Kishenji, alias Malojula Koteswar Rao, the Maoist top gun who headed the rebels' eastern India operations, ran out of luck while facing death for the third time in recent months. His trademark AK-47 rifle was found beside him.
Kishenji, 55, who had foxed the governments of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Orissa and Bihar for nearly a decade, was killed on Thursday after a 30-minute gunfight in Burisole forests of West Midnapore district, 10 km from the Bengal-Jharkhand border.
Kishenji’s body was found at a spot in the jungles about 10 km away from the Bengal-Jharkhand border. Kishenji’s is the most prized head scalped by the West Bengal government since the second innings of ultra-Left insurgency surfaced in the state in 2009.
Late in the evening police took surrendered Maoist Soma Mandi and former Sankrail police station OC Atindranath Dutta (who was taken hostage on October 21, 2009) to identify the body.
Officials of West Midnapore police and state intelligence branch claimed a total of six bodies were found in the jungles. Two of the bodies were of Maoist squad leader Jayanto and Ramkrishna.
Exchange of fire resumed between the rebels and the security forces around 9:30pm as this correspondent was traveling in pitch dark on foot in the Burishole jungle and crossed a canal to reach a spot where CRPF officials were waiting.
The exchange of bullets was taking place about a km from the spot where nothing except CRPF torches were visible in the dark.
“There was an exchange of fire in the jungles of Kushboni. One body was recovered and the police is trying to establish its identity. Though the AK-47 used by Kishenji was found beside him, nothing can be said unless the confirmation comes,” said director general of police, Naparajit Mukherjee, at the state secretariat around 7pm.
In New Delhi union home secretary RK Singh said the end of Kishenji would be a “huge set back” for the Naxals as he was number three in the CPI(Maoist) hierarchy.
The operation was led by a unit of Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) and counterinsurgency force. Members from three CRPF battalions formed the bigger team that laid the cordon and search operations.
The hunt actually began on Tuesday noon inside the forests of Kushbani. But the team, comprising Kishenji, Suchitra Mahato and other Maoist leaders, made a narrow escape.
The joint forces thought Kishenji might have fled to Jharkhand. Yet, as a precaution, they sealed the border and continued combing operation.
“More than 1,000 CRPF personnel had cordoned off the area. We had also alerted Jharkhand,” said Vivek Sahay, inspector general, CRPF.
“On Thursday morning we recovered a laptop bag, diary, map and letters from the house of Dharmendara Mahato, an young resident of Goshaibandh village. We were convinced that the Maoists were inside the adjacent forest of Burishole,” said a police officer.
After the belongings were found, the forces started operations with renewed vigour and zeroed in on the team inside dense forests of Burishol that is between Kushboni and the Jharkhand border.
Kishenji, who was born in July 1956 was married to fellow Maoist Moyna, who is engaged in the party’s activities in Chhattisgarh.
“We would been happy if Kishenji could be held alive,” remarked leader of the opposition Surya Kanta Mishra.
This is for the second time that the dreaded Maoist leader came in direct confrontation with the joint force.
On March 26, 2010 Kishenji might have suffered injuries in a 12-hour-long gun battle in the Hatishol forest, around eight kms east to Lalgarh.
Railways were put on alert after the news broke to prevent any retaliatory strike by the rebels.
In the past, the railways were frequently targeted by the Maoists and their supporters, with the Gyaneswari Express sabotage in May 2010 killing 149 being the most infamous strike.
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