Thunderbolt on the Western Ghats: Remembering Ajita, Kuppu Devaraj, and the Wretched of the Earth

April 17, 2017

Varavara Rao

Thunder bolt on Western Ghats
From the vast plains of Dharmapuri,
Via satyamangalam forests, to the Konkan’s Malabar Coast
Their hard-hitting questions,
Unsettled the static wind
then their drills began in the Western ghats,
Imbibing the spirit of Dandakaranya
With the march past of the armed squads,
The meandering stream of Kaveri
Turned Crimson.

(Jaya, ‘it is time for the SOUTH-WEST Monsoon’, Telugu)

In the Beginning

The march of the armed squads began before the martyrdom of Comrade Saketh Rajan (2005). By then, the three big revolutionary parties leading the armed struggles got united to form the Maoist Party in 2004. The party was endeavoring to create as many Naxalbaris in several areas that eventually would lead to the formation of liberated bases.

Lightning appears on the edges of the clouds and thunderbolt follows the rain. Thunderbolt is attracted by metallic elements like iron, copper etc. There was a thunderbolt on Chile, for the plunder of copper in 1973. The thunderbolt took away the lives of Salvador Allende and Pablo Neruda’s too. The iron that is essential for steel attracted the thunderbolt to extinguish Kishanji from Jungle Mahal.

People are the makers of history. They never relent in their march. The march of the Western Ghats to the Eastern Ghats; and from the Jog Falls1 to Jungle Mahal is going on incessantly. The rivers at the tri-junction – Kabani, Bhavani, Avinasha – the water and blood flowing through them, their motion, struggles and changes are nothing but the various forms Gaia (earth)

‘Has the soil ever lobbied for itself?
When the earth begins to defend itself,
Could anyone stand in opposition?
Have the woods ever sung for itself?
Other than termites about you and me
Is there any self concern for the forest?’

I reached Thrissur on 8th November 2016 to address a meeting held in celebration of hundred years of the Bolshevik Revolution. Some well-wishers of the Indian Revolution, who were attending the meeting told me about the slapping of murder charges on Prof. Nandini Sundar, Prof. Archana Prasad and Vineet Tiwari of the Joshi Research Centre and Sanjay Parathe, state secretary of the CPI(M) in Chhattisgarh.

They spoke to me on this issue to point out an irony that the Chhattisgarh government was harassing the CPI(M), where it was weaker than the CPI. But in Kerala, where the CPI(M) is in power, it gave blanket powers to the police to shoot the Maoists at sight. For a decade, Operation Thunderbolt has been going on in Kerala. So, the CPI(M) behaves differently when it is in power. The meeting began on this note.

Ajita and Kuppu Devaraj

Not even a fortnight passed since that meeting. The TVs began broadcasting the news of the ‘encounter’ in Neelambur forest and the death of Kuppu Devaraj (60) alias Yogesh alias Ramesh and Ajita alias Kaveri (45) since the noon of 23rd November. There were unconfirmed reports that one Soman of Wynad was injured and still in the captivity of the police. The in-charge of the Thunderbolt Operation said that eleven guerrillas belonging to three squads had escaped and an intensive search operation was on to catch the escaped guerrillas.

According to the Maoist Party’s political and organizational perspective, the area where in the ‘encounter’ was said to have taken place, comes under the Western Ghats Special Guerrilla zone.

The area connects the forests of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The habitat of several flora and fauna of Bandipur and Madumalai forests, the sanctuary of Nilagiri forests are part of this tri-junction area. The Nilagiri forest areas in Tamil Nadu, the Palakkad, Mallapuram, Wynadu forests of Kerala, the southern tip of Karnataka forests – currently popularized by the media as the Tri-junction area are together called Satyamangalam forest, wherein Veerappan had earlier operated. Munnar of Kerala, a favorite spot of tourists, for its scenic beauty and picturesque landscapes, has thousands of acres under coffee and tea plantations which are owned by the Tatas.

The valleys of Ooty, the forests of Satyamangalam and the tea gardens of Wynad area are a visual feast for the tourists. But the people are living in extreme penury despite their back breaking daily labour. Only humans with hearts can understand the appalling conditions in which people have been living.

Such human beings reached the Adivasis as Maoists, with a determination to build a society of New Human beings through class struggle. The Maoists saw that people are being trampled upon by elephants when they go to collect a few seeds of pepper and coffee’. ‘To light the fire in their hearths, people went into the woods to collect fire wood, but their families heard the sounds announcing the death knell of their men folk, permanently extinguishing the light from their homes’. As someone said

“there is nothing left here to pillage
There is none left who were not plundered”
The people lost everything-
“their grains, the fruits in the forest,
The nectar of their life, the harvest of their toil
The adolescent girls, the thatched huts with leafy roofs,
Yes, they lost everything”

The Maoists went to work among these “wretched of the earth.”

Maybe in this forest. Perhaps in the neighborhood. But it is definite that the two comrades were caught unarmed, brought here after brutal torture. They were ill but were killed in this forest. 19 bullets pierced his body. She was shot with 6 bullets. He was 60, a diabetic. She was 45, unmarried. Both were born in dalit families and in Tamil Nadu.

