Security has been tightened in India’s Maoist-affected states after the rebels called for a two-day strike in protest against the killing of a top leader.
Cherukuri Rajkumar, commonly known as Azad, was killed in a gunfight in Andhra Pradesh state last week. He was number two in the rebel hierarchy in the state and a spokesman for the Maoists. He carried a reward of 1.2m rupees ($25,700) on his head. The rebels say Azad was killed in a “staged encounter” by the police.
The chief of police in West Bengal state, where the rebels have a presence, said security has been beefed up in the affected areas. Bhupinder Singh said the police and paramilitaries were on alert in three Maoist-affected districts.
Azad was a member of the central committee of the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist). He was associated with the Maoist movement for more than 35 years. In March, CPI-Maoist had said Azad had gone missing and alleged that he had been arrested by the police. But the rebels later issued a statement saying that he was safe and back at his hideout.
The killing took place two days after the rebels killed 26 members of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in an attack in the neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh.
The Maoists, also known as Naxalites, say they are fighting for the rights of rural poor who have been neglected by the government for decades.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described their insurgency as India’s biggest internal security challenge.