Taken from TOI Kolkata Edition epaper of 27th April, 2009TOI l Exclusive
Maoists Gear Up For Post-Poll Battle Through treacherous terrain and a trail that can’t be named or remembered, Saugata Roy & Subhro Niyogi trudged with contacts in Jangalkhand — bordering Bengal, Bihar and Orissa — to reach one of India’s most wanted Maoist leaders, Koteswar Rao alias Kishanji
They got the ammunition from the ruling CPM to combat Trinamool-BJP’s armed motorbike gangs that raided villages at Keshpur in West Midnapore. That was in May 2000. Nine years later, Maoist guerrillas are leading the resistance against police and armed CPM cadres in Lalgarh and Nandigram.
In Nandigram, Trinamool Congress supplied them arms. Trained Maoists put up a resistance with Trinamool ranks for months after the Nandigram carnage on March 14, 2007, until last November, when they ran out of ammo and had to beat a retreat.
All this, from the man who was in the thick of it — Koteswar Rao alias Kishanji, CPI (Maoist) politburo member in charge of Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa and head of the party’s central military commission. An hour-long trek into the forests of Jangalkhand, ‘guides’ showing the way up to a certain point, and then accompanied by an SLR-flaunting group of Maoist commandos, led us to Kishanji and his squad in the “liberated zone”.
Unlike mainstream political parties, Rao is not bothered about the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections. This 51-yearold master strategist is busy training Maoist squads spread over the forests in the Bengal-Jharkhand-Orissa belt to face “state repression” once the polls are over.
Rao’s strategy is to expand the “base areas” in the entire West Midnapore-Bankura-Purulia belt bordering Jharkhand. And this, he wants to do with support of local villagers and not just with firepower. The dream is to set up “revolutionary squads” that would “create pressure on the powers that be and align against the tormentors of the poor”.
“It varies from place to place. We fought the feudal lords in Andhra Pradesh. What I found unique in Bengal when I first came to this state in 1998 is the hegemony of political parties. Most of the time it is CPM and at times Trinamool,” he said.
“As I said, in 2000, the Trinamool-BJP brigades were setting huts of poor villagers on fire in Keshpur. We joined the CPM ranks to fight the offensive. I distinctly remember that I collected 5,000 cartridges from the CPM party office. CPM leader and minister Susanta Ghosh would have been nowhere if we were not there. But the CPM atrocities in Suchpur, Nanoor in Birbhum and Chhoto Angaria and Garbeta in West Midnapore did not escape our attention. We started working among the poor, raised our voice against corruption in the panchayats and started mobilizing the poor on social issues. We did not kill any CPM activist till 2000,” the Maoist general said.
When asked about the role reversal followed by recent killings of CPM men in this belt, Kishanji went on the offensive. “The media has been highlighting CPM killings only, as though we are out to kill people. How do you reconcile the fact that the CPM brigade treated our men as slaves after a war in Nandigram? Is it democracy? But believe me, we check many times in our committees, trying to gauge the people’s pulse before taking any such final action,” he said.
“CPM leaders such as Dipak Sarkar (West Midnapore CPM district secretary), Lakshman Seth, MP from Tamluk, and Anuj Pandey, CPM zonal secretary, have turned tormentors. They want to have the area under their control. People are scared of them. Men like these and their henchmen down the ranks are our targets. Worse, they have lost the political courage to win hearts. Instead, they come with the police and torture villagers in the dead of night. They have recently formed a Ganatantra Suraksha Samiti, and the police distribute their posters,” the Maoist leader said.
The protracted struggle against the “deviated Marxists” will continue, Rao said. “We will oppose Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s dream project in Nayachar, the steel project in Salboni, and if villagers want we will forcibly occupy the acquired land in Singur and give it back to the tillers. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was never our target before the Nandigram carnage in 2007. But if the government chooses to usurp the rights of the poor and forest dwellers, we can’t but resist the move.” ‘Fought Opp then, battling CPM now’
A diminutive man, barely 5 feet 4 inches tall, emerges from the jungle, flashing a disarming smile. Dressed in creased fullsleeve cotton shirt and trousers, shabby cap and worn-out chappals, there’s no way you can understand who he really is. The AK-56 rifle slung across his shoulder offers a hint, though. But what settles the introduction is the steely vice-like grip with which he greets these correspondents and the closed-fist lal salaam that follows.
Meet Koteswar Rao, alias Kishanji, the most-wanted CPI(Maoist) politburo member in charge of Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa and head of the party’s central military commission. The first impression of this encounter is one of incredulity. Could this really be the dreaded man who has left the Centre and three states in the region on their toes?
