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A rebel who was media-savvy

india Updated: Nov 24, 2011 23:20 IST

The death of Kishenji, 55, on Thursday is the biggest setback for the CPI(Maoist) after the killing of central committee spokesperson Cherkuri Rajkumar alias Azad, who died at the hands of the security forces in July 2010.

He is the second politburo member to have died in gunbattle with the police.

Soft-spoken, well-read, IT-savvy and fluent in at least six languages (English, Telugu, Hindi, Bengali, Santhali and Oriya), T Koteshwar Rao, alias Kishenji, was a leader with extraordinary leadership qualities.

Leading the banned organisation to greater heights in eastern India since 1998, which was the time when a group of Naxalites owing allegiance to the People's War Group (PWG) from Andhra Pradesh travelled to the east to forge a bond with another rebel outfit Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) - he played a pivotal role in the merger of the two to form the CPI(Maoist) in 2004.

Rao strengthened the organisation in Bengal and became an important member of the outfit's eastern region bureau. He spent considerable time with the villagers and learnt to speak Bengali fluently.

His stature grew in the tribal hinterland of Bengal called Jangalmahal, bordering neighbouring Jharkhand, and he emerged as the undisputed leader.

He exploited the media to the hilt, often obliging journalists with interviews on the "proletarian war" he was fighting.

"His death was very necessary for there was a myth among his sympathisers and commoners that Kishenji cannot be caught or killed," said Jharkhand inspector general of police MS Bhatia.

The Maoists are facing a leadership crisis following the arrests of a number of politburo and central committee members. The party is trying to reorganise itself, especially for the successful conduction of the forthcoming party congress.

The blow will be more for their eastern regional bureau.

This is also likely to demoralise the Maoist cadre and supporters as he was the main public face of the party.

However, he made no telephone calls to any media persons since April 2010, when he narrowly escaped the onslaught of the joint forces in West Midnapore district.