Adilabad, Dec. 10: She comes from a band of people who once set off a landmine under Chandrababu Naidu’s car, hiding behind jungle bushes.
Now, as his protector, she walks just a few steps ahead of the former chief minister on treacherous forest paths, eyes scanning the landscape for the smallest sign of danger.
In keeping with the adage “set a thief to catch a thief”, state police have deployed surrendered Maoist Vala Ramadevi, 32, to protect the Telugu Desam chief during the Adilabad leg of his October-to-January, 2,400km padayatra across the state.
Now a home guard, Ramadevi is better-placed than anyone else to anticipate any booby traps her former comrades may have laid in the rebel-infested district. During her six years of service, she has identified several Maoists to the police and helped foil rebel plans to cause trouble in the guise of Telangana activists.
“She has been a great asset,” said the police officer in charge of the walkathon’s security during its nine-day Adilabad leg that began on Wednesday.
When the police first suggested the idea, Desam leaders were aghast. “How can we trust her?” was the refrain, a police source said.
Now it’s Ramadevi who decides Naidu’s routes through Adilabad. She is part of a 16-member plainclothes intelligence team protecting Naidu, apart from the six Black Cat commandos providing the politician with Z security.
The farmer’s daughter from Adilabad’s Edagattu village was only 11 when she joined the People’s War Group. She was part of rebel commander Jangli Ramanna’s dreaded squad in Chennur and later married him.
Coincidentally, the couple surrendered shortly after their comrades’ October 2003 assassination attempt on then chief minister Naidu, who escaped with fractures.
The couple, who have two daughters and a son, were jailed briefly. In 2006, Ramadevi was absorbed into the home guard wing of Nirmal One Town police station while Ramanna became a chauffeur.
The police have brought out advertisements projecting Ramadevi as a role model to tempt Maoists to give up arms. One ad shows her in battle olives, saying: “Instead of a life of violence and the gun, choose a life of education and social justice.”
But she sometimes misses her former life in the jungles. “There is no corruption (among the rebels) at all,” she said, alluding to the deep-rooted malpractices in the police.