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Mysterious death of Kishenji 'triggered' series of splits in Maoist camp in India

By Harsh Thakor*

On November 24 fell the 10th death anniversary of Kishenji, a prominent Maoist leader, he was also a poet, a scientist, and a soldier. Since his school days he dreamt of planting the seed to create new man. Born in 1954 in Peddapally town (in Karimnagar district, north Telangana), Kishenji was raised by his father Venkataiah (a “freedom fighter”, he called him) and a progressive mother, Madhuramma.
Inspired by the Naxalbari and Srikakulam movements, he became an active member of the Andhra State unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in 1974 and played a prominent part in the peasant struggles in Sircilla and Jagtial taluks of his home district of Karimnagar that were declared ‘disturbed areas” in October 1978.
Kishenji played an important role in weaving the movement in Karimnagar and Telengana and then Dandkaranya. He was one of the major architects in enabling the Peoples’ War Group. He was a principal architect of the merger of the CPI (ML) Peoples War Group with the Maoist Communist Centre of India.
In Lalgarh or Jungalmahal from 2000 Kishenji pioneered the building of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA). Even as he integrated mass movement and armed militia actions, under his guidance the seeds were sown for alternative structures in literacy, health and housing and land distribution.
After 2009, Kishenji over-emphasis military work or armed squad actions. He also put the movement into a trap by forging an alliance with Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool to confront the CPI-M. It ultimately led to the steady demise of the Left. Tactics of election boycott were adopted, which seemed not in consonance with people's level of political consciousness.
Tributes to Kisherji by Bernard D'Mello, Saroj Giri, Srigendu Bhattacharya and Prof Amit Bhattacharya are a living proof of Kishenj's contributions. Bernard D'Mello weighs in his merits and defects. He summarises how this valiant comrade planted the seeds to enable roses to blossom for a considerable period, before falling into the morass of opportunism or deviation.
Saroj Giri portrays the human element and touch prevailing in Kishenji, bringing out his spiritual essence in possessing unique qualities. He is portrayed as a model in a region which cannot be mechanically copied. Kishenji’s methods were “imperative to ignite the spark of revolution”, believes Giri.
“Lalgarh and the Legend of Kishenji” written by journalist Srigendu Bhattacharya is a classic book in its own right. It gives credibility and criticism probing into the thick and skin of the leaders and cadres of the plains and forests of Jungalmahal. It delves on how the Maoists infiltrated every sphere of politics to convert a spark into prairie fire, based first hand interviews with politicians from different persuasions.
Tributes by Bernard De Mello, Saroj Giri, Srigendu Bhattacharya and Prof Amit Bhattacharya are a living proof of Kishenj's contributions
Srigendu is convinced that without the intervention of the Maoists the movement would never have confronted the ruling party. It illustrates the creativity of Kishenji in paving the path for mass struggles. It points to how a PCAPA leader stood as candidate for election, countering the Maoist line. The author portrays “fatal errors” of Kishenji in trusting opportunist forces. He says, “Kishenji has taken the movement to the grave with him.”
Prof Amit Bhattacharya calls Kishenji’s Lalgarh movement “the second Naxalbari”. He recounts how a large variety of steps were initiated -- such as the formation of PCAPA, equal representation of men and women within PCAPA, men and women youth wings of PCAPA, fight for dignity despite brutal state repression, anti-liquor movement, fight for a new culture with songs and poems reflecting people’s struggles drawing sustenance from the past adivasi rebellions, fight against environmental pollution caused by the establishment of sponge iron factories, and so on.
Said to have been killed allegedly in a cammando operation, Kishenji operated too openly in the social media. His funeral was simply touching, with poet and revolutionary Varavara Rao collecting his body. It also signified how the Mamata-led government tried to cover it up. It is still a major challenge for the civil rights group to bring the culprits to justice.
His death led to a reversal in the Maoist movement and built the breeding ground for a series of splits within the Maoist camp. Some sections were seriously critical of Kishenji's tactics as well as the Maoist party's evaluation of Bengal as semi-feudal. Today virtually no section adheres to the military line of the Maoists in Lalgarh.
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*Freelance journalist who has toured India and written for blogs

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