Kolkata: Maoist guerilla leader and one of India’s most wanted fugitives, Mallojula Koteswar Rao was killed in an encounter with security forces on Thursday in the forests of West Bengal’s West Midnapore district.
G.D. Gautama, the state’s home secretary, confirmed in an interview that the rebel leader killed in Thursday’s 30-minute gunbattle was Rao, also known as Kishenji and a politburo member of the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist).
This is the biggest success so far in the state’s war on Maoist rebels. Based on “specific information” from locals that Rao had entered West Bengal from Orissa’s Mayurbhanj district, the security forces launched an offensive on his squad, the police said.
Influential figure: A file photo of Koteswar Rao. Rao played a key role in consolidating and reviving the Maoist movement by merging PWG with the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in 2004. HT
Not only was Rao killed, his close associate and squad leader Suchitra Mahato suffered “life threatening” injuries, said officers who took part in the operation. Mahato, however, is reported to have escaped. An assault rifle and a hearing aid were recovered, which helped establish the identity of the deceased.
The operation was successful because of the support of locals, according to Praveen Kumar Tripathi, West Bengal’s inspector general of police (western range). The announcement of 10,000 jobs in the police for natives of Maoist-affected districts had alienated the locals from the rebels, he added.
In a 2-hour statement recorded on a microchip and distributed among handpicked journalists late last week, Rao had said “police informers” had penetrated his squad.
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“Mamata is trying to drive a wedge through the local people by offering jobs to people chosen by her party,” he said in the statement, referring to chief minister Mamata Banerjee. “Her policy, like the British, is to divide and rule.”
Rao, believed to be in his mid-fifties, had co-founded the ultra left People’s War Group (PWG) in the early 1980s, defecting from the relatively moderate Communist Party of India (Maoist-Leninist).
After PWG suffered heavy losses at the hands of security forces in Andhra Pradesh, Rao played a key role in consolidating and reviving the Maoist movement by merging PWG with the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in 2004.
PWG’s integration with MCC, which was active in Jharkhand and Bihar, helped the Maoists revive their movement in states such as West Bengal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Rao was the head of the so-called military commission of the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
He came to West Bengal in the early 2000s to build a guerilla movement to fight the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, in tribal-dominated districts such as Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore. His latest responsibility within the outlawed party was to lead its operations in West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar.
He was seriously injured in an encounter with the police in March 2010, and left the state to recuperate. He returned to West Bengal recently to launch an offensive against the “new political dispensation” that emerged after Trinamool Congress’ sweeping victory in the assembly elections this year.
Rao described Banerjee in his statement as a “fascist trying to snuff out political resistance of all kinds from the state”. Lately, the rebels were targeting Trinamool Congress workers, and some of those killed in recent times were described in Rao’s statement as “state-backed oppressors of people”.
Till the end of October, Rao pursued peace talks with the state government through interlocutors appointed by Banerjee. Towards the end, he gave up because conditions agreed upon for the ceasefire were not being fulfilled by the state government, he said.
The Maoists had demanded that the joint forces be withdrawn, their sympathizers detained by the erstwhile Left Front government be released and all charges levelled against them dropped. Banerjee’s government refused to release any.
“Instead, she, like the CPM, has raised an armed force to launch an offensive on the Maoists jointly with the security forces,” Rao said. “We have to resist, and for that some people will die.” The state government, on the other hand, asked the Maoists to give up arms, and announced schemes to reward those who surrender.
“There can be no discussion on laying down arms,” Rao said. “We have understood from our experience in the past 45 years that we have to expand our movement by giving arms to more people.”
The failure of the talks and continued killing of Trinamool Congress workers led Banerjee to direct the security forces to pursue Rao “till the bloody end”, as she herself announced recently. Success came much ahead of expectations.