The small town of Peddapalli in Karimnagar district was chock-a-block on Sunday as thousands made their way there to catch a glimpse of slain Maoist leader Mallajola Koteswara Rao alias Kishenji.
Since morning, people started pouring in from places as far as Nizamabad, Adilabad and Visakhpatnam. A serpentine queue could be seen at Kishenji`s house at Brahmana Veedhi (street), where his body was kept.
Intelligence officials said there could have been above 5,000 people. The district saw a larger turnout only during the funeral of another Maoist leader, Nalla Adi Reddy, in 1999.
Kishenji was killed in a gunfight with security forces at the Burisole jungle in West Midnapore district of West Bengal on November 24.
Barring local Congress MP G Vivek and handful of lawmakers from Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the crowd mainly comprised people from the economically weaker sections.
"The Maoist movement may have declined here since 2004, when YSR (former chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy) launched an all-out repression. But people still have sympathy for Maoists," said Nageswar, a student from Warangal.
"I came to have a look at him, we have not seen him for a long time," said K Sudarshan, a trader from Karimnagar.
Amid revolutionary songs by balladeer Gaddar and members of the now defunct Jana Natya Mandali, the funeral pyre was lit by Kishenji's elder brother M Anjaneyulu, Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao and Gaddar at Chandanapally cremation ground.
Before lighting the pyre, Rao read out a statement from the CPI-Maoist central committee.
Admitting that Kishenji's death was a big blow, the group alleged the security forces had killed him in cold blood. It blamed PM Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Union home minister P Chidambaram and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee for the killing.
The statement, released in the name of central committee spokesman Abhay, alleged the Mamata Banerjee, while talking of peace, had conspired with the Centre to kill Kishenji.
The group has called for a two-day "Bharat bandh" on December 4 and 5 and a "protest week" is to be held from Tuesday.
Filmmaker Narayan Murthy, who attended the last rites, announced he would make a film titled 'Dandakaranya' on Kishenji's life.