Kishenji’s Murder: Exposing TMC’s True Colours

The gruesome murder of comrade Mallojula Koteswara Rao, better known as Kishenji, brings out the true colours of the Trinamul Congress (TMC) Government in West Bengal. Mamta Banerjee actually copied the strategy adopted by the Congress Government in Andhra Pradesh in 2004: promising peace and talks with Maoists before elections followed by severe repression and liquidation of Maoist leaders immediately after coming to power in the name of encounter deaths. Last year, when Maoist leader Azad had been killed in a faked ‘encounter’, Ms Banerjee herself had openly criticized the incident and endorsed the demand for an enquiry because she was then eagerly soliciting Maoist support in her fight with the CPI (M). This time round, she has bluntly rejected the demand for a credible judicial enquiry raised by the CPI (ML) and others.

All available evidence strongly suggest that the joint security forces of Central and Bengal Governments killed Kishenji in cold blood in the Burishol forest in West Medinipur district of West Bengal on November 24, 2011 after capturing him alive. The Coordination of Democratic Rights’ Organisations (CDRO ) activists, who saw the body before the commencement of the postmortem, observed: “on the back side of the head, part of [the] skull [and] brain [was] missing”; the right eye had come out of the socket; the lower jaw was “missing”; there were four stab wounds on the face; knife injuries were observed on the throat; there were hand fractures and two bullet injuries under one of the arms; “one-third of the left hand index finger was removed”; there were signs of enrooted bullets through the lungs; the right knee was hacked; the foot of the left leg was “totally burnt”; in all, “there were more than 30 bayonet-like cut injuries on the front of the body”. And, while there were “bullet, sharp cuts and burn injuries”, “surprisingly” there were “no injury marks on his [Kishenji’s] shirt and pant corresponding to [those on] his body parts”. A press release (“Killing the Talks and Faking an Encounter”, Kolkata, 2 December 2011) by the CDRO -- based on the observations of a CDRO fact-finding team which visited the spot of the alleged encounter -- states that “the extent of the damage caused to the body against the rather undisturbed surrounding of the spot where the body lay raises our suspicion about the official version”. Indeed, “right next to where his body lay on the ground is a termite hill” that “remains undamaged by all the alleged exchange of fire”, which included “heavy rifle and mortar firing!” The renowned radical Telugu poet Varavara Rao also expressed the same opinion after seeing the body.

Presumably, the torture was resorted to for extracting information about his comrades – as has been routinely done to leaders and activists of radical movements since the days of British Raj up to the present times. But Kishenji lived and died true to his commitment to his ideology, his people and his party.

Born in 1954 in Peddapally town (in Karimnagar district, north Telangana), Koteswara Rao participated in the historic separate Telangana movement while he was a school student. He joined the CPI (ML) in 1974. He responded to the “Go to Villages” campaign call of the party and played a prominent role in the upsurge of peasant movement popular as ‘Jagityal Jaitrayatra’ (Victory March of Jagityal) in 1978 and later in expanding the movement to Dandakaranya, including Gadchiroli and Bastar areas. He joined the CPI (ML) (People’s War) [CPI (ML) (PW)], when it was formed 1980. From mid-1990s onwards he mainly worked in Eastern and Northern parts of India and was instrumental in developing the Maoist movement in West Bengal.

Kishenji imbibed the fine revolutionary traditions of CPI (ML) movement in Andhra Pradesh. He was well-known for qualities like revolutionary courage, dexterity, determination, organizing skill, simple and hardworking lifestyle, and ability to move among the masses like fish in water. But he could not possibly transcend the anarchist inclination that steadily grew stronger in the CPI (ML) (PW) and finally culminated in an anarcho-militarist line under the banner of a Maoist formation that deviated almost completely from the Marxist-Leninist tradition of putting politics in command and placing people above weapons. His tragic death, like many similar losses suffered earlier, was the price paid for this.

Failure to understand this trajectory from Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought to anarcho-militarism masquerading as Maoism can render even the keenest of observers incapable of seeing the mistakes made by Maoists in perspective. Thus Bernard D’Mello in his obituary pays highest tributes to the Maoist leader and adds “Kishenji erred in handling the contradictions between the CPI (M), then the ruling party, and the Trinamool Congress (TMC), led by Mamata Banerjee, then the main opposition party. And, his aggressive sectarian and ultra-left adventurist tactics cost the Party and the mass movement dearly, for these acts brought on state repression a multiple of what it would have otherwise been. The contradictions between the Maoist revolutionaries and the social-democratic CPI (M) at the local level need not have been escalated to the point of becoming intensely antagonistic. And, some of the (excessive) killings -- were the Maoists really annihilating class enemies? Ultimately, it was the Trinamool Congress who took advantage of the situation to defeat the CPI (M) candidates in the area in the assembly elections in April-May this year.” (Indian ‘Republic Killing Its Own Children’ -- Kishenji Fought for a Better World (URL:

D’Mello gets the points right enough, but errs in presenting the mistakes as personal ones. A scrutiny of Maoist activities in other parts of India would easily reveal that the lacunae are essential ingredients and manifestations of Maoist line; Kishenji was only implementing that line with ingenuity and determination.

The sequence of events, that is, the political process leading to the isolation and eventual debacle of Maoists in Jangalmahal reveals the utter bankruptcy of Maoist tactics. As Rahul Pandita observed in Hello, Baster – a most sympathetic account of Maoism in India –

“Unfortunately, Maoists have been used by political parties to further their own interest. In recent times it has happened in Bihar, in Jharkhand, and in West Bengal as well. In Andhra Pradesh also, political parties would use them for electoral benefits and once they assumed power … would crush them.”

If this habit of getting used – i.e., acting as pawns in the hands of reactionary political forces for the sake of temporary and partial political benefits -- is not right opportunism of the worst kind, then what is? Curiously, this act of surrendering political independence – a quid pro quo for aloofness from the country’s political lifelines – was sought to be concealed under ultra-left phrase mongering, where it was claimed that armed struggle by itself was sufficient for radically changing the balance of political forces in the country in favour of rapid revolutionary advance. But now this entire theoretical framework will find even fewer takers than in the past.

The setback to Maoist activities in Janglmahal, which had started soon after Ms Banerjee rode into power with clandestine support from Maoists, has come full circle with the demise of Kishenji. Their dream project of political intervention by military means, which seemed to be achieving some initial success during the period of change of guard in West Bengal, has proved counterproductive. It has once again been proved that squad actions and military strength are no substitute for either mass work or independent political initiatives. Will the CPI (Maoist) still not shed its dogmas and learn from life?

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