist leader who controls forces across India's heartland. Kosa told us the Maoists believe the government is not serious about its offer of talks if they lay down their arms and insisted they only pick up arms in self-defence.
Deep inside the forests, we met Kadri Satayanaraya Rao, popularly known as Kosa. He controls the rebels in a vast swath from Bihar to Andhra Pradesh and parts of Maharastra. Kosa is a member of the Central Committee of the Maoists. He is one of the top five Maoist leaders in India, and perhaps higher than even the recently much-heard-of Kishenji in West Bengal. He's the head of the Dandakaryana Special Zonal Committee. This covers nearly half of middle India.
Although still training to take on the Home Ministry's newfound belligerence, the Naxals have now spelt out their political response as well.
"The government is lying. They are offering talks while amassing forces. We are going to resist and we will continue with our fight," he said.
The Maoists believe the government is trying to bluff them into exposing themselves. The tough-talking Home Minister has just added to this perception.
On a dilemma he faces, Kosa said, "On the one hand the government is preparing to begin its anti-Naxal offensive from this very region. On the other, it's offering talks."
But the Naxals are keeping their options open.
So, while they are suspicious of the tough-talking Chidambaram, NDTV has learnt they are in touch with senior politicians close to the central government.
And perhaps because they are keeping their options open, the Maoists for the first time backed off from threatening Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, a claim that is contrary to a statement as recent as July this year.
"There is no such hit list. It is the work of intelligence agencies. If they don't make such false claims, how will they be relevant to the government," says Kosa.
First the talk of operations across this area and then a peace offer has sent mixed signals to the Maoists. Perhaps both sides should reconsider their options.