A young man from a Pune slum who had been reported missing eight years ago has now emerged as a key middle-rung Maoist leader in Chhattisgarh. In a list of commanders of the banned CPI (Maoist) group, prepared by the Chhattisgarh Police, Santosh Vasant Shelar figures as the ‘deputy commander’ of the ‘Tanda Area Committee’ of Rajnandgaon district.
Shelar, who is also known as Vishwa, was a resident of Kasewadi slum in Bhawani Peth area of Pune, before he went missing in November 2010, according to a ‘missing person report’ lodged by his family in January 2011 with the Khadak police station.
The list prepared by the Chhattisgarh Police about “active Maoist operatives in Rajnandgaon as per situation dated March 25, 2019” mentions ‘Vishwa, age 28, resident of Pune, Maharashtra’ and carries a photograph alongside of a young man in green uniform, which is a characteristic of Maoist guerrillas. The list, accessed by The Indian Express, has several names and mentions 14 persons under the ‘Tanda Area Committe’, with Vishwa’s name at number four, stating him to be the ‘Area committee deputy commander’ and that he carries a ‘.303 rifle’.
Additional Superintendent of Police (Naxal operations) G N Baghel of Rajnandgaon police confirmed that as per their records, “Vishwa”, who is from Pune, is part of the “Tanda Area Committee” of CPI (Maoist).
A school dropout after Class IX and known for his drawings and paintings, Shelar was alleged to be associated with the Pune-based cultural outfit, Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), which, according to police, is a “Maoist front organisation”.
The ‘missing person report’ lodged on January 10, 2011 stated that he left home on November 7, 2010, saying he was going to Mumbai to work with an exhibition for two months. But he did not return thereafter, it said.
Also, another youth, identified as Prashant Kamble of Pune’s Tadiwala Road slums, had gone missing along with Shelar. He is also alleged to have joined the banned CPI (Maoist).
In mid 2011, Shelar and Kamble were booked by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) along with 14 persons, including senior Maoist operative Angela Sontakke and some artists of the KKM, under sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
According to the ATS, Angela and her husband Milind, alias Deepak Teltumbe, who is now learnt to be a Central Committee (CC) member of the CPI (Maoist), indoctrinated some of the KKM members, including Shelar and Kamble, towards Maoist ideology.
While Teltumbde, Shelar and Kamble are absconding, all those who were arrested by the ATS, including Angela and KKM members, were later released on bail by different courts. They claimed that they were framed by the police.
The first clue to Shelar joining the Maoist ranks had emerged in May 2014, when the Gadchiroli police in Maharashtra, after an encounter with about 60 armed Maoists in the Murzar jungles in the jurisdiction of Purada police station, had recovered notebooks, cartoons and literature, along with claymore mines and walkie-talkie sets. At that time, police had claimed that one of the notebooks contained a signature of “Vishwa”, which they suspected to be the “revolutionary name” given by Maoists to Shelar. Besides the notebooks, police said cartoons and drawings, allegedly made by “Vishwa” were also found. Police had also claimed that some of the Maoists, who had surrendered in Gadchiroli, told them that Shelar had been named “Vishwa” by the banned organisation and was also called “Painter” by the cadres because of his expertise in painting.
Police said Kamble had been named as “Madhukar”, “Madhu” and was also popular as “Laptop” among the Maoist cadres because of his expertise in handling and repairing electronic items.
Police said Kamble was then part of the technical team of the CPI (Maoist) and Shelar was part of “platoon number 56 or platoon B” of the North Gadchiroli Gondia Division of CPI (Maoist) and carried a 12 bore gun.
Police sources said Shelar’s photograph in “green uniform” was obtained from a video recovered during an anti-Maoist operation in the state.