Last week, security forces arrested Murali Kannempilly, a man better known as "Kerala’s most-wanted Maoist leader". Son of a former diplomat, Murali's rise in Maoist movement has been shrouded in secrecy. Here, we try to put together facets of his life, as told by his contemporaries. One does not associate a person who believes in armed struggle with politeness, but that is just who he was, says a former Maoist who knew Murali Kannampilly, one of Kerala’s most-wanted Maoist leaders. Sixty-two-year-old Murali Kannampilly, who was arrested by the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) near Pune last Friday, was a “soft-spoken genius” who dedicated his life to others, says M N Ravunny, who now heads a rights organisation called Porattam. Murali was arrested by the ATS from a hospital in Talegaon-Dabhade, around 30km from Pune, along with his aide Ismail Hamza (29). Ravunny first met Murali when the latter was arrested in connection with the Kayanna police station attack in 1976. Maoists had attacked the police station in Kozhikode district. Murali and he had been lodged in the Kannur Central Jail. Both had been arrested during the Emergency in 1976 at a time when even civil rights activists, not just members of armed groups were being picked up. Arbitrary arrests of innocent people were also not uncommon. After his release, Murali became a full-time party activist and was reportedly associated with the Central Reorganization Committee of the Community Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) until the 1990s, and has since been associated with other groups espousing Maoist ideology. Most of Ravunny’s memories of Murali are from the year that they spent in adjacent cells. “He always had a book with him. He was a voracious reader and I think he knew something about everything under the sky,” Ravunny says. For Ravunny, the year the two of them spent in jail nearly 40 years ago, was a time of many interesting conversations. “I loved to talk with him as I would always learn something new,” he said. “Although he was a civil engineering graduate, he would sarcastically say, ‘You can ask me about anything other than my subject.” Despite this, Ravunny says that he had heard that Murali was an “excellent” student. Hailing from Irumpanam in Ernakulam district, Murali is the son of a former diplomat who also served as India’s Ambassador to China, Kannampilly K Menon. It was during his days at the Regional Engineering College Kozhikode in the mid-1970s that he became associated with the Maoist movement, then called the Naxal movement. Murali is said to have played a crucial role in building the Naxal movement in the college at the time. Incidentally, Murali was a contemporary of P Rajan, who also studied in the same college. It is unclear if Murali and Rajan knew each other, but the torture and custodial death of Rajan after he was picked up by the police from his hostel on March 1, 1976 were a turning point not just in the history of Kerala, but also in Indian jurisprudence. Rajan’s parents’ struggle to find what happened to their son and son’s body was poignantly depicted in the Malayalam film “Piravi”. Eventually, the then chief minister Karunakaran had to resign within a month of having taken oath, after a senior police officer and another senior government official told the Kerala High Court that Rajan had indeed been tortured and killed by the police. Among those who knew him, Murali was compared with the Buddha, but the analogy had more to do with Siddhartha having left his family and worldly life to obtain nirvana, than with Buddha’s philosophy. Maoism was Murali’s nirvana, Ravunny says. Between his family and the larger world, it was the latter that he chose. “He did not give his family the importance (they deserved).” Murali had married a Dalit woman with whom he had a son, but the couple later separated. “He was just concerned about the oppressed people of society. He was kind and humane. He strongly believed in the (Maoist) ideology and always fought against the selfish motives of others,” Ravunny says. It is said that not once, in his four decades spent underground with a banned outfit, has Murali been photographed. This reportedly enabled him to travel across the country meeting various units of the Maoists as their tech expert. Under the pen name Ajith, Murali has also written five books on the Maoist movement. Murali was the only one who represented India at the Revolutionary International Movement (RIM) conference held in France in 1984 and was made in charge of the armed revolution in India and Nepal. Murali’s arrest is crucial for the Kerala police as he is believed to have co-ordinated hundreds of Kerala cadres.
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