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Why Milind Teltumbde’s killing in Gadchiroli is a ‘major blow’ to Naxal movement in India

Milind Teltumbde, in-charge of Maharashtra-MP-Chhattisgarh committee of CPI (Maoist), was among the 26 Naxals killed in Saturday’s encounter with security forces in Gadchiroli.

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Mumbai: Helming the activities of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, building cadre strength, allegedly conducting weapons training, and always having an ear to the ground. These are the major reasons why Milind Teltumbde, who was killed in Saturday’s encounter with security forces in Gadchiroli, was important to the Naxal movement, and why his death is likely to be a “big blow to the outfit”, police sources and activists from Gadchiroli told ThePrint. 

The Gadchiroli Police Saturday killed at least 26 suspected Maoists in an operation that was 10 hours long. Teltumbde, a central committee member of the CPI (Maoist) and in-charge of its Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh (MMC) zone, was among them, according to information with the Gadchiroli police. 

The Maharashtra Police had placed a Rs 50 lakh reward on his head, while other states too had similar rewards for any information about him, Gadchiroli SP Ankit Goyal told reporters Sunday. 

According to the police, two of Teltumbde’s personal guards, Manso Sukhram Boga and Tilak Mankur Jale, who carried rewards of Rs 8 lakh and Rs 6 lakh respectively, were also killed in the operation. 

An IPS officer who has worked with the Gadchiroli police for several years in the past told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity: “Milind Teltumbde was a central committee member and the senior-most cadre in the MMC region, so all three states will benefit from this operation. He had the responsibility of building cadre strength, training, and he used to look after the administration.”

The officer added: “His influence was largest in north Gadchiroli, Gondia and Balaghat where the Naxals were trying to create a zone. With his death, we can say that Naxal operations in north Gadchiroli are as good as neutralised.” 

A social activist from Gadchiroli, who did not wish to be named, said Teltumbde was one of the first and the most prominent urban faces among the Maoists. “Stereotypically, Naxals are known to be tribals who are born close to the jungle and fight there. Teltumbde’s leadership broke this myth; he had seen the system from outside, so he would mobilise immense support from urban areas for the movement,” the activist said.

The activist added that Teltumbde always had “an ear to the ground”, knowing what tribal leaders and social activists were doing. 

“Teltumbde was a big support to the Naxal movement here. They (the Maoists) are perhaps seeing one of their worst times right now,” the activist said.

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Man from poor Dalit Mahar family 

Teltumbde, 57, was born in a poor Dalit Mahar family from the Rajur village in the Wani taluka of Yavatmal, Maharashtra, and was among the youngest of many brothers and sisters, a source who knew him from his younger days told ThePrint. 

He is the younger brother of Anand Teltumbde, writer and civil rights activist, who is currently lodged in Taloja Jail for his alleged involvement in the Elgar Parishad case. Milind Teltumbde has also been named as an accused in the case. 

“His mother, who is over 90 years old and still alive, was a brick kiln worker and his father was a daily wage labourer. The family was very poor, but educated all children with scholarships,” the source quoted above said. 

After completing his Class 10, Milind Teltumbde studied at an Industrial Training Institute.  He began working in a coal mine in the mid 1980s at Sasti in Chandrapur district, where he started his own labour union. 

“He always came across as a fighter, with glinting eyes and fire in his belly. He had a certain militancy to his personality even then,” the source added. “Those early days, while leading a union in the coal fields, was when Milind cut his teeth in organisational, mobilising and training skills.” 

The source said coming from a small village in Vidarbha, Teltumbde was eager to practise his English-speaking skills with anyone he met from the cities, and would always dismiss suggestions of marriage, saying it was not meant for him. 

He eventually married Angela Sontakke, the daughter of a school teacher, in 1994. 

Sontakke was arrested by the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad in April 2011 for her alleged Naxal links. The Supreme Court granted her bail in 2016. 

Rising through Naxal ranks 

According to information with the Gadchiroli police, Milind Teltumbde was gradually influenced by Naxal ideology towards the late 1980s. Prior to 1994, he worked as president of Naujawan Bharat Sabha and labour outfits such as Mazdoor Sangathan and Indian Mine Workers’ Federation. 

After joining the Naxal movement, Teltumbde first worked in the coal belt of Chandrapur, Wani, Umred and Nagpur, and became a member of the CPI(Maoists)’ Maharashtra state committee from 2004 to 2006, the police said in a statement released Sunday. 

The police added Teltumbde became the committee’s secretary after the arrest of Sridhar Srinivasan. Srinivasan was a central committee member of the CPI (Maoist) who died of a heart attack in 2015. 

In 2012-13, Teltumbde took charge as the head of the outfit’s north Gadchiroli-Gondia-Balaghat division, and in 2016-17, when the Maoists dissolved the state committee and set up the MMC, Teltumbde was appointed as its leader. 

“The MMC zone was formed for strengthening and revival of Naxal organisation,” the police said in the statement. 

“Teltumbde monitors (sic) and analyses movements of security forces in Gadchiroli, Gondia, Balaghat and Rajnandgaon, and masterminds and implements major ambush, blasting and other subversive activities. He played a vital role in strengthening Naxal organisation in urban areas,” the statement added. 

Teltumbde, who had several aliases such as Jiva, Deepak, Praveen, Sudhir, Arun and Sahyadri, was named in 63 major offences in the Gadchiroli district, according to the police. These include 42 encounters, seven civil and four police murders, two cases of arson and one dacoity, among others.  

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

Also Read: India’s Maoist strategy needs a reset. But will Modi govt change its muscular approach?


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