“Remembering Kishanji”: his impact on West Bengal

Relatives and supporters accompany the body of Kishenji, a senior Maoist rebel leader killed by government forces in eastern India, during his funeral procession at Peddapally village in Karimnagar District of Andhra Pradesh, India, November 27, 2011.

by Amit Bhattacharyya

On 24 November 2011, the body of the Maoist leader Kishanji, with multiple injuries all over the body, was found in the Burishole jungle of the Jhargram area of the West Medinipur district of West Bengal. One of the main operatives of the Chidambaram-Mamata joint forces, Mr. Vijay Kumar, the DG of the CRPF, described it as a ‘clean and successful operation’. The mutilated body bore marks not only of bullet wounds, but wounds of four types. One was the bullet wounds; the second was the wounds caused by sharp weapons; the third was wounds caused by burning; and the fourth was the wound caused by pounding parts of the body such as fingers by heavy instruments. Facts such as these drive home the truth that Kishanji was captured in some other place, tortured to death and then his dead body was placed on the spot and a drama concocted in defence of the so-called encounter theory. The WB chief minister, after keeping mum for three days came out with a theory at a by-election campaign meeting that the joint forces told Kishanji over the microphone to surrender before shooting him down—a claim refuted by the villagers themselves in their conversation with the 22-member investigation team formed by civil rights bodies that visited the spot and adjoining areas on 1 December 2011. And this so-called encounter was engineered at a time when the process of dialogue between the government interlocutors and the Maoist state leadership of WB was on. The revolutionary intellectual, Varavara Rao, one member of the group that came to take Kishanji’s body to his native Peddapally town in Karimnagar district, declared that for the last 43 years he had been witnessing dead bodies—killed either in real or fake encounters—but never before was he the witness to a body that bore marks of so much injury. This brutal killing of the Maoist leader, Kishanji by the Chidambaram-Mamata combined forces will go down in history as a crime against humanity.

The 37-year long revolutionary political life of Mallojula Koteswar Rao could be narrated and analyzed only by those who had been his close comrades-in-arms in times of adversity and joy. For a person like me, who basically belongs to an academic world, who seeks to study the Maoist movement from a distance, and did not have any opportunity to have exchange of views with him, to write on Kishanji is inevitably to confront  a lot of difficulties in this attempt.. I would request the readers of this small piece of mine to keep that limitation of mine in mind.

After the death of Kishanji, people of different walks of life have been expressing their opinion about the whole thing, most of which are about his political line. I would not write on his political line(this is not the context for it also), because Kishanji’s political line is no different from CPI(Maoist)’s political line. And comments on the political line should best come from those who themselves take part in revolutionary practice to make those meaningful. While stating so, I also acknowledge the fact that truth and wisdom can also lie in socially-conscious, sensitive people. I do not know much about the context against which the Maoist leader was arrested and killed. In the editorial of Bandibarta(Prisoners’ Bulletin, a journal in Bengali) no.4(November-December 2011 issue), I have expressed my opinion on it. In this piece, I will write on some aspects of the fallen hero and the impact that he as a revolutionary Communist leader had on West Bengal.

Mallojula Koteswar Rao was born in 1954 in Koddapally town in the Karimnagar district of Andhra Pradesh. As a high school student, he actively took part in the movement for a separate Telangana state in 1969. Like many of his contemporaries, the Naxalbari struggle of 1967 and the Girijan struggle in Srikakulam that came in its wake influenced his mind profoundly. He was then a graduate student at SSR College at Karimnagar. In 1974, after the end of the first phase of the CPI(ML) struggle, he joined the party as an activist. He joined the RSU(Radical Students’ Union) and went underground during the emergency under Indira Gandhi regime. He worked in the villages and played an active role in exposing the 20-Point programme of the ruling Congress party. The second conference of the RSU was held in February 1978 and the first conference of the RYL(Radical Youth League) in May 1978. These two gatherings were important in young Koteswar Rao’s political career. He took part in the “to the village” movement—a movement that was initiated after  Naxalbari by Charu Mazumdar when he gave the call to the youth and students to go to the village and integrate with the poor and landless peasants as a preliminary step towards revolutionary transformation—a step that subsequently became part of revolutionary communism in India. That appears to be Kishanji’s first step towards baptism in the process of integration with the peasantry. In September , 1978, he took part in a peasant movement known as “Jagityal Joitrajatra”  (Victory March to Jagityal) which was the culmination of the mass movement for occupying the land by landless peasantry in as many as 150 villages covering Karimnagar and Adilabad districts.  It was this movement that gave birth to such future Maoist leaders as Ganapati, Kishanji and others. He was, by then, the secretary of the CPI(ML)COC, in Karimnagar district. According to media reports, he was associated with the Adilabad-Karimnagar joint committee, Karimnagar district committee, AP state committee as the secretary and took organizational and military responsibilities in many parts of Dandakaranya. From the mid-1990s, he assumed the leadership of the movement in the Jangalmahal region of West Bengal as also in other states. It is said that Kishanji was personally involved in both Singur and Nandigram movements. All of us have heard about his leading role during the historic movement centring Lalgarh. From then on, the name of Kishanji became a household name in West Bengal.

