Hyderabad: Top Maoist leader Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad, considered second in the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) hierarchy, was gunned down Friday by police in a shootout in Andhra Pradesh, police claimed.
Azad, who was also spokesperson of the outlawed group, was killed in a gunfight with police around 3 a.m. in the forests near Jogapur in Adilabad district, about 300 km from here.
Another Maoist guerrilla, who is yet to be identified, was also killed. Police also recovered an AK-47, a 9 mm pistol and two kit bags from the scene of the gunfight.
Azad`s killing is a major blow to the Maoist outfit as he was considered the second key leader in the party hierarchy after politburo member Koteswar Rao alias Kishenji.
He carried a reward of Rs.12 lakh on his head and was a member of the central committee and politburo of the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist). Hailing from Krishna district, he was associated with the Maoist movement for four decades.
According to Adilabad District Superintendent of Police Pramod Kumar, the exchange of firing between Maoists and the police began at 10 p.m. and continued till 3 a.m. He claimed that 25 Maoists were involved in the gunfight. While police found bodies of two rebels, the remaining escaped in the forests.
Officials said Azad was involved in dozens of murders, including the killing of Congress legislator Narsa Reddy and a failed assassination attempt on former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Janardhan Reddy.
The CPI-Maoist has alleged that Azad was killed in a staged shootout. The outlawed outfit said police picked up Azad in Nagpur, Maharashtra, brought him to Adilabad and then killed him. The outlawed outfit suspects the other slain Maoist to be Sahadev.
Meanwhile, Andhra Pradesh High Court dismissed a petition filed by Maoist sympathiser and revolutionary writer Varavara Rao for booking a murder case against the policemen involved. He also wanted a direction to authorities to conduct the autopsy on the two bodies at the Osmania Hospital here.
"Azad was in Nagpur yesterday (Thursday) at 11.30 a.m. to meet an adivasi (tribal) cadre. Police picked them up there, brought them to Adilabad district and killed them in a fake encounter after torturing them," Varavara Rao said.
However, on a petition filed by Azad`s mother, the high court directed authorities to conduct autopsy on his body at Mancherial town in Adilabad district at 10 a.m. Saturday. The court also asked police to allow her to see the body before the autopsy.
Azad`s killing comes as a big blow to the Maoist movement after the arrest of London-educated leader and ideologue Kobad Ghandy in New Delhi last year.
Like Ghandy, Azad was also seen as the intellectual face of the outfit. Azad, who did his M.Tech from Regional Engineering College in Warangal, used to write articles for magazines on Maoist ideology. He was also considered a master strategist among Maoists.
Azad had apparently gone missing in March and the Maoist outfit had alleged that he was kept in illegal custody by the Andhra Pradesh Police. Ten days later, the Maoists issued another statement saying their leader was safe.
Following Azad`s death, security agencies have sounded a high alert in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Chhatttisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
Azad was gunned down by police two days after Maoists killed 27 security personnel, including 25 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers, in Chhattisgarh.
In north Telangana, once a stronghold of the Maoist movement, police sounded high alert in view of possible retaliation by the guerrillas. Elected representatives of all the political parties were also asked to be cautious while moving in interior areas.