Maoist ‘Kishan Da’ caught after decades on run
Raipur/Kolkata/New Delhi: The Jharkhand Police on Friday held Prashant Bose, better known by his nom de guerre “Kishan Da”, from the Kandra area of Saraikela Kharsawan district -- possibly the most prominent alleged Maoist leader to be captured alive in the country in at least two decades.
Bose is over 80 years old, carries a bounty of ₹1 crore, is part of the National Investigation Agency’s most wanted list, and has been an ideological fountainhead of the guerilla Maoist movement for over five decades.
His wife, Sheela Marandi, was held along with him, according to reports citing the state police.
Marandi is also a senior member of the Maoist cadre; the only woman in the Central Committee, the foremost operational organization of the Maoists; and spent over a decade in jail in multiple cases in Odisha and Jharkhand before she was released from a Rourkela prison in 2016.
Senior officials from multiple agencies, including the Jharkhand Police, the Chhattisgarh Police, and intelligence agencies confirmed that Bose and his wife were held.
“Top Maoist leader Prashant Bose, alias Kishan Da, who was carrying a bounty of ₹1 crore on his head, has been arrested in Jharkhand along with his wife Sheela Marandi, a senior police officer said on Friday. According to the officer, the police, acting on intelligence inputs, arrested the duo,” PTI reported.
HT could not independently verify if they were arrested or just detained.
Another senior police officer said that they were going to interrogate Bose, who has grown frail and weak, as well as his wife Marandi, who is the “top woman Maoist [in the organisation] in her own right and leads many women oriented frontal organisations for the Maoists.”
“He has suffered many illnesses and cannot travel on his own. His associates were trying to take him to a safe place, but they were intercepted midway,” the Jharkhand Police officer added, asking not to be named.
Governments at the state and the centre have for long grappled with Maoism, with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh describing Maoism in 2006 as “the single biggest internal security threat ever faced by our country.” In 2018, the Home Ministry said that as many as twelve thousand people had lost their lives in the Maoist conflict “in the last two decades”, including 2700 security personnel. Data from the South Asia Terrorism Portal estimates that ten thousand people have been killed since the year 2000.
Bose also goes by the names Nirbhay, Kajal, Buddha or Maneesh. For four decades until a change in the Maoist leadership in 2018 -- when Nambala Keshava Rao (Basavaraju) took over from Muppala Lakshman Rao (Ganapathy) as General Secretary of the banned CPI (Maoist) -- Bose was largely considered the second most senior Maoist in the country.
“When Basavaraju took over from Ganapathy, the idea was to make the leadership a little younger. So both Ganapathy and Prashant Bose took a back seat, but they are clearly the two biggest Maoists India has seen of the past three decades,” a senior intelligence officer told HT on Friday on condition of anonymity.
NIA records describe Bose as five-foot-six, say that he “keeps a light beard to hide a twisted left cheek”, has “false teeth”, is “fond of tobacco”, and wears “bifocal specs”. The investigative agency also shows Bose as a member of the CPI (Maoist) politburo, its highest political body, a member of the Central Committee, a non-permanent member of the CMC ( Central Military Commission), and secretary of the Eastern Regional Bureau, which oversees all Maoist activities in seven states including Jharkhand and West Bengal.
“[He] reportedly stays in the Saranda forests (Jharkhand). Can be regarded as the No. 2 man in the CPI(Maoist),” the NIA records, which HT has seen, show.
Bose was also one of the two principal architects of the unification of the two primary Maoist organisations in the country in 2004, creating the CPI (Maoist), as it is known today. While Bose was the supreme commander of the Maoist Communist Centre of India, which operated principally in Jharkhand, West Bengal and Bihar, Ganapathy led the Peoples War Group, the strongest in Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
According to intelligence officers, the two groups came together on September 21, 2004; and at the meeting, known as the “unity conference”, Bose told cadres: “We are intensifying the war by forming several guerrilla zones, advancing towards the establishment of Base Areas, and transforming the guerrilla army into a regular liberation army. It is in this background that the joint meeting is going on with the objective of unifying into a single directing centre for the Indian revolution.”
Such was Bose’s heft among the Maoist cadre that his alias, Kishen, was adopted by Mallujola Koteshwar Rao -- who came to be known as Kishenji and became one of India’s most well-known Maoist leaders. Rao was killed in 2011. Unlike “Kishenji” however, “Kishan da”, was much less of a public figure, almost a ghost for security agencies who have been on the hunt for him most of his life.
Chhattisgarh police officers said that security agencies have all of two photographs of him. The first, a grainy visual is likely from the 1980s, and is the one pasted on most records. “Then, in 2012, after a raid in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh, we found a CD which had a clearer photograph of him,” a senior intelligence official said.
Former Maoist Amitadyuti Kumar, 77, who lives in Kolkata, and once worked with Bose but has not met him since 1975, told HT: “I still remember how he escaped the police in Hooghly district in 1970. We were holding a secret meeting when the police and CRPF raided the area. Local villagers decided to hide Bose in a raft made out of water hyacinths and floated it in the river. He stayed there all night.”
In 2011, Delhi Police said in a charge sheet that it was Bose who signed a deal with the Manipur-based militant group, the People’s Liberation Army, seeking to train Maoist cadre in guerilla warfare. At the time, the special cell claimed they found emails exchanged between the PLA and Bose which planned joint training exercises and training camps for Maoists in Myanmar.
Bose was named as an accused in November 2018 by the Maharashtra Police in the controversial Bhima-Koregaon violence case, which has seen the arrests of multiple activists and lawyers including Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson and Sudha Bhardwaj for allegedly conspiring with the Maoists.
Ajay Sahni, executive director of Institute of Conflict Management said, “People like Kishan Da have been on the run for a long time even though they were able to supervise occasional attacks. There will definitely be some sort of psychological impact (on the organisation) but I don’t think it will extraordinarily change the situation on the ground as the capability (of Maoists) is already hit. They are fighting a last-ditch battle. When the movement itself is fading, supervision is not that important.”