Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee on Monday condemned "the manner" in which Maoist spokesman Cherukiri Rajkumar alias Azad was "killed" last month, virtually echoing the Left wing rebels' allegation that he was gunned down in a staged shootout July 2.
"I feel the way Azad was killed is not right," Banerjee told a huge rally in this Maoist-hit pocket of West Midnapore district.
Police have claimed that Azad, the number three in the Maoist hierarchy, died during a firefight with the security forces in the jungles of Adilabad in Andhra Pradesh.
Banerjee said social activist Swami Agnivesh, the interlocutor between the government and the Left extremists, had persuaded Azad to agree to talks.
"What happened is not right. Azad had reposed faith in the democratic process," Banerjee said during the "apolitical" rally organised under the banner of the Anti-Atrocities Forum.
Pro-Maoist tribal body People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) had extended support to the rally also attended by social activists like Agnivesh and Medha Patkar, and pro-rebel writer Mahasweta Devi, among other intellectuals.
Banerjee, whose party is the second largest force in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), condoled Azad's death. "He is not among us any more. I pay my respects to Azad."
Agnivesh has sought a judicial inquiry into Azad's killing, alleging the authorities used his communication channels to track the Maoist leader and kill him.
The Maoists have said Azad and another activist Hemchandra Pandey were picked up from Nagpur July 1 by security forces and eliminated at Adilabad the next day as their spokesman was preparing ground for peace talks between the Communist Party of India- Maoist (CPI-Maoist) and the government.