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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 51, December 10, 2011

Kishenji’s Killing: Some Important Questions

Monday 12 December 2011, by Diptendra Raychaudhuri

Truth is seldom etched in black and white. Most often it is all grey.

The attitude towards Kishenji, and all the works he carried out throughout his life, stands testimony to this. While to many he was a villain, to some others he was a hero, a character whom they saluted for the last time with the words ‘amar rahe’.

His body was cremated on a Sunday, after it was handed to his family by the West Bengal Government. This is what Hindustan Times wrote about the cremation day:

“The small town of Peddapalli in Karimnagar district was chock-a-block on Sunday as thousands made their way there to catch a glimpse of slain Maoist leader Mallajola Koteswara Rao alias Kishenji. Since morning, people started pouring in from places as far as Nizamabad, Adilabad and Visakhapatnam. A serpentine queue could be seen at Kishenji`s house at Brahmana Veedhi (street), where his body was kept. Intelligence officials said there could have been above 5000 people. The district saw a larger turnout only during the funeral of another Maoist leader, Nalla Adi Reddy, in 1999.” (November 27, 2011)

In fact his funeral also witnessed the reading out of a statement written by ‘Abhay’ (believed to be Mallajola Venugopal, brother of Kishenji), the spokesperson of CPI (Maoist). It was read out by Varavara Rao who said, according to India Today: “Kishenji’s death was a political murder in the name of Operation Green Hunt. But it will not demoralise the Maoist movement, which will continue,”

Kishenji was an outlaw, and still more than five thousand people showed the temerity to attend his funeral. Such was the pull that even the local Congress MP and TRS legislators had to turn up there, even though to show respect to a man who at a very young age fought for the cause of separate Telengana.

All these simply show that the government is not winning the battle for the mind. If more than five thousand had attended the funeral in that small township, one can easily imagine the strength of undercurrent of support for the Maoists in the Telengana region. This is despite the fact that the armed movement has almost been wiped out from the whole region. In fact, one survey published in The Times of India a couple of years ago proved this. The respondents of the survey, as well as the people who attended Kishenji’s funeral, belong to the underprivileged section of our society.

It is equally true that for many people Kishenji was a villain. The families of the police or para-military boys he and his Army killed will always shudder at the very mention of his name. Ditto for the families of the political workers (mostly of the Marxist Party) killed by the Maoists in Bengal. This in fact shows that the path the Maoists are following is only dividing the poor of the country. We will come back to this point later.

Mystery about the Killing

THE Maoists have claimed that there was no encounter, and Kishenji’s was a cold-blooded murder. On this Deccan Herald wrote:

“…The fierce battle featured some 200 men of the CRPF and the State Police and a formidable formation on the Naxal side. This account has come to be disputed and it is said that Kishenji was killed in a ‘fake encounter’. The complaint needs to be investigated in the interests of upholding the democratic template.” (‘Kishenji’s Dead, Not The Maoist Threat’, November 27)

We must never forget that the police or any other security forces have no right to kill anyone if they have captured him. Killing someone after taking him in custody is a simple case of murder, both by national law or international convention. In the case of Kishenji, there are too many holes in the story. His body was lying on the ground with the AK-47 he carried lying beside him. Hundred times we have seen this photograph, sometimes in Andhra, sometimes in Chhattis-garh or Gujarat, often in Kashmir, and so on. Many of such cases with the same type of photograph have later faced flaks, and in some cases truth was ripped open from heaps of lies. In some cases it came to light that after killing innocents the police or the army had put the weapons beside them. So the picture proves nothing.

The very first question is: how was it that in the fierce encounter no policeman suffered any serious injury? Just after the incident, Mamata Banerjee said in a meeting organised for election campaign that she had heard ‘(the Maoists) have fired one thousand rounds’. Strange! Were the Maoists firing at the sky?

The second question is: how was it that the security ring around a Polit-Bureau member of the banned outfit just vanished into thin air? Usually they never leave their leader.

Third, how in the vicinity of a village could such a grand encounter take place?
Fourth, the Chief Minister later said that Kishenji’s hideout was surrounded by the security forces and he was given three days time to surrender. Why did Banerjee make the statement at a time when it seemed that it had been added as an afterthought?

We do not know whether there was an encounter or not. Maybe, Mamata Banerjee is speaking the truth. She was the one who raised questions about the killing of Azad, another Polit-Bureau member of the CPI (Maoist). But, she has swung hundred eighty degrees since. And, before her, many Ministers and Chief Ministers have said such things and later on were proven wrong. Or at least, their statements were never proved right. Because of that, the CM’s statement cannot be taken at face-value.

What is needed is a fair judicial inquiry to bring out the truth. No other agency has any credibility to probe such incidents. No police officer will find fault with his fellowmen or with the paramilitary jawans. Even the Human Rights Commission (the national unit of which has asked its investigation unit to probe the matter) is not totally trustworthy in this case. It would have been great if the CM of Bengal had herself ordered a judicial enquiry. There is no reason why she should have two different yardsticks for two men killed in mysterious conditions. There is no reason why she should put herself in the same bracket with Raman Singh of Chhattisgarh, whose scanty regard for the modern concept of human rights has compelled the Supreme Court to intervene time and again. Unfortunately, she has not done so. On the other hand, being oblivious of the fact that the very concept of ‘rights’ exists only vis-à-vis the state, she has expressed serious doubts about the conduct of prominent human rights workers of the State. Exactly the same was done by Raman Singh. Consequentially, Binayak Sen (who needs no introduction) had to lose important years of his life in jail. However, a large section of human rights workers still believe Banerjee will never follow the path of Raman Singh.

CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta has demanded a fair probe though he condemns the Naxal violence in unequivocal terms. He feels Kishenji was a murderer. But, his point is that even murdering a murderer in cold blood is a crime. And we know the Supreme Court has said recently that the court will hang the police officers involved in fake encounters. We also know that it is a very hard life for our boys (or men) in the paramilitary force posted in the jungle area. But, they represent the state, and cannot take licence. Otherwise, there will be jungle-raj.

A fair probe is necessary to bring out the truth so that the sympathisers of the Maoist movement can regain their faith in democracy. If the encounter was real, a probe should be able to answer the questions raised. About this, the testimony of villagers living close to the spot has immense importance. If the encounter was faked, the culprits should go behind the bar.

Limitations of the Cult of Violence

BUT, it is high-time the Maoists should go for a rethink about their politics. Azad’s and Kishenji’s death should lead them to some serious introspection. They have not achieved much by their over-dependence on arms. They have a large support base in central and central-eastern part of the country, but they cannot protect their supporters. The guerrilla war they are waging will kill many of them, many dedicated workers, who could be assets in our political system.

There is a great opportunity waiting for them, if only they come out in open politics. This is so because the other side is crowded with petty narrow-minded people who are there to serve the interests of the rich. The vast majority of the country already knows it. For seventy-five per cent of the population, all hopes flickered by the Independence have been extinguished in six decades marked by self-aggrandisement, corruption and pretence of the elite. Ninety per cent of the mainstream politicians stand morally low, and it is probably more true for ninety per cent IAS-IPS and other Service officers. Some of the politicians at least still have the integrity to acknowledge governance-deficiency.

The officers go to farcical extent to show their lack of understanding of things. For a 17-year-old arrested Maoist in Midnapore, the CRPF has bought books worth Rs 1100 to ‘reform’ him. You cannot beat it, they have given him books on and by Dhirubhai Ambani, Shiv Khera, Joginder Singh (former CBI chief) and such other persons. (‘Dhirubhai books to help win back Maoists’, Hindustan Times, December 1, 2011) We all know how Dhirubhai rose to the top. By handing the boy such books the CRPF bosses definitely want to turn the boy self-centred, a money-maker by all means, a greedy person.

Once upon a time, to reform someone books by Mahatma Gandhi and such great philosophers were provided in jail. Now, degeneration has come to such a level that the system is trying to brain-wash people with the ‘forget-others, go-for-your-narrow-interest’ ideology.

In contrast, the Maoists, or at least many of them including Kishenji, stood for the ideology of sacrifice. They followed, in different degrees, an ideology of ‘forget your narrow interest and think of the others’. In that sense, there was not much difference between the honest Gandhians, people like Baba Amte on the one hand, and Kobad Ghandy, Azad or Kishenji on the other. What makes the Maoists different is their staunch adherence to a totalitarian ideology and over-dependence on arms.

Different political parties in different parts of the country depend on arms to have their way. the CPI-M, another communist outfit, used arms to create terror in the minds of the people in some districts of Bengal (and is now facing a bleak future as the people got rid of the fear-factor). Violence was the instrument of the BJP in Gujarat to gain the support of the people. But, these parties do so while remaining within ‘mainstream’ politics. Following the cue, Maoists may keep some arms secretly, and come out to participate in open politics.

The Maoists may decide whether or not to participate in electoral politics later. They may come into the open and preach for the boycott of vote, preach against the ideology of self-aggrandisement and other vices. By organising a mass movement they may go a long way in protecting the interests of the poor of our country. And this is the only way the Maoists may someday come to power or play a meaningful role.

India will never be China, because the people of the country will not tolerate a totalitarian regime after experiencing democracy for generations. The Maoists must realise this and accept competitive politics as the only means for acquiring legitimacy. A Chinese-type dictatorship is a medieval system where helplessness of the ruled allow the rulers to change their hue at any time. That is not acceptable. Democracy in our country has failed the majority of the people, but it is the only system through which we can change the situation.

As Communists, who claim to analyse the dynamics of history and decide their course of action on the basis of that, the Maoists cannot live in isolation. Kishenji made a shameful mistake when he sabotaged the people’s move-ment in Lalgarh and converted it into a typical Maoist movement. Had the Maoists not lost the chance the Lalgarh movement offered them, Kishenji would have been alive today. India needs politicians like Kobad Ghandy. India needs organisers like Ganapathy or Kishan-da (Prasanta Bose, former head of the MCC).

Mainstream politics does not necessarily mean politics of self-aggrandisement or serving the rich. It can also include present-day rebels who will work for the underprivileged. The sooner the Maoists realise this, the better would it be for the country.

Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a journalist by profession and the author of the novel, A Naxal Story. His e-mail address is: dip10dra@yahoo.co.in

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