Kolkata/New Delhi : The Maoist movement suffered a major blow when one of its top leaders, Mallojula Koteshwar Rao alias Kishanji, was killed Thursday by security forces in West Bengal, officials said.
A Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) official said that a body resembling the politburo member of the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) was discovered in West Midnapore district.
In New Delhi, Home Secretary R.K. Singh said “99 percent” Kishanji had been killed following a gun battle that broke out in a forested region in Jamboni area.
“Officers on the spot said it is Kishanji. We have asked them to be very certain,” he said.
However, there was no confirmation from the West Bengal government of the killing of the 52-year-old Maoist, the number three in CPI-Maoist.
A counter insurgency official in Kolkata said Kishanji’s body was identified from an AK-47 assault rifle he was carrying. Only senior Maoist leaders are provided AK rifles.
Kishanji, who has repeatedly escaped police dragnet, was one of the most experienced Maoist leaders who had been involved in the leftwing movement for over three decades.
The operation, led by West Midnapore Superintendent of Police Pravin Tripathi, was conducted by crack commandos of the CRPF’s anti-Maoist wing Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA),
An elusive guerrilla commander, Kishanji has in the past given frequent interviews to the media. On camera, he would only show his back with a scarf around his head and a gun draped over one shoulder.
Security forces had earlier Wednesday started a hunt for Maoist leaders, including Kishanji and Maoist action squad member Suchitra Mahato, after a tip-off that they were hiding in the Burishol forest in West Midnapore.
A shootout erupted after a large posse of forces combed the jungle and engaged the Maoists in a firefight.
If Kishanji is indeed dead, it would be the biggest success of the police-paramilitary crackdown on Maoists since June 2009, in the three western districts of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia.
The Trinamool Congress government of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, which took power in May, had initially taken a soft stand vis-a-vis the Maoists.
It gave a go ahead to security forces to resume their operation after the Maoists killed several Trinamool activists.
The state government has also brought back former West Midnapore Superintendent of Police Manoj Verma, who was awaiting a posting, to head the counter insurgency force.