Koteswar Rao aka Kishenji, the “star” Maoist leader of the country, died the way he lived — by the power of the gun. And like his life, his death has also been shrouded in controversy. Kishenji was supposedly “killed” in an encounter with the joint forces at the Burisole forests of West Midnaporeon November 24.
There were initial doubts whether the body, gunned down by the joint forces, was really his or had he given the forces the elusive slip like Zorro. Later it was confirmed that the body was actually Kishenji’s. However, the Maoist version of his death differed from the government’s — he was supposedly tortured and brutally shot in a fake encounter. Subsequent newspaper reports indicate that there are no traces of any major gun fight in the area where his body was discovered and he continues to hog the headlines as before.
Significantly, the success of the joint action forces comes just six months after Trinamool chief Ms Mamata Banerjee swept to power in West Bengal, debilitating and decimating the 34-year Left Front regime. Incidentally, Kishenji had once reportedly made a statement to the media that “I want to see Mamata Banerjee as chief minister of West Bengal”. It is really an irony that he was gunned down during the tenure of Ms Banerjee.
It is indeed a strange that Kishenji, who had escaped four police traps since 2009, making his disappearing acts folklore, giving him a near invincible status, was killed without any apparent trace of fight, within days of resumption of the crackdown by the Joint Action forces.
The Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) immediately alleged that Kishenji was killed in a “fake encounter”. Telugu poet and Maoist sympathiser P. Varvara Rao, who came over to claim his body with one Deepa Rao, a niece of Kishenji, accused the state government of “murdering” the Maoist leader in police custody. “There isn’t a single part of his body without an injury. They kept him in custody for 24 hours and tortured him. They cut him, burnt him, then pumped bullets into him,” said Rao,
Strangely, Ms Banerjee remains tightlipped about the entire episode. All she has said so far, at a public meeting on Sunday, is that it was not a fake encounter. I distinctly recollect that she had protested the killing of Maoist leader Cherakuri Rajkumar aka Azad’s killing in 2009. She had also supposedly supported the intellectuals who had questioned the death of another top Maoist leader, Sashadhar Mahato, who was gunned down during an alleged “fake encounter” during the Left Front regime. A newspaper report suggests that Ms Banerjee thinks that “all deaths are unfortunate”.
Soft-spoken, well-read, tech-savvy and fluent in at least six languages — English, Telegu, Bengali, Hindi, Santhali and Oriya — the elusive Kishenji was a leader with extra ordinary qualities. He strengthened the organisation in West Bengal and became an important member of the Maoist outfit’s eastern region bureau. His stature grew in the tribal hinterland of West Bengal called Jangalmahal, bordering Jharkhand. He was by far the most hunted ‘terrorist’ leader in the eastern part of the country.
Now, this raises some significant questions: Why did she remain silent all the time when hundreds of Left sympathisers were being slaughtered by the Maoists? Why did she raise a hue and cry and created a ruckus when against police atrocities on activists of the tribal group People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), who were working in tandem with the Maoists against the Left? Before, she came to power, why did she and her group of intellectuals regularly visited Jangalmahal whenever any activist of PCAPA were killed by the joint forces?
As an Opposition leader, Ms Banerjee had many times claimed that there were no Maoists in the state and that she would withdraw security forces from Jangalmahal — the forested stretches of Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore districts — if she came to power. In fact, this was a key pre-poll promise. She partly kept that by instructing the forces to remain inactive after assuming power only to let the Maoists regroup. However, soon TMC workers in the area were being targeted by the Maoists and in the next six months a number of them were killed. This triggered off a change in the attitude of the present state government and the crackdown was resumed from this month leading to the death of Kishenji.
The death of Kishenji would definitely inflict a heavy blow to the Maoists not only in West Bengal, but in the entire country. It remains to be seen whether Ms Banerjee can utilise this opportunity to push her development agenda in the backward regions in order to wean away the poor from the guerrillas.
However, her strange silence has been since seen by her detractors and the rights group that Kishenji’s killing might have been well planned and cold blooded, which has been claimed by many human rights groups and the APDR. Was it because he knew too much and could possibly embarrass the present state government if he was captured alive?
Many Left leaders had in the past insinuated that Ms Banerjee had been in touch with the Maoists leaders during the left regime and had conducted a series of meetings on how to gain control of theWest Midnaporearea — a traditional Left bastion. Funds and arms from Kolkata were allegedly supplied to the Maoists on a regular basis. During the Nandigram movement, the Maoists reportedly backed the TMC supporters to drive away the CPM workers from the area. Arms were supposedly provided to the Maoists in Nandigram from Contai via Kolkata. Names of several prominent TMC leaders allegedly involved in the operation had done the rounds. Given this background, is it wrong to think Kishenji perhaps could have provided answer to many such unfounded allegations and in all possibilities could have dragged many eminent personalities into controversy?
History suggests that ultra Left/Maoists across the world, especially in Latin America, relied on the Right wing to attack the mainstream Left, who they considered to be their prime enemy. The ‘Right wing’ parties historically had no use for the ultra Left after they achieved their mission through them. In India, too the Naxalite movement was initially fanned by the Right to eliminate and weaken the mainstream Left.
I had attended a seminar on Left revisionism and right extremism by late B.T. Ranadive where he had extended both his arms backwards till the fingers of both the hands touched and said: “See, there’s very little difference between the extreme Right and the extreme Left, the twains always meet at a point”. For a Left sympathiser, I find it to be a paradox — instead of joining the mainstream Left to consolidate the Left movement, the Maoists target the Left with the help of the Right only to be out of favour once their mission is fulfilled.
I have no sympathies for Kishenji, who was responsible for the murder of hundreds of poor and innocent people over the years. His death should send a message to all ultra Left sympathisers and workers that the Right wing parties are opportunists.
Whatever happens, Kishenji’s death would continue to hog the limelight in the days to come and could possibly embarrass Ms Banerjee, who is trying to work out of a tight situation by ordering a CID probe into his death.
Kishenji in life and death remains an enigma unsolved.