'Let the Maoists come and talk on anything they wish'
In a free-wheeling interview to the CNN-IBN television channel, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram talks about the Naxal menace, Ajmal Kasab's death sentence, the role of Hindu right-wing organisations in orchestrating blasts and his impending visit to Pakistan.
Is the Congress party divided on how to tackle the Naxal challenge? If this is the most important security threat, why are we hearing so many discordant voices?
There are no discordant voices in the government. This is a robust democracy and there will be a healthy debate on every issue. There will be people who will emphasise one aspect and some (will emphasise) the other. The government has been very clear from day one. We believe that this is a two-pronged strategy -- one prong is police action and the other is development. There is of course a third aspect, to keep the door open for talks. Some will emphasise one prong, some will emphasise the other; that doesn't make it a discordant party.
In February, the Maoists claimed that they were ready for a dialogue but it was the Centre that was unwilling. How do you respond to that?
I hope you are serious when you ask that question. I don't think that the Maoists have ever responded seriously to our offer for talks nor have they made a serious offer for talks. They indulge in gimmicks and I am afraid the media plays it up. I make that offer now -- let anyone who's hearing this take note. I make that offer now. The Maoists should say we will suspend violence and actually suspend violence from any date they fix for 72 hours.
Suppose they say we will suspend violence from June 1 and suspend violence for 72 hours, and I say within 72 hours, we'll get the (concerned) chief minister's support, we'll respond, we'll fix the date, place and time for talks. Let the Maoists come and talk on anything they wish to talk about.
Image: The wreckage of the bus blown up by Maoists in Dantewada
'Kasab's sentencing has not yet been confirmed'
There's been so much confusion as to whether the government intends to hang (convicted terrorist) Ajmal Kasab or whether there will be a queue and he will be in the queue like any other death row convict?
Please understand that Kasab's sentencing has not yet been confirmed by the high court. Either you swear by the law or you throw it out of the window. First of all, the sentence must be confirmed. He has a right of appeal and in a case like this, I suspect the Supreme Court will allow a second appeal.
We have to allow the process to be completed. If the process is complete, the death sentence will be confirmed. We are perilously close to interfering in the judicial process; we have to wait and see. Then he has to appeal for mercy. It's only a mercy application that comes to the government, otherwise the government has no say in the matter.
Image: A billboard seeks the death rap for Kasab
Photographs: Punit Paranjpe/Reuters
'To be on death row is worst punishment than hanging'
The news reports that have emerged in the last 48 hours have suggested that the home ministry has written 16 letters to the Delhi government about (Parliament attack convict) Afzal Guru's case and not received a response. This has led to the impression that the governmnt has gone slow on Afzal and is ready to fast track Kasab.
That's not true! Every convict on death row will be treated alike. To be a convict on death row is worst punishment than hanging. What the President will do about any case, none of us can comment (on that).
Image: Shiv Sena activists shout slogans against Afzal Guru
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
'We don't call it Hindu terror. Terror is terror'
Home ministry sources claim that blasts like Malegaon, Jama Masjid etc are linked to Hindu terror groups. Do you think enough has been done to identify the causes and culprits behind Hindu terror?
You have the liberty and luxury to jump to conclusions. But sitting on this chair, I can't. There is evidence pointing to terror groups which are supported by extreme-right fundamentalist organisations. We don't call it Hindu terror. Terror is terror.
In this case, the groups seem to subscribe to extreme fundamentalist Hindu philosophy. We think there is evidence which connect the Ajmer blast, the Mecca Masjid blast, but not the Samjhauta Express blast yet. Investigative agencies are closely following the trail that we have discovered. They have made some arrests. The investigation alone will show whether the dots are rightly connected or not, whether there is one organisation or many organisations working in coordination. We have to see.
Image: Security personnel at the site of the blast at Ajmer dargah
'If facts are to be presented before Pak, I will not hesitate to place them'
Post the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, you have been seen as leading the charge against Pakistan, particularly on the (Mumbai terror attack mastermind and Lashkar-e-Tayiba founder) ) Hafeez Saeed question. Ironically, next month, you will be perhaps the first high-level leader to travel to Pakistan officially. When you travel to Islamabad for the SAARC home ministers' conference, what will be the message that you will carry with you? Because your meeting will precede the meeting between (External Affairs Minister S M) Krishna and (Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood) Qureshi, do you believe that Pakistan is doing enough to tackle the 26/11 masterminds and will you tell Pakistan if you believe that it is not doing enough?
My position on these questions, the government's views, is well known. We haven't hidden them; we've spoken about them, we have made them public, we have exchanged dossiers. The meeting that's coming up is a multilateral fora. Therefore, at the conference, we will only address multilateral issues. But it has been suggested that on the sidelines, the home ministers of Pakistan and India could meet. Now the brief for that meeting, what we will take to that meeting, is not yet settled. But if facts are to be presented before the Pakistan home minister, I will not hesitate to place them.
What do you believe those facts are? Do you believe that Pakistan has done enough on 26/11? Do you believe that Saeed is the mastermind of 26/11 who must be charged and convicted for the same?
Well, our position has been well known. We believe that the masterminds have not yet been charged in Pakistan. We also believe that Saeed is one of the masterminds and therefore he should be charged. We also want to know who the handlers were. We want voice samples of the handlers. We have also exchanged dossiers on possible masterminds, accomplices and we haven't got confirmation on any one of them. We also wish to know the identities of persons who have gone under aliases or assumed names and some of them have been confirmed by (Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative) David Coleman Headley.
Image: A girl writes a message dedicated to the victims of the Mumbai terror attacks
Photographs: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters