Journalist’s Murder, Maoists and State : Can State be Trusted ?

Shailendra Dhar

On the 2nd of July, 2010, a journalist named Hem Chandra Pandey and C Rajkumar, known as Comrade Azad, Central Committee member and national spokesperson for CPI(Maoist) were killed by Andhra Police in an alleged encounter. Hem Chandra, who had worked extensively in Maoist-affected areas, and Azad, were part of a central govt initiative for surrender of Maoists.
Swami Agnivesh was the intermediary, who, after a series of meetings with then Home minister Chidamabaram, the PM and senior jailed Maoist ideologue Kobad Gandhi, had initiated the process. It is believed CPI(Maoist) was willing to forego armed resistance. The exact correspondence was never made public, but a GOI pre-condition of a ceasefire was agreed upon, and a date of ceasefire was to be decided. Swami Agnivesh wrote a letter regarding this to Azad, and he set out to coordinate with Maoist units in Chhattisgarh and Orissa.
But before that could happen, he and the journalist were allegedly picked up in Nagpur, taken to Adilabad forests, and killed.
That letter by Agnivesh was found on Azad’s body. Journalist Hem Chandra was seen working in his office at 2PM on July 1 in Delhi. There is no way he would or could have reached the jungles of Adilabad to fight a gun-battle with police on his own by 11.30 the same night, as claimed by Andhra Police. Agnivesh was furious and demanded judicial inquiry into the killings of journalist Hem Chandra and Com Azad, blaming the government for killing the duo. He wrote and met with Chidamabaram, but the then Home minister refused it. Agnivesh then met PM Manmohan Singh, and was assured that the needful will be done. Of course, nothing was done.
A senior Home ministry official later said, on condition of anonymity, that the news of Azad reaching Nagpur to coordinate with units in Chhattisgarh and Orissa, was leaked to the Andhra Police, by those Maoists who were opposed to surrender. But why did Andhra Police kill him and the journalist, who were working for surrender of Maoists on behalf of the central govt?
It is more likely that somebody in the government gave the information to Andhra Police. Comrade Azad was a very cautious man. He had never been caught, taped or even seen in public. The only photo police had of him was more than 30 yrs old — when he was an engineering student.
So why would he suddenly decide to meet a journalist working for Maoist surrender in Nagpur?
Azad and journalist Hem Chandra made the fatal mistake of believing in the state. It was monumental treachery that killed an innocent and well-meaning journalist and a Maoist leader seeking peace. Needless to say, this resulted in more violence, and story continues.
Were different agencies of the government working at cross-purposes? This is not about this government or that party, it’s about the credibility of the Indian state. It is sad and frightening when the state cannot be trusted, because that trust defines the order of the republic, faith in peaceful opposition. Without that, nobody can prevent a thousand mutinies — today, tomorrow, someday.
Cut to Karnataka, October 2014. Karnataka govt decides a plan to bring insurgents into the mainstream. This time, journalist Gauri Lankesh, along with few others, are requested to facilitate their surrender. Didn’t work out. In December 2016, the Siddaramaia govt rehashes the plan and Gauri Lankesh is once again set on the task.
It has always been suspected that Maoists groups, like any fighting group, play tactically, and often assist this or that politician and do their dirty job, and as such, come in handy for unscrupulous politicians. The story of massacre of Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma has numerous sub-plots, pointing to the role of politicians and even ‘connivance through omission’ of the BJP state government.
I for one am inclined to believe that nobody in power really wants Maoist insurgency to end, but that’s another issue. A very senior former Union minister and Congress politician well known to me was approached to do what Swami Agnivesh did. I advised against it. Reason — you can’t trust either of them.
Was then the murder of Gauri Lankesh yet another such devious game — the tragic story of Hem Chandra revisited? Why did Karnataka govt decide to give a state funeral to Gauri Lankesh? Did they want to deflect the blame and suspicion away from them? Are they part of it? Why was her security ignored? The threat was obvious — if not from corrupt politicians she had exposed, then from the criminal nexus of corporates and politicians she loathed, or even those lunatic right wing groups — she was surely a prime target for Maoists opposed to peace.
Gauri is dead. But it does matter to know who killed her. I would rather like to hear that fanatics opposed to her views killed her than knowing that the state conspired to kill her.

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