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Poor man's Azadi?


Last week, the rumour was that Azad, the anonymous but legendary leader of the Maoists, was in police custody. Days later, the Maoists announced he was at large and safe. So, who is this faceless hero of the reds?

In the town of Nuzvid, famous for its juicy mangoes, people are in a state of excitement. They have been keenly following media reports since last week to trace the whereabouts of Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad, CPI (Maoist) leader and spoekesman. The news of Azad being picked up by cops became the hot topic of conversation before the Maoist party cleared the air by announcing that there was no threat to Azad's life and that it had only "lost contact" with him temporarily. The media hype has catapulted Azad to the front pages. From a name, he is becoming a person. But, who is Azad?

Here are the basic facts. Azad is a Kamma - a rich landlord class - and hails from Nuzvid in Krishna district in Andhra Pradesh. His father, Rajaiah Chowdary, used to run a hotel in Hyderabad. Azad was a radical student leader in Warangal's Regional Engineering College between 1973 and 1978.

While doing his M Tech at Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Azad was made state president of the Radical Students Union. He went underground during 1980-81. He was arrested and released in 1983. Azad rejoined the movement and since then, has been outsmarting the police and has proven himself consummate in the art of evasive action.

Like many Naxalites of the '80s, Azad travelled the rural hinterland, trying to build a mass base to annihilate people his party perceived as class enemies.

Even then, Azad never played a role in guerrilla warfare. But he was active in the theoretical and strategic aspects of the movement. He has continued to play that role. Azad is a key member of the Central Committee and Politburo of the CPI(Maoist).

He has always tried to claim the high moral ground by lambasting the government's efforts to suppress what he thinks of as the legitimate resistance of the poor.

Though Muppala Ganapathi Rao alias Ganapathi heads the party and its armed wing, the People's Liberation Guerrilla Army, he's certainly not the only leader. Azad is a crucial part of the Maoist command structure along with Prasanth Bose alias Nirbhay alias Kishanda in the running of the outfit and the propagation of the Maoist agenda. With Ganapathi ageing, there are strong indications that Azad, 55, and Mallojula Koteshwara Rao alias Kishenji could take full control of the party.

Dark-complexioned, partial to casuals and leather slip-ons, Azad frequently changes his hideouts and, most often takes shelter in urban areas with the help of unarmed sympathisers. He is of stocky build and is 5'6"in height. Today, Azad alias Parimal alias Prasanth alias Madhu alias Uday alias Gangadhar, is one of the most wanted Maoist leaders. A man with many names and a reward of Rs 12 lakh on his head.

Says revolutionary poet Varavara Rao, "Apart from Mao, Kondapalli Seetharamaiah who built the CPI(ML)-People's War Group in the early '70s, Naxal leader Surapaneni Janardhan (killed in a 1975 encounter ) was a huge inspiration for Azad. Complete emancipation of the masses and rejection of imperialist forces is what Azad stands for. " The student revolt of the seventies and early eighties, which attracted hundreds of educated youths, many of them from upper caste families, was also a source of inspiration.

"The seeds of Azad's revolt against the system were sown around the time when he was doing his B Tech, " N Chari, a sympathiser of the movement, recalls. Namballa Keshav Rao, Military Commission in-charge of the Maoist party, and the slain State Committee leader, Puli Anjaiah, were Azad's batchmates.

He came on the scene when the first act of the movement was being staged. The very real exploitation in villages was the theme that captured the imagination of the young Azad. He felt he needed to do something apart from leading a privileged life. "He is an ideologue, and well read in the classics of Marxism. He is also deeply interested in philosophy. He does not conform to the stereotypical image of a Naxalite, " says V S Krishna of Human Rights Forum.

Azad is extremely articulate in both English and Telugu. "His proficiency in English is superb, " says journalist N Venugopal who met Azad at REC Warangal in 1978. Though a non-military member, Azad carries an AK-47 when he's in the forests. Since he is the party's official spokesperson, Azad acts as a front for Ganapathi and deals with the international media too. At present, Azad heads the Southwest Regional Bureau of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Maharashtra. He believes that setbacks and losses are natural in a protracted people's war. "We intend to mobilise the masses against the rulers from snatching the land of the people and handing it over to MNCs and big business houses in the name of development through creation of SEZs, " he said in a recent magazine article.

Azad believes the next 10 years will bear witness to massive social and political upheavals and the Maoist party would be at the helm of these movements. Varavara Rao recalls one of Azad's famous statements that the Maoists can never reach a settlement with bourgeois establishments. "His faith in the ultimate success of the revolution remains undiminished, " he says. Rao adds, "We are aware that the cops are after him. The threat to his life is constant."

Last week, Azad's mother Karuna moved the Supreme Court when the "arrest" drama unfolded. But now that he is at large and gone again like smoke Karuna is not sure which court of justice to appeal that would bring Azad back home safe.

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