He is West Bengal’s most wanted man and one of India’s most dreaded outlaws. Koteswar Rao, better known to his cadres as Kishanji, is the deputy leader of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), the underground party of Naxalites.
After much effort, he agreed to meet HT’s Snigdhendu Bhattacharya deep in the jungles of West Bengal’s West Midnapore district.
Short, shabbily dressed, late-50-ish and surprisingly mild and polite, Kishanji spoke animatedly for three hours in highly accented Bengali about his revolutionary dreams, Islamic terror and the state of his “movement”. Excerpts:
What’s the future of the so-called Indian revolution you are spearheading?
We have a considerable mass base in eight or nine states. Moreover, the capitalist economy is going through a crisis all over the world, and sooner or later, India will suffer the same fate as the West. So, the conditions are quite ripe for a revolution.
You had earlier supported Islamic militancy. Do you still do so after the Mumbai attacks?
We do not support the way they attacked the Victoria station (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, or CST), where most of the victims were Muslims. At the same time, we feel that the Islamic upsurge should not be opposed as it is basically anti-US and anti-imperialist in nature. We, therefore, want it to grow.
Please tell us about the attack on West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee (in November 2008).
I personally ordered the attack on the chief minister. We had to lay one kilometer of cables through the fields. However, during inspection, we found that mice had chewed it up at several places. So, we had to repair it.
How is your party faring in states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal and Maharastra?
Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa will be the new storm centres in Indian politics. We have our strongest base in Chhattisgarh – particularly in Old Bastar, which stretches across five districts—and it’s totally in our control now. Our militia in the state is more than one-lakh strong.
We have the wherewithal to put up teams of 400-500 fighters, encircle hundreds of police and para-military troops, and wipe out them. We have also taken up development projects. Then, we are gaining strength in the other states you mentioned.
But you have almost no presence in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and many other major states. How then can you achieve your ambition of wresting power in Delhi?
We will have to concentrate on building our base in these states. In UP, especially, we need to concentrate on the Muslim population and the trade union sector. Punjab has very positive conditions (for a Maoist revolution) and also a history of Left movements. So, I’m hopeful of expanding our base there.
Your party suffered a major setback in Andhra Pradesh. What are you doing about it?
It’s true that we faced a major setback in Andhra Pradesh (when the police drove the Naxalites out of their former strongholds across the state). But we will definitely recover because most of our leadership is alive and safe in our Dandakaranya camps. Our mass base, built up over 30 years, is still intact. But in a war, there will always be ups and downs.