Kolkata: In a major setback to the Maoist campaign, the security forces here on Thursday gunned down Maoists top leader Molajula Koteswar Rao alias Kishenji in a forest in West Midnapore district of West Bengal.

207 Battalion Cobra Force on Thursday evening shot dead 58-year-old Kishenji in an encounter in Burisole jungle under Jamboni police station area near the Jharkhand border.

Officials said that Kishenji’s body was found and identified after an encounter.  The sources added that the forces have also found recent pictures from the encounter scene which helped in the identification further. However, Suchitra and others fled.

A laptop bag, some letters written by Kishenji and Suchitra and a few important documents were earlier seized by the joint forces from Gosaibandh village nearby.

Kishenji, a Telugu, was a Maoist politburo member, the third in-command of the outfit and in-charge of its armed operations in Junglemahal since 2009.

Acting on a tip off, the security forces surrounded the jungle and triggered the encounter against the slain Maoist leader and some of his associates and his wife Suchitra Mahat who were holed up here.

The four tiers of Kishenji's security were breached, the official said. It was from Kushboni forest that Kishenji had been operating since 2009.

Union Home Secretary R K Singh said in New Delhi that the killing of Kishenji was a "huge set-back for the Naxals as he was number three in the hierarchy of CPI (Maoists). Singh said West Bengal and central forces were following Kishenji for quite some time after getting information about him and today's encounter was the result of that effort.

The Home Secretary said joint operations against Maoists will continue in West Bengal and other Naxal-affected states.

APDR demands probe

Launching a scathing attack on Mamata Banerjee led West Bengal government, civil rights group "Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR)" condemned the killing of top Maoist leader Kishenji by the security forces in Burisole forest in West Midnapore district here on Wednesday.

“Situation has deteriorated after the advent of joint security forces and it is obvious that the condition will further worsen in Junglemahal after the killing. An immediate probe is required in the encounter case” said General Secretary Dev Prasad Rai Choudhary.

He said that CM should order a probe in the killing of Kishenji in the similar way as she had demanded in the killing of Maoist leader Azad in Lalgarh in 2009.

“Actions must be taken against the security personnel,” he added.

It is noteworthy that as per the human rights law, action can be taken against the police personnel in connection with killing of any person.

Kishenji was biggest security headache

A shrewd fighter and a marksman, top Maoist leader Kishenji spent three decades of his life in hiding, waging a relentless, bloody war against the state to emerge as the biggest security headache for the West Bengal Government and the Centre.

Born Mallojula Koteswara Rao in an Andhra village, the media-friendly 58-year-old cotton-clad savvy commander was the face of the Maoist movement in India.

Kishenji's body image in public is of a man with his face covered showing only his back with a striped scarf around his head and an AK-47 Assault Rifle slung across his shoulder.

He has been under immense pressure since the start of 'Operation Greenhunt' in 2009 and like counterinsurgency operations throughout the Maoist stronghold in the 'Red Corridor' that are underway at present.

Active in Lalgarh area of West Bengal, he has regularly vacillated about the concept of peace talks on the national level with the Centre all the while issuing statements that he refuses to lay down arms as a pre-condition of arriving at the negotiating table.

A Politburo member of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and the group's military leader, he had claimed responsibility for the Silda camp attack in West Bengal in
2010. Twenty-four paramilitary personnel of Eastern Frontier Rifles(EFR) were killed in the massacre.

"This is our 'Operation Peace Hunt'. It is our retaliation against the 'Operation Green Hunt' of the government," an unrepentant Kishenji told local television stations in Kolkata after the attack. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee have dubbed Maoists as worse and deadlier than terrorists.

The second in-command of the outfit and in-charge of military operations in junglemahal since 2009, Kishenji has given regular interviews to the media from an unknown location. He has previously used Prahlad, Murali, Ramji, Jayant and Sridhar as aliases.

Born in the Karimnagar district of Andhra Pradesh, Kishenji helped found the People's War Group (PWG) in 1980 and oversaw the group's merger with the Maoist Communist Centre of India to form the CPI (Maoist).

In one of the media interviews, Kishneji claimed he does not "kill easily" but the violence he has unleashed betrays his claim. Once, he had described himself as a "soft-hearted person, willing to forgive".

The rebel went underground a year after the Emergency in 1975 and came in contact with CPIM (L) leaders. In 1980, he co-founded People's War in Andhra Pradesh, rose to being politburo member and was put in charge of organising movements in the Telangana region and Dandakaranya in Andhra Pradesh.

In the early 1990s, he moved into Bihar, then a Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI) stronghold.

Kishenji set about orchestrating a merger of the two radical forces. Inspite of strong differences, he succeeded in unifying PW and MCC in 2004. This brought him to the tribal belt of West Bengal, where he soon showed his aggressiveness and hunger for power.

He has been accused of sidelining Maoist leaders in West Bengal and expelled several senior leaders who fell out with him. Now, he is the undisputed Number 2 in the eastern region behind Ganpati.

Reports of Kishenji being missing from the front after a recent injury had led to speculation about his future in the Maoist movement but judging by his audacious, repeated public statements he displayed no intention of abating armed struggle at any time in the near future.

Kishenji often described his father in interviews as a "freedom fighter".

The estimated 22,000 insurgents believed to be under Kishenji's command have traditionally used hit-and run attacks and ambushes on security forces comprised small arms fire, laying anti-personnel and anti-vehicular mines.

In the last several years, they have become quite adept at using Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) to inflict mass casualties on their opponents who often travel and congregate in large groups.

JPN/Bureau/Agencies