The body of 58-year-old Rao alias Kishenji, Maoist politburo member and third in Maoist hierarchy, who led armed operations in Junglemahal since 2009, was found after the encounter and identified, the official said.
“Kishenji has been killed and his body identified along with his AK-47 rifle,” he said.
Joint forces, acting on specific information that Kishenji was present started cordoning off the area, after the Maoist leader had escaped for a second time since March last year from the Kushaboni forest nearby on Wednesday, the official said.
As many as a thousand personnel of the joint forces of CRPF, BSF and CoBRA, launched an offensive and broke through the four-tier security of Maoists comprising ‘village defence squads’ after a firefight at Burisole jungle, he said.
According to the official, the joint forces were looking for Suchitra Mahato, a Maoist woman leader who was Kishenji’s companions, and others who fled after the encounter.
In Delhi, Union Home Secretary R K Singh told reporters that “most likely it is Kishenji. The officers on the spot said that it is Kishenji and most likely, 99 per cent it is Kishenji.” Singh said the Home Ministry had sent the latest photographs of the Maoist leader for comparison and final confirmation. The Home Secretary said killing of Kishenji was a “huge setback for the Naxals as he was number three in the hierarchy of the CPI (Maoists)”.
Singh also said joint operations against the Maoists will continue in West Bengal and other Naxal-affected states.
The encounter is the first major offensive against the Maoists after the Mamata Banerjee government assumed power in the state.
Rao (58), popularly known as Kishenji, was the Communist Party of India (Maoist)’s military leader. He went under names like Prahlad, Murali, Ramji, Jayant and Sridhar as well.
The joint forces recovered letters written by Kishenji and Suchitra Mahato, besides a laptop bag and some documents, after raiding the house of a person named Dharmendra Mahato at Gosaibandh village. “Kishenji’s plan was to move to Malabal jungle in Jharkhand, but we were successful in sealing all escape routes. We could confine him to the Burisole forest,” the official said.
Senior officers, including IG (Western Range) Gangeswar Singh, DIG, Midnapore Range, Vineet Goel, Counter Insurgency Force (CIF) Superintendent of Police Manoj Verma and CIF DIG S N Gupta, jointly led the operations which spread over four forest areas starting from Binpur to Silda via the border with Jharkhand. Kishenji claimed responsibility for the Silda camp attack in 2010 that killed 24 CRPF men, and was well known for operations in the Lalgarh area.
Born in Pedapalli village of Karimnagar district of Andhra Pradesh, Kishenji helped found the People’s War Group (PWG) in 1980 along with Kondapalli Seetharamaiah and oversaw the group’s merger with the Maoist Communist Centre of India to form the CPI (Maoist) while on the move for peace talks with the Andhra Pradesh government in September 2004. He played a crucial role in organising a public meeting in Jagtiyal in September 1978 and another in Indravelli of Adilabad in April 1980. When police raided Indravelli, he went underground and never returned to Karimnagar.
He was the ‘mouth piece’ of the Maoists for most of the Indian and foreign press and was just ‘a mobile call’ away.
His most recent discussion was with a Telugu news channel reporter last week wherein he taunted the West Bengal police as “waste and useless buggers” who were not capable of catching him. He was also very vocal about his support to the ongoing separate Telangana movement. His differences with the Maoist hierarchy had distanced him from the Central Committee and the policy making bodies, though he was a member of all top cliques.
Before the Lalgarh operations began, a section of the Maoists was upset that their leader was very close to the Trinamool Congress leaders in West Bengal, drawing resources and support from them for many operations in other eastern states like Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha etc.