Ajita’s father was an Engineer in the Railways overseeing the safety of trains and goods. He was influenced by Maoist ideology. He propagated that ideology. Ajita got attracted to revolutionary politics twenty five years ago when she was a college student. She was one of the founder members of the women’s liberation organisation.

Since her younger days she was suffering from an acute eye disease. Doctors cautioned her of the danger of becoming blind if she did not take proper care. While working for the women’s organization, she graduated in law. She fought for democratic rights as a lawyer. To serve the revolution, she chose to go underground. At the time of her martyrdom, she was a member of the Western Special Zonal committee. True to her name, Ajita, was invisible. Neither the debility of her eye sight during her youth, nor ill-health in middle age could dampen her robust revolutionary spirit.

I knew Kuppu Devaraj as Murthy. He and I worked as executive members in All India League for Revolutionary Culture (AILRC), between 1983 and 1985. In the later years of the 1980s he chose underground life. As Ramesh and Yogesh he was a beloved comrade in the revolutionary movement and for the revolutionary people. He was born in Krishnagiri district of Tamilnadu. Dharmapuri, Krishnagiri, North Arcot, Eligiri Hills were strong revolutionary centers since the Naxalbari days. In the Nilgiri Hills, the revolutionary fire was always alive.

Since 2007, he resurrected the revolutionary movement in the three states, whenever there were losses in leadership. An engineer by profession Com. Devaraj was an artist too. He was a polyglot. He could speak fluently in Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu and English.

He was born in Tamil Nadu but spent his whole revolutionary life in Karnataka. Under the leadership of Uday (Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad), he joined the first ever state committee of CPI (ML) (People’s War) and became the secretary of its state unit, after Uday joined the Central Committee. In 1995 in the All India Special Conference of the CPI (ML) (People’s War), in the 9th Congress of the CPI (ML) (People’s War), and in the 9th Congress (United Congress) of the CPI (Maoist), he was elected a Central Committee member.

From the period of 1985-87 when there was a crisis in the People’s War party till his last breath he stood as a rock-solid support to the revolutionary rank and file. In a word, he himself was a tri-junction in the Tri-Junction. He was a bright beacon to the movement in the Western Ghats.

‘Wherever there is a forest,
His presence is a must,
His entire body strewn with bullet injuries,
The wounded body symbolizing the devastated countryside,
The villages overwhelming with torture chambers.
His heart is bleeding with bayonet wounds
The bruises of disappeared lives,
His entire life chasing the wailings of helpless Adivasis
He always appears with a robust belief
His heart ever beating the drum for liberation,
His brimmed with a plethora of magnificent dreams
That only the toilers should own the means of production,
That land should belong to the tillers,
That dreams since past generations be realized,
He sowed the seeds of internationalism everywhere.
Vouching for martyrdom to the people
Is not that easy, That is why Martyrdom itself
Learnt lessons afresh from him

(Bhaskaran, from _ It’s time for the South-West Monsoon, Telugu)

That is why Vijay Kumar was waiting in the Tamilnadu’s Q branch head quarters in Chennai like an eagle for him, for her, for Kabani and for Kaveri, like he was waiting for Kishanji at the border of Jungle Mahal and Jharkhand. Then, he was the director of the CRPF. Now he is the Senior Advisor in the PMO’s Office for Anti-Maoist activities.

His job is to eliminate the Maoists, who are working among the people. That is why he said: “This is a great victory for us and a great loss to the Maoists.” His statements sounded presumptive, and yet he was not sure of himself. That was why the Q Branch warned people not to co-operate in any way, and not to come out from their houses when Devraj’s dead body was brought to Krishnagiri.

Com. Devaraj’s mother, Ammini, and his brother Sridharan, went to Mallapuram to collect Devaraj’s mortal remains. The Tamilnadu police threatened Ajitha’s uncle who went to collect her body and forced him to return to Tamilnadu.

The dead bodies of Devaraj and Ajita, lying in the Kozikode government Medical College are stirring up the entire Kerala state. People are holding dharnas and raising slogans in protest in front of the Kozikode government hospital and the district police head quarters. People are sure that it was a fake encounter and are demanding that a re-postmortem should be done and the culprits punished.

Ammini, the mother of Com. Devraj, is leading the dharna in front of the police station. She is waiting to have a few last glimpses of her beloved son. Can anyone peep in to her heart and fathom the depth of her grief? In the madness of modern market world, can any one stop for a while and try to understand a mother’s anguish over her son’s brutal murder?


In Kerala, scores of people including the 78 year old leader of a mass organization – M.N.Ravunni to the activists of Porattam, Janakeeya Manushyavakasasa Prasthana, Political Prisoners’ release committee, Lawyers, democrats and people are agitating demanding a judicial enquiry and condemning the fake encounter. This agitation is spreading from Mallapuram to towns and cities.

