There is a time gap of almost 17 months between the violent deaths of top Maoist leaders Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad and M Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji. Yet there are distinct similarities between the two incidents.
Both Azad and Kishenji hailed from Andhra Pradesh and were members of the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist politburo, the banned outfit’s top policy-making body. While Azad was the party's national spokesman, Kishenji performed that role in West Bengal till he was injured in a shootout last year.
Azad, along with a journalist Hem Chandra Pandey, was killed by the police in Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh on the night of July 1/2, 2010.
Police claimed he died in a gunfight, but human rights groups have refused to buy the theory. Instead they alleged police arrested Azad along with Pandey in Maharashtra's Nagpur, brought them to Adilabad forests and murdered them in cold blood.
In West Bengal, Kishenji’s bullet-riddled body was shown to journalists in Burishole village of West Midnapore district Thursday night by security agencies who claimed he died after a 30-minute gunfight with the central paramilitary troopers and state armed police personnel.
However, the Maoists and human rights groups have dismissed the gunfight theory.
Akash, a member of the CPI-Maoist's West Bengal committee, said people saw Kishenji getting caught.
“He was arrested and then gunned down in cold blood. It was a fake encounter”.
Telugu revolutionary poet and Maoist sympathiser P. Varvara Rao Friday alleged that top rebel leader Kishenji was "tortured" and then "murdered" in police custody in West Bengal.
Human rights organization Association for Protection of Democratic Rights president Sachchidananda Banerjee told IANS: “From our long experience with the functioning of the police, we are sanguine that it was a fake encounter”.
Again Azad was killed at a time when the central government and the CPI-Maoist were contemplating the broad outline of a possible ceasefire to facilitate talks. Azad was actively involved in efforts to create an atmosphere conducive to talks with the central government
Kishenji was killed when the state government appointed interlocutors were carrying on talks with the state Maoist leadership to pave the way for a formal dialogue with the Mamata Banerjee government.
Though Kishenji was not directly associated with the talks so far, political circles feel the state Maoist leadership would not have held a round of discussions with the interlocutors without his nod, as he was the overall in-charge of the regimented party’s operations in West Bengal.
Azad’s killing had seen chances of talks between the guerrilla outfit and the government evaporate into thin air. And there are already reports, though unconfirmed, that the Maoist central committee has resolved never to hold talks with the authorities.
But one of the interlocutors, Bandi Mukti Committee member Choton Das, said the backdrop for the two killings were entirely different.
“Azad was an envoy. Its true that peace talks are on in West Bengal. But Kishenji has not featured in the talks. We have spoken to Akash. And the Maoists have already withdrawn their ceasefire offer,” Das said.