Kishanji called the Lalgarh movement “the second Naxalbari”. From the historical point of view, Naxalbari is unique—a watershed in the history of India. That movement was short-lived in the place of its birth. However, the message of that rising—that of the revolutionary transformation of Indian society through the path of agrarian revolution under the guidance of Mao Tse-tung Thought—spread far and wide. The Lalgarh movement spread throughout the Junglemahal region and was a qualitative leap forward after Singur and Nandigram. What we witnessed in Lalgarh is the blending between the democratic movement of the adivasis, dalits and other lower class people on the one hand, and the armed revolutionary struggle, on the other. A large variety of steps were initiated—such as the formation of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities(PCAPA), equal representation of men and women within the PCAPA, men and women youth wings of the PCAPA, fight for dignity despite brutal state repression, anti-liquor movement, fight for a new culture with songs and poems reflecting the struggles of the people and drawing sustenance from the past adivasi rebellions, fight against environmental pollution caused by the establishment of sponge iron factories, adoption of new methods of struggle, flexibility, and along with these, alternative models of development—land distribution, making of dams for irrigation, construction of roads, planting of tube-wells, setting up of health centres and free coaching centres—all these bear the imprint of the DK Maoist model of development. Whether historians or social scientists accept it or not, they keep a safe distance from those movements and are sustained in their intellectual pursuits by such movements and actually owe a lot to those who are the real creators of history.

Two years back, Kishanji became a much-talked about man and media played a role in it. Instances such as Kishanji’s telephonic conversation with the media, the abduction of Atindralal Dutta, the OC of Sankrail PS, release of 15/16 women prisoners–hailing from the Junglemahal area—from the Medinipur Central Jail in exchange of the release of the police officer, Kishanji declaring Dutta as a prisoner of war and releasing him before the media, appearance of Kishanji in front of the media with one aged adivasi woman whose family has been subjected to police harassment and torture before the release of Dutta —all these now have become part of history. That was a time when youngsters sat before the TVs to listen to the voice of Kishanji. Telugu-speaking Kishanji’s Bengali accent, his speech and responses to the media, his boldness, his dedication to the cause he had been fighting for and his self-sacrifice made a deep impression among people irrespective of their views; people treated him with respect, awe and admiration. There was a time when Kishanji was the most attractive personality in the eyes of the media. Some honoured him with the title “Man of the Year”; as he covered his face with a towel for security reasons, he was described also as “the ghost who walks”. There were several reports about where he was or what he was planning to do. There were reports about he being injured in an alleged encounter in the Bankishole jungle.

 I can distinctly remember my days at Presidency College, Kolkata in the early 1970s, when Charu Mazumdar became a legend during his lifetime. Many stories were in circulation among the media about his whereabouts. ‘Today he was in Behala, next day he was in Puri; he has narrowly escaped police dragnet’ and the story went on. Charu Mazumdar died in the Lalbazar police lock-up on 28 July 1972. Charu Mazumdar died during a regime that initiated fake encounter killings. Today, Kishanji is killed under a regime that takes its cue from that earlier regime. Since then till 24 November 2011, almost four decades have gone by. No other revolutionary leader during that long period since 1972 could make such an indelible impression on the minds of the people of West Bengal. One may agree or disagree with the ideology and the methods of struggle advocated by Kishanji; however, all the democratic-minded and honest, sensitive people of the country will hold him in high esteem for his unflinching dedication to his cause, his heroic self-sacrifice, intrepidity and martyrdom with the noble aim of creating a new society where human values would triumph over the lust for profits. In the true sense of the term, Kishanji was a leader of the oppressed people; at the same time, he was also one of them—who treated the sufferings of his countrymen as his own; it was his integration with the people and his personal qualities that must have made him what he really was.

A person like me who is both a student and teacher of History, and is engaged in research in the Maoist movement in its present phase, will face utmost difficulty. One of the main architects of the Maoist movement has departed from this world “like”—to borrow Kabir Suman’s words— “a hero”. Personally I wished to take his interview and to have a lengthy discussion with him over several issues relevant to the contemporary political scenario. That possibility no longer exists. It has thus been an irreparable loss to the study of history.

It is not possible for me to assess the extent to which the death of Mallojula Koteswar Rao would affect the Maoist movement. However, the point is that this Naxalite-Maoist movement has been continuing for forty four years in the face of state brutality of the cruelest kind and also gaining in strength. There must have been a strong social base, strong feeling for basic social transformation among the people, a very solid mass base that made it so long-lasting. Otherwise we can never explain this longest surviving communist revolutionary movement in our country. The basis of this movement lies in the people’s resistance against domestic oppression and domination by foreign capital over our economy and plunder of resources by them in collusion with domestic ruling classes. As long as this ground reality exists, people’s hunger for change will not subside. The killing of a revolutionary leader cannot change this general trend of history. This is the law of History.

source: ICAWPI

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