When gangster Mohammed Nayeemuddin was killed in an encounter in Telangana earlier this month, little did many know of his Maoist past.
As a member of People’s War Group (PWG), the original Maoist party, he had been involved in many killings, including that of IPS officer K S Vyas in January 1993 and was celebrated as a hero by Maoists and their overt sympathizers.
Barely a month later, he surrendered to the police and procured bail. It was then that he became a gangster, indulging in extortions and “illegal” land dealings.
Nayeem , as he is known, was one of the several young men from undivided Andhra Pradesh in the 1970s and 80s who walked off into the forests with lofty ideals—to liberate the oppressed and establish a classless society by waging a people’s war against the state.
In the 1970s and 80s, Left-wing extremism, popular as Naxalism, was what the IT sector is now to youths. However, the movement waned over the decades and these men surrendered to the very state against which they fought a protracted war.
But the surrender was not just in flesh and blood. It was also of the ideology as these men turned to crime and politics and gained massive wealth and influence.
Land and the lure of quick money have been key factors in this transformation, observes G Haragopal, former Hyderabad Central University professor and a civil liberties leader.
He said police encourage illegal activities so that they do not return to Maoism.
A retired IPS officer, who did not want to be named and had dealt with Maoists, feels it is all about land.
“Maoists have an affinity towards land. They fight for land issues when in the (Naxalism) movement, and after surrender, they use the same land issues to make quick money (as a criminal or politician),” he said.
Nayeem also became an informer, snitching on several of his former comrades, some of whom were arrested or killed by police.
He is also said to be behind the killings of other Maoist-turned-criminals such as Patlolla Goverdhan Reddy and G Narasimha Reddy, allegedly over property dealings.
In another instance of former Maoists targeting their old brothers-in-arms, Bayyapu Sammi Reddy was said to have been slain by Jadala Nagaraju in 2003 over a land dispute.
Nayeem’s gang allegedly hacked to death TRS leader and dreaded former Naxalite Konapuri Ilaiah, popular as Sambasivudu, over a land dealing in Nalgonda in March 2011.
As a Naxalite, Ilaiah had been involved in 35 murders, including of Congress MLAs Ragya Naik and Ch Narsi Reddy, and in an assassination bid on AP chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu.
He virtually ruled the Nallamala forests for over two decades, but surrendered to police in February 2009 and got involved in land dealings before joining Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS).
Another infamous Maoist-turned-politician/criminal is former TDP minister Paritala Ravindra, on whom filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma has made “Rakth Charithra”.
A dreaded factionist leader from Penukonda in Anantapur district, Ravi was the son of Paritala Sriramulu, a close associate of PWG founder Kondapalli Seetharamaiah. After Sriramulu was killed by landlords, Paritala joined the Naxal movement for revenge. He even distributed his land among the poor.
Subsequently, he joined politics, becoming a TDP MLA five times, while also indulging in factionist killings and acquiring vast swathes of land through illegal dealings. In January 2005, he was allegedly shot dead by his factional rivals.
TRS legislator Konda Muralidhar Rao was PWG member and his wife Surekha, Warangal MLA, was a Naxal sympathiser. Murali has several cases of murders, extortions, and land-grabbing pending against him.