The second of three surviving sons of Venkataiah — former district president of Congress Socialist Party from Karimnagar in Andhra Pradesh’s north Telangana belt — Kishanji was born at Peddapalli village in 1957. He joined the movement for a separate Telangana state and became a full-time Naxalite in 1971. His first and last public appearance was at a peasant rally in Andhra Pradesh, in August 1978.
Since then, he has been operating from underground, finetuning the political line of the Maoists and leading the people’s militia from the front.
Here are excerpts from a free-wheeling interview that SAUGATA ROY and SUBHRO NIYOGI had with Kishanji in the depths of Jangalkhand. Q.
You are one of the most wanted
persons of the country. Even Left Front
chairman Biman Bose announced months ago that you have entered Bengal from
Jharkhand. What made you come here?
(Smiles) I am not new to this terrain. I first came to Bengal from Dandakaranya in 1995. I have been to the villages in Lalgarh in West Midnapore in 1998. The Bengal-Jharkhand-Orissa (BJO) border zone, as well as North Bengal, have been our priority. North Bengal would give us access to the North-east, Bangladesh and Bhutan. But we chose the BJO because that is part of a contiguous forest cover spread over Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bengal and Bihar. I joined politics in my student days in Karimnagar College, North Telangana, from where I did my graduation in mathematics. Kondapelli Sitaramaiah was our political guru. We took military training from the LTTE in 1981. Today, our party has an uninterrupted presence in this 800-km corridor up to Bangriposi in Orissa, except a short patch of 30 km. Q.
West Bengal has been a traditional
Left bastion for decades. What made you concentrate on this state?
Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore are three of the most backward districts of the state. Our organizers have been working in these areas since long. We have some organizers in Mayurbhanj and East Singhbhum as well. What I find unique in Bengal is the hegemony of political parties. True, there are no big landlords here as there were in Andhra Pradesh. But here political leaders have turned oppressors. Earlier, it was the Congress, and now it is the CPM. Powerhungry CPM leaders — some of them even coming from Dalit or poverty-striken families — are now disowning their roots. They have become lackeys of the state machinery and are controlling everything from business to social institutions. They
are social fascists. Asim Mondal, who was killed in Bhulabheda, was a CPM leadercum-timber trader. He used to decide prices of kendu leaf and was also raising a force against us. It’s the same with others. The villages and villagers’ lives are under their control. We warn them to mend their ways and only after extreme provocation do we pull the trigger. Unfortunately, their daily misdeeds and acts of repression are not reported by the media. It is only when they are killed that the news get highlighted. How else do you expect us to challenge CPM leaders who are armed to the teeth? They are a counter-revolutionary force and have to be politically exposed.
Corruption is rampant in the panchayats. Both the CPM and Jharkhand Party are involved in corrupt practises. Trinamool Congress, too, is not an exception. Some of their leaders in Nandigram have made huge money by selling spares of the abandoned Jellingham project. We started taking up these social issues to organize the poor. Q:
While creating your bases in these
areas, your party had come to the aid of the CPM in 2000 and then went with the Opposition. How do you reconcile this
Yes, we joined the CPM ranks to fight the Trinamool-BJP offensive in Keshpur. That was in May 2000, when the Trinamool chief announced that Keshpur would be CPM’s graveyard. Armed men were setting the huts of the poor villagers on fire. We sided with the poor. I distinctly remember that I collected 5,000 cartridges from the CPM party office. CPM leader and minister Susanta Ghosh would have been nowhere today, had we not been with them. But the CPM atrocities in Chhoto Angaria, Suchpur, Nanoor did not go unnoticed by us. It was only when CPM came to grips with the situation in 2001 and began targeting our men that we struck back. Finally, when Nandigram villagers rose against the state’s land grab move, we took on the CPM’s armed brigade. This time, Trinamool supplied us the ammunition. We kept up the resistance along with Trinamool ranks for months after the Nandigram carnage. During the final assault in November, we ran out of stocks and had
to beat a retreat. The CPM men captured 300 of the local militia, and literally treated them as slaves like war prisoners with their hands tied behind. Q:
Even if one were to accept your logic of summary punishment, how do you
justify the killings of low-rung partymen who come from poor families?
