« Back to articlePrint this article

Azad's killing: Some unanswered questions

Last updated on: August 10, 2010 15:00 IST
At the Trinamool Congress rally in Lalgarh on Monday Union Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee condemned Maoist leader Azad's death in a police encounter, embarrassing her government which has resisted calls for an investigation into the incident.

Swami Agnivesh, who Union Home Minister P Chidambaram had asked to mediate with the Maoists, hopes Parliament will debate the need for a judicial inquiry into Azad's death.

Such an investigation, Agnivesh believes, will be an important confidence building measure with the Maoists, faciliating talks with the Leftist rebels and hopefully usher in peace. glances at some of the unanswered questions about Azad's death:

The July 2 killing of Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad, the Communist Party of India-Maoist spokesman, has raised several questions, which the government and the police are reluctant to answer.

The Andhra Pradesh police claimed Azad, a member of the Communist Party of India-Maoist central committee and politburo as well as its national spokesman, was killed in the forests of Adilabad district early on July 2.

The police said Azad and another Maoist were killed in a lengthy exchange of fire with security personnel.

In angry response, the Maoists claimed that Azad was picked up in Nagpur a day earlier, flown to Adilabad by helicopter, and executed in cold blood along with a man named Hemchandra Pandey.

In May, Home Minister P Chidambaram invited Swami Agnivesh, who had led a peace march in Chhattisgarh in April, to mediate with the Maoists and explore the possibility of a cease-fire, which would likely result in peace talks with the central government.

With Chidambaram's permission, Agnivesh met with senior Maoist leaders Kobad Gandhy at Delhi's Tihar jail and Narayan Sanyal at Raipur jail in Chhattisgarh to begin the peace process.

He also wrote to the Maoists, informing them about the government's interest in a dialogue, to bring about a peaceful resolution to the Leftist insurgency that has crippled life in many districts in the country.

Azad responded on the Maoists's behalf, expressing willingness in possible talks with the Centre and indicating that his organisation could think of a cease-fire.

One sticking point was Chidambaram's insistence on a date for a cease-fire, which the home minister felt would indicate the Maoists's intentions.

Once a cease-fire -- the duration of which could extend for three days or six months or longer -- was in place, Chidamabaram told Agnivesh talks could begin.

In late June Agnivesh wrote again to Azad, suggesting three likely dates in July when the cease-fire could go into effect.

Azad was carrying Agnivesh's letter with him the day he died.

Here are some questions, the answers to which will go some way in making clear just what happened on the night of July 1 and the morning of 2.

Was Azad indeed picked up from Nagpur, as the Maoists claim?

The Maoists claim Azad was scheduled to meet with a local contact named Sahadev in Nagpur at 11 am on July 1 and travel to the Dandakarnya forests, but he never turned up for the meeting.

Azad, it is believed, was on his way to meet with senior Maoists in the Dandakarnya forests to discuss Chidambaram's proposal and likely dates for a cease-fire.

Azad had been underground for more than 35 years. He had successfully survived capture and death at police hands all those years. If he had indeed been captured in Nagpur, what led this cautious man to lower his guard?

If the Maoists's claim about Azad being arrested in Nagpur is true, who tipped off the Andhra Pradesh police about his presence in the Maharashtra city?

What proof do the Andhra Pradesh police have to show that Azad was indeed in Adilabad at the time of the encounter?

The Andhra Pradesh police version is there were 20 Maoists who were in the Adilabad forests. If the police version is correct, what evidence do they have of the presence of the other Maoists in the area?

Again, if the police version is correct, how come only two people -- especially the two who were said to be in Nagpur -- were killed?

Do the police have any evidence to prove that the Maoists -- if at all they existed -- initiated an attack; again if at all an encounter occurred in Adilabad?

Has a case of murder been filed against the policemen and an investigation initiated, as the courts have ruled in all cases of encounter deaths?

If Azad had been picked up in Nagpur, the Andhra Pradesh police team would have discovered Agnivesh's letter on the Maoist leader when they searched his person.

Even if they were unsure about who he was -- the only photograph of Azad in police records was about 35 years old, from his days at an engineering college -- the letter would have indicated his identity as a top Maoist leader, and his importance.

Surely, it was in the interest of the government's campaign against the Maoists to keep Azad alive and in custody.

Who took the decision to kill him? And why?

Surely, a police officer of the rank of superintendent of police -- clearly aware of the consequences -- could not have taken such a important decision. So where did the final decision come from?

Was the Andhra Pradesh police team in touch with senior officers in Hyderabad -- and New Delhi -- at any point during the alleged encounter?

Was Hemchandra Pandey, the man killed with Azad, a Maoist? His wife says he was a freelance journalist, but a Maoist site on the Internet later identified him as a comrade. Was the latter information genuine?

Pandey's colleagues say he was in his Delhi office till 2 pm on July 1. How could he have participated in the gun battle in Adilabad, which the police claim began at 11.30 pm July 1?

Villagers in Sarkepally, near the area where Azad and Pandey's bodies were discovered, say they did not hear gunshots. How does the police respond to this?

Maoists claim they do not have a presence in Adilabad. Why do the police think Azad was there?

Interestinglty, one of India's top-most officials, who is involved with matters of internal security, told that Azad's death was the result of divisions within the Maoist leadership over the peace process.

Speaking on deep background, the official said Azad's belief in peace talks were not shared by some other Maoist leaders who were keen on continuing the violent offensive against the Indian State.

His inference was that the hostile Maoist faction had tipped off the Andhra Pradesh police about Azad's presence though the official would not be drawn into discussing the location.

Agnivesh has told that Home Minister Chidambaram has ruled out a judicial probe into the killings. The minister told Agnivesh that the Centre has no jurisdiction to order such an inquiry since the incident occurred in Andhra Pradesh, and law and order is a state subject.

At his July 20 meeting with Dr Manmohan Singh, Agnivesh revealed to that he had requested the prime minister to ask Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister K Rosaiah to invite a judge of national eminence to investigate Azad's killing.

Dr Singh, Agnivesh felt, had reacted favourably to his request though the prime minister would not commit to such a line of action, requesting the swami to continue his efforts to mediate with the Maoists and end the violence that has claimed so many lives.

Also Read:
PM responsive to probe into Azad's death: Swami Agnivesh
Chidambaram rejects probe into Azad's death
Azad killed in 'genuine' encounter: AP police
Man killed with Azad not a Maoist, but a journalist, claims wife
Probe death of scribe killed with Azad: UN
High court turns down slain Naxal leader's mother's plea
External link: Chidambaram and Azad's letters to Agnivesh
External link: 'Chidamabaram will continue to play the unfair game'

Rediff News Bureau