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Venu tipped to succeed Azad
The casket carrying the body of Hemachandra Pandey in Hyderabad on Tuesday. Picture by Vijaylakshmi

Hyderabad, July 6: The Maoists are planning to appoint Mallojula Venugopal the party’s official spokesman in place of No. 3 Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad who was killed by Andhra police last week.

Venugopal alias Sonu is a CPI (Maoist) politburo member and secretary of its Central Regional Bureau of Dandkaranya. He is No. 6 in the Maoist hierarchy and the brother of another top leader, Mallojula Koteswar Rao.

Sources said Sonu, a graduate and a resident of Peddapalli in Karimnagar, is also likely to take over Azad’s job of supervising the Maoist publications Vanguard, People’s March and Kranti.

At present, Sonu is working as the intelligence chief of the People’s Security Services, an organisation he founded in March to monitor the movement of police and anti-Maoist forces in Dandkaranya. The agency also keeps tabs on suspected police informers in the Maoist ranks.

Sonu had ordered three-tier security for top Maoist leaders but Azad had preferred to go without it, sources said. Azad was also not cautious about using his mobile phone or logging on to the Internet, both of which are believed to have given his location away to the police. Sonu has now advised all top leaders to reduce the use of mobiles and keep their whereabouts known to select members only.

Although indications are that Sonu will step into Azad’s shoes, there is a buzz that central committee member Samballa Keshav Rao may be the chosen one. A final decision is likely to be taken at the Maoists’ politburo meeting slated to take place in August, sources said.

The body of Hemchandra Pandey, who was killed along with Azad, was brought to Hyderabad today and kept at the press club. His widow, Babita, alleged the Andhra government had unleashed a misinformation campaign to prove he was a Maoist sympathiser so that it could escape blame for killing an innocent freelance journalist from Uttarakhand. She also displayed his articles that had been published in Nai Duniya and Rashtriya Sahara.

Babita met Andhra home minister Sabita Indra Reddy today. Reddy later said the government had evidence that Pandey “was not a journalist”.

With the Andhra Assembly’s monsoon session convening tomorrow, the state intelligence bureau has stepped up security around the homes of all ministers and MLAs. Security was found to be lax around Reddy’s and health minister Danam Nagender’s homes.

The bureau has also issued fresh security guidelines. People wanting to meet the chief minister and the home minister will have to undergo a full body scan from tomorrow. Teams have fanned out to monitor the movement of some civil rights activists.

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