Indian Decade

Curious Ceasefire Offer

The Indian media’s powerful glare makes even talking to the Maoists harder.

In this age of satellite television—there are some 280 24-hour news channels alone in India today—the media often dons the mantle of a mediator between two sides. Such is the power of the ubiquitous media in India these days that it is difficult to conduct serious talks without the media glare—be it India, Pakistan parleys or negotiations between the Indian government and the Maoist guerrillas. The latter is a case in point. Sample this.

There was much hype when a caller identifying himself as Kishenji, the top Maoist leader, proposed a ceasefire last week. What’s more, the Naxal leader gave a mobile phone number (9734695789) to the media, asking Union Home Minister P Chidambaram to call up for peace negotiations. Indian intelligence agencies went into a tizzy over the audacity of the Maoists whose core philosophy is to bring about changes in governance through the bullet rather than the ballot. Now the intelligence agencies have reportedly established that Kishenji did not talk to any TV journalists in recent days. It has also come to notice that Kishenji, who contacts the media frequently, has used as many as 18 different mobile phone numbers since June last year when the hunt for him was launched. Each time, Kishenji calls from a stolen mobile phone. Even the Vodafone number, 9734695789, given out by the Maoists for the Ministry of Home Affairs to call up for peace negotiations belonged to one Sisir Kanti Nag, a constable who was abducted by Maoists on September 26.

The bottom line is that the Maoists are past masters in the art of using the media and deliberately dished out a ceasefire offer in the name of Kishenji just to sow seeds of confusion among the Indian security top brass. They knew that the intelligence agencies would eventually call their bluff but howsoever sooner or later that happens their purpose would have been served: to obfuscate as much as they can. And the media is always there to help—a Vodafone catch-line.