Jhargram/Kolkata : A day after killing senior Maoist leader Kishenji, security forces Friday hunted for his comrades in a large swathe of West Midnapore in West Bengal amid charges that he was captured alive, tortured and then murdered in cold blood.
Officials maintained that Communist Party of India-Maoist’s politburo member Kishenji, whose real name was Mallojula Koteshwar Rao, died in a firefight Thursday afternoon in Burishole, 10 km from the border with Jharkhand.
The bullet-riddled body of the 55-year-old, the number three in the Maoist ranks, was shown to journalists Thursday night. A part of the face was blown up. Nearby was an AK-47 assault rifle, magazines and a hearing aid.
On Friday, the body was taken to the Jhargram hospital and then to the Midnapore Medical College for autopsy. This was deferred as the dead man’s niece Deepa Rao was yet to arrive from Kolkata to identify the body.
Meanwhile, using sniffer dogs and anti-landmine devices, over 1,000 crack paramilitary troopers and police personnel raided jungles and villages around Burishol for guerrillas who were with Kishenji, including a woman. All villages and jungles in the area were cordoned off.
The woman, Suchitra, widow of Maoist leader Sashadhar Mahato who was killed in March, is believed to have been injured in the same gunfight but escaped.
The security forces found two bags – believed to belong to Kishenji and Suchitra – which had mobile phones, Rs.85,000 in cash, several SIM cards, medicines, letters, a computer hard disk, pen drives and documents.
Maoist ideologue P. Varvara Rao admitted that Kishanji’s death was a “big loss” for the rebels but said the movement will not derail as the deceased had nurtured others to take his place.
“It’s a big loss as he was one of the leaders who built the movement, working from the grassroots level,” Rao told IANS. “Though his leadership abilities will be missed, the movement will go on.”
Akash, a member of the CPI-Maoist’s West Bengal committee, said people saw Kisheji getting caught. Rao said he was arrested on Wednesday, kept in police custody and tortured.
The CPI-Maoist said Kishenji was “tortured and brutally killed”.
A senior officer refuted the allegations.
“It is habitual for such people to make such claims,” Deputy Inspector General of Police Vineet Goel said in Jhargram. He added that police were surprised that Kishenji was moving without security when he was shot.
Central Reserve Police Force Director General K. Vijay Kumar said the Maosit was killed in a “clean operation”. “When we die in large numbers it is fair deal. But when we take them on, it is fake encounter!”
The Maoists have called a two-day shutdown in West Bengal from Saturday to protest against the “fake encounter”.
Born Oct 10, 1953 in a Brahmin family, Kishenji’s organisational skills impressed People’s War Group (PWG) founder Kondapalli Seetaramayya and he picked him for the PWG state secretary post.
A master strategist, Kishenji was believed to be the mastermind behind Seetaramayya’s dramatic escape from Osmania Hospital in Hyderabad in 1984.
In 1986, on the direction of the party, he moved to Chhattisgarh. He played a key role in the merger of PWG and the Maoist Communist Centre to form the CPI-Maoist. He carried a reward of Rs.19 lakh on his head.
His younger brother, Venugopala Rao, is a central committee member of the party and is said to be active in the Andhra-Orissa border area.