Gudsa Usendi, spokesperson of the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee of the CPI (Maoist), has questioned the official version of the events leading to the death of CPI (Maoist) Central Committee spokesperson Azad in an encounter in Adilabad, Andhra Pradesh, on July 2.

“Comrade Azad was picked up by the Andhra police at Sitabirdi in Nagpur, taken to Adilabad, and shot in cold blood,” Usendi told The Hindu in an interview. “Azad's partner, comrade Sitakka, is still missing. We fear that she may have been killed as well.”

According to the Andhra Pradesh police, Azad and another Maoist were killed in a gunfight that began at 11.30 p.m. on July 1 and continued till 2 a.m. on July 2.

In a telephonic interview on the night of June 3, Usendi alleged that the Andhra Pradesh police had tailed Azad for several days prior to the alleged encounter.

According to Usendi, Azad was expected to arrive in the Upper Bastar region of Dandakaranya on July 2 and was to spend a month and a half there. “He was to take a class in Political Economy for our cadre and was going to schedule an interview with BBC's Hindi radio service,” Usendi said, adding that the BBC was unaware of Azad's plans.

Sahdev, a Maoist commander from Chhattisgarh's Kanker district, was sent to meet Azad in Nagpur and escort him to Dandakaranya.

On June 30, Usendi received a message that Azad had arrived in Nagpur and would meet Sahdev in Nagpur's Sitabirdi area on July 1 either at 11.30 a.m. or 1.30 p.m. “That was the last message we exchanged,” said Usendi. “Visiting Adilabad was never on the agenda.”

On July 2, the media broke the news of an encounter in which two Maoists were killed, one of whom was identified as Azad. “I immediately thought that the second man must be Sahdev and released the information to the media,” said Usendi.

But the following morning, he learnt that Sahdev had returned to the jungle. “Sahdev went to the rendezvous at both appointed times, but Azad was not there. So we believe that the police picked Azad up late night on June 30 or early on July1,” Usendi said.

Meanwhile, confusion persists regarding the second person killed in the encounter.

While the body has been identified as that of freelance journalist Hem Chandra Pande, even the CPI (Maoist) is unable to explain why Pande was accompanying Azad. On July 3, a release issued by the Northern Bureau of the CPI (Maoist) identified Pande as a zonal committee member. However, in a press conference in Delhi, Babita Pande insisted that her husband was not associated with the Maoists and had travelled to Nagpur to cover a story.

On July 4, Usendi informed The Hindu of a statement released by CPI (Maoist) politburo member comrade Sonu that identified Pande solely as a freelance journalist and alleged that Pande was killed by the police to eliminate all eyewitnesses. “I do not know if Pande was a member of the Northern Bureau,” said Usendi, “It is possible that the July 3 press release [claiming Pande as a Maoist] was forged.”