The Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) arrested top Maoist leader Murali Kannampilly alias Ajith, 62, and an aide from a hospital about 30 km away from Pune on Friday with police sources in Kerala labelling him as the “backbone” of the movement in the state.
Officers identified the aide as 29-year-old C P Ismail and said Murali was receiving treatment for various ailments. They added that a court later remanded the two to the custody of ATS for seven days.
Murali’s arrest comes over a week after Andhra police arrested Kerala’s most wanted Maoist couple, Roopesh and Shyna, from outside a bakery in Tamil Nadu.
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Police sources in Kerala said Murali is the son of Kannampilly Karunakara Menon, who had worked as a diplomat in Indian missions in several European countries.
When Emergency was cleared in 1975, Murali had been a final-year engineering student at Regional Engineering College, Kozhikode (now NIT-C). He then went underground.
K Venu, a prominent Naxal leader of the 70s, said Murali had played a crucial role in building the movement in the college at the time. “He had initiated P Rajan and several others into Left extremism,” he said.
Rajan had later died as a victim of police torture during the Emergency in a controversial case that finally led to the resignation of former Kerala Chief Minister K Karunakaran.
“Murali had wide contacts with Maoist movements across the world and had even acted as a mediator in Nepal where Maoism was hit by dissidence,” Venu said.
He added that Murali was the “true” Maoist leader from Kerala, who maintained close links with the national leadership – he remained elusive, was reluctant to be photographed and never interacted with the media.
Venu said he had last met Murali six years ago. “He has been moving freely everywhere as none could recognise him. He has authored books and several articles under the name Ajith, and has always been an efficient organiser and ideologue of Marxist Leninist politics,’’ said Venu.
Sources said Murali had been brain behind the incident in which Maoists held a District Collector in Kerala hostage for several hours in 1996 to highlight the tribal issues. “But his name never figured in the list of the accused as the arrested did not divulge his name,’’ police sources said.
Many pro-Maoists in Kerala attribute the arrest of Murali to the failed merger of CPI-ML (Naxalbari), of which he was the secretary, with CPI (Maoist) in 2014. “He might have been trapped by someone in the Maoist camp,’’ sources said.
Murali had married a Dalit woman, but later got separated. Their only son is living with Murali’s brother.
Police identified Murali’s arrested aide as Ismail, the leader of a frontal Maoist outfit in Kerala called Porattam.
(With inputs from ENS/Pune)