After four days of dilly dallying, the Chief Minister Vijayan ordered a magisterial enquiry. The DGP ordered a Crime Branch enquiry. This has not satisfied any one including the Marxist party veteran and former Chief Minister Atchuthanandan. The CPI unequivocally said that this method of physical elimination of Maoists could never be an acceptable form, as far as their party was concerned.

This pressure is due to the influence of the revolutionaries over the people. This is due to the respect towards democrats in Kerala. This is the biggest encounter after the Verghese encounter. In 2007 when Sande Rajamouli alias Prasad was part of the Western Ghats revolutionary movement, APSIB and AP Grey hounds under the leadership of Stephen Ravindra caught him at Kollam, brought him to Hindupur in A.P and Killed him.

The previous Congress Government arrested several leaders- Muralidharan, Veera Mani, Kannan, Rupesh, Shyna and Anup – of the Western Ghats revolutionary movement. They are kept in various jails like Pune, Coimbattore, etc.

The sessions court allowed the petition to conduct the re-postmortem. The court ordered that the dead bodies be preserved till December 5th and the report of the Postmortem be submitted to the court meanwhile. A joint action committee was formed to continue the agitation. A big rally is being planned on December 9th by the Joint Action Committee. On Dec 3rd and 4th a fact finding committee of various democratic rights organizations all over India is going to the area to investigate the “encounter”.

Let us hope that an upsurge like the one that came in the wake of the brutal killings of Sruthi and Sagar in Telangana would ensue after the martyrdom of Com. Devraj and Ajita.

This is just not to talk about the Q Branch, the SIB, the Grey hounds and the NIA. Nor it is about just the Green Hunt Operation, the Operation Thunderbolt and the mission-2016 etc. And it is also not about only the re-postmortems, judicial enquiries, punishment to the culprits and handing of the dead bodies to their kith and kin. All this needs to be done. Above all, there should be dignity and respect in the affairs related to the birth or death of human beings. Demanding democratic justice is a natural, civilized requisite that needs to be implemented in daily lives. People would agitate to get such demands fulfilled.

People are struggling for loftier ideals too, not confining to these demands. They are yearning for a radical change. Yes, it started 50 Springs ago (you may say that there were autumns too). But with an incorrigible revolutionary optimism, I would say that behind every thunderbolt there would be a lightening. Behind every spring cloud there would be streaks of lightening. Behind a dark night a dawn is not far off.

A Struggle between two world outlooks

Today’s issue is the struggle between two world outlooks. A conflict between two states. A battle between death and life. Imperialism is moribund. It is synonymous with the market. In daily life it reveals in a gargantuan form appearing in its real form of attacks, wars, violence and destruction. The laboring masses would fight it out with the weapon of class struggle. They are workers and peasants and in the social parlance – Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and Women. They are the people who are facing exploitation and suppression. When people begin to upend the suppression, the struggle graduates in to a guerilla struggle and it develops in to people’s war.

The people’s war has basis in the political economy. The political economy of a development model found upon them by a world bank model – i.e. imperialist globalization. People, under the leadership of revolutionary politics, are doing an experiment in the establishment of a New Democratic system from the grass roots. In Telangana, in Dandakaranya since twenty years, in Saranda of Jharkhand, in the tri-junction of the Western Ghats, these experiments are being done.

Maybe the forces in Telangana got defeated but are again emerging, though slowly. In the AOB region from the days of Narayanpatna to the yesterday’s Malkangiri, the revolutionaries may be experiencing ups and downs. Comrades Saket, Devraj and Ajita, traversing along the tides and the ebbs, did their bit to build a revolutionary movement in the Western Ghats. Despite setbacks, this is a non negotiable fundamental struggle. A humane struggle of revolutionaries whose Weltanschauung (worldview) is class struggle.

This struggle, is the continuation of the Paris commune, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Chinese people’s Revolution and is an advancing revolutionary movement with all its highs and lows. In this protracted path, we saw the Che Guveras and Castros. The grit and sacrifice of them who stood against imperialism, definitely inspired us. LTTE struggle, for now, is no more. But we are not remembering the martyrdom of Prabhakaran along with son Balachandran with pessimism. By the way, Com.Devaraj wrote an analytical and an incisive article on the eelam struggle and on the martyrdom of Prabhakaran explaining what lessons need to be learnt.

Defeat and victory are inseperable twins in the course of revolution. The commitment and the sacrifice are the dual values that bind the twins dialectically. The world outlook of the class struggle and its ideological moorings would help overcome the pessimism in times of defeat and complacency in victory and eventually drive towards the ultimate victory.

In this protracted war, Obviously Devraj and Ajita who dared to scale the heights were not the only ones. Neither they would be the last ones.

In the liberation struggle of the land, they become martyrs. They are in eternal sleep in the hospital. They would soon integrate with the soil, whose liberation they dreamt during the better part of their life and further enhancing our determination in their unfulfilled dreams.

During the spring,
The bloody streaks eclipsed
The thunders erupted behind the clouds
So that,
The sacrifices could emerge as a mighty typhoon
To obliterate all the relics of human suffering

(_ Appu, “it is the time of South-West monsoon, Telugu)

(Foot Note: 1. Jog Falls are in Adilabad district, Telangana.)

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