In most cases, killings have happened after all means of persuasion and reasoning failed. What may appear to you as a simple low-rung CPM leader is actually his mask that outsiders get to see. But yes, there have been mistakes. In 20% of the cases, there could have been more persuasive attempts. In 50% cases, we could have campaigned better, politically. The blast that killed the medical team was clearly a mistake. A rectification process is currently on in the party and we hope to emerge as an outfit that takes more judicious decisions. Q:
What about the landmine blast that
targeted the CM’s convoy in November?
Till the Nandigram carnage, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was not on our hit list. The villagers of Nandigram were fighting CPM politically when the massacre was ordered by the CM. That changed everything. Now, he is our target. So are CPM strongman and MP Lakshman Seth, West Midnapore district secretary Dipak Sarkar, zonal party leader Anuj Pandey... Q:
The Maoists are also seen as anti industry. The perception about the outfit, particularly in cities, is that it will not
allow industrialization. How can class
struggle happen sans the working class?
We are not against industry. But we are opposed to the neo-liberal policies pursued by the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government. The neo-liberal bubble has burst. The deviated Marxists (CPM) are only paying lip service to it and at the same time are looking at options to come to a post-poll adjustment with the Congress. The CPM government is pursuing industrial projects dumped by advanced capitalist countries. People all over the world are rising against polluting sponge iron units, construction of big dams and chemical hubs that affect the environment. Even the proposed car factory in Singur is to create an assembly line and has low direct employment potential. Tell me, how do these projects help the sons of the soil? These are projects advocated by the IMF and the World Bank and the CPM government is trying to implement them. We will oppose Nayachar because a chemical hub will destroy the livelihood of 2.5 lakh fishermen. No developed country sets up chemical hubs now. Why should we? As
for Singur, industry will not happen there. The land was forcibly acquired from farmers. We will take over the acquired land, if the locals want it and return it to the tillers. We are waiting for the response from the Opposition — Trinamool and Congress. Instead, we want a sustainable development path and inclusive growth trajectory that won’t divest the poor from their fruits of labour. Q:
But how can you distribute
government-acquired land when the law says to the contrary?
I don’t care what the law says. Has the law come of any help in booking the culprits who burnt men alive in Chhoto Angaria? Let law take its course, we will have our own if people want it. Q:
There are allegations that your party has been extorting businessmen and
salaried persons and terrorising villagers.
This is far from truth. Our leaders lead a simple life. On the contrary, we have been resisting efforts by contractors to plunder the forest wealth. Why should we fleece common people? If we need money, we will loot banks and collect the ammunition from the state armoury. This is no secret. Our party has a written resolution on this. At times, some of the government officers have tried to lure some of our supporters with contracts. In such cases, we have pointed it out to them in presence of their guardians, who are also our supporters and asked them to fall in line. DEATHS IN MAOIST BELT 2008
NOV 1: CPM local committee leader Indrajeet Mura, resident of Kashmar under Belpahari PS, killed
NOV 15: Ration dealer Ashok Haldar, resident of Bhulabheda in Belpahari, executed
DEC 11: Jharkhand Party panchayat samity member Sudhir Mandi, resident of Belpahari’s Bhulabheda, killed 2009
JAN 25: PCPA member Nirmal Sardar killed near Bhulabheda*
FEB 1: CPM Binpur zonal committee member Nandalal Pal, resident of Murar under Lalgarh PS, killed
FEB 2: PCPA supporters Lakhindar Mandi, Rajaram Mandi and Gopinath Soren killed at Khashjangal, Lalgarh*
FEB 13: DYFI zonal leader Sujit Panda killed at Dharampur
MAR 13: CPM local committee member Chandi Karan of Lachhipur injured in landmine blast at Belatikri
MAR 18: CPM local committee member Durgapada Deswali killed at Banspahari
MAR 18: CPM supporter Santosh Mahato killed at Bhulabheda, Belpahari
MAR 26: Bodies of PCPA supporters Manoranjan Singh and Bishnu Singh, residents of Shyamnagar under Belpahari PS, found in jungles of Bankura*
MAR 28: PCPA supporter Indrajit Sahis killed at Boita, Lalgarh*
APRIL 10: Former Banshpahari CPM local committee member Asim Mondal killed
APRIL 21: CPM leaders Hambir Mandi and Shaktipada Sen abducted and killed in Nadaria, Salboni
APRIL 22: CPM supporter Gopinath Murmu killed at Dubrajpur, Lalgarh *Maoist supporters[Please Note: Its not possible to post the exact link, as its taken 4m TOI epaper. But you can navigate to http://epaper.timesofindia.com/ then select Kolkata edition, then chk 27th Apr 2009 edition ]