The Maoist movement in Andhra Pradesh received a major setback Wednesday when the police gunned down a top leader and his wife.
Communist Party of India-Maoist central military commission member G. Saraiah alias Azad and his wife Padma, also a Maoist guerrilla, were killed in a gun battle with the police in the forests of Kantanapalli in Eturu Nagaram mandal of Warangal district, about 200 km from the state capital here.
The police said the gun battle took place when the personnel of the elite anti-Maoist force Greyhounds were combing the forests.
Police officials claimed that during the combing operations the Greyhounds personnel came face to face with two Maoists who opened fire when asked to surrender. They were killed when the police returned fire.
They were later identified as Azad and his wife, a member of a 'dalam' or a Maoist armed squad.
The `central military commission' is responsible for all guerrilla actions by the outfit, which is active in over a dozen states including Andhra Pradesh.
Hailing from Velishala village in the same district, Azad joined the Maoist movement 25 years ago and rose to become one the top leaders of the outfit.
He was a key suspect in the killing of 16 tribals in Nizamabad district in 2002. The Maoists gunned down the tribals on suspicion that they were working as informers for the police.
Azad was the brother of another key Maoist leader, North Telangana special zonal committee secretary Ganesh, who had escaped after several gun battles with the police in the past.
Contradicting the police version of events, Maoist sympathiser and revolutionary writer Varavara Rao alleged that Azad and his wife were killed in a stage-managed gun battle.
He said there was no possibility of Azad visiting Warangal district and alleged that he and his wife were arrested by the police at some other place and were killed in Warangal district.
The killing of Azad is another blow to the Maoist movement that has lost many top central and state leaders and cadres in the state in the last three years.
The police and the Greyhounds have considerably weakened the Maoists in their former stronghold. The police have killed over 300 Maoists including key leaders in the last three years.
Maoist violence, which claimed more than 6,000 lives in the last four decades, is already on the wane in the state. The police claimed that the Maoist violence went down by 50 percent in 2007