Hyderabad, Nov. 17: Kandula Shirisha, 38, was a play teacher in a home for destitute children in Hyderabad where she has been working for three years.
At Rainbow Home, set up by an NGO with the support of the district collectorate, everyone knew that the single mother — she has a teenage son, Prithvi — had studied up to intermediate and that she was estranged from family and friends because of a personal tragedy.
That was till Monday, when sleuths arrested her in Koraput district on the Andhra-Orissa border and revealed that Shirisha is Padmakka, wife of Maoist top gun Ramakrishna alias Akkiraju Hargopal and a prominent Maoist herself.
Suspected to be involved in many Maoist operations in Andhra and Orissa, Padmakka carried a cash prize of Rs 2 lakh on her head.
She was arrested while on her way to meet her husband, who is unwell, and son in the Narayanpatna forests in Koraput. Orissa police have filed a case of sedition and treason in a local court.
Civil rights activist G. Kalyan Rao, who called on Padma at Koraput jail, disputed the police version that she was arrested on Monday and claimed instead that she was taken into custody by Orissa police near Saluru on November 10, interrogated by Andhra police at Vizianagaram and later handed back to Orissa police.
Revolutionary poet and Maoist sympathiser Vara Vara Rao also contests the police claim that Padmakka, who is also known as Durga and Nirmala, was a Maoist activist and said she was only working in an orphanage in Hyderabad.
“She always avoided being photographed during events in the school-cum-hostel,” the NGO that runs Rainbow said.
Ramakrishna, 45, a central committee member and in charge of the Andhra-Orissa border committee of the Maoists, is alleged to be in a safe hideout in either the Narayanpatna or Bandhugaon blocks in Orissa. Son Prithvi is also with him now, so the Maoists are protecting him zealously, the police said.
Andhra police, who had deployed eight units of the elite commando force Greyhounds to track down Ramakrishna, blame Orissa police for jumping the gun and arresting Padma before she made contact with her husband’s couriers.
Said to be the brain behind eliminating the police network of informers — former activists and tribals — in the Andhra-Orissa border area, Ramakrishna is guarded by a 70-member guerilla military unit and always moves with three rings of security and 10-15 heavily armed personal escorts.
“Under his guidance, the action teams bumped off police informers and tightened movement in the region,” a state intelligence officer said.
He has over 32 cases pending against him, including that of the assassination of Telugu Desam home minister A. Madhav Reddy, whose car was blown up on a state highway when he was on his way to his hometown Bhongir in Nalgonda.
Ramakrishna, part of the Maoist top 10 leaders, had joined the movement in the early ’90s while working as lecturer in a college in Macherla in Guntur district, sources said.
Padmakka, the daughter of a retired state government employee, is also from Guntur, the sources added. She has a sister who was employed with the National Institute of Rural Development in Hyderabad.
After he led the Maoists in the unsuccessful talks with the Andhra Pradesh government in 2004 and narrowly escaped the state police in the Nallamalla forest, Ramakrishna was moved to Orissa and given charge of the border area.
Andhra and Orissa police have deployed 600 CRPF and Greyhound commandos around the Narayanpatna and Bandhugaon forest blocks to catch Ramakrishna and another top gun, Sudhakar. Using GPS and satellite technology, the police tapped Ramakrishna’s calls to followers and aides on a hillock of Narayanpatna, which they have encircled.
Two helicopters have been kept on standby for immediate action in the coming days.
Anticipating a police attack, the Maoists leaked information on landmine and claymore explosives around the Narayanpatna forests, leading about 100 Greyhound commandos to withdraw in the past couple of days, sources said. The Maoists also blasted a police station at Kathirigumma in Koraput to divert attention.
“Landmine threats are keeping the forces at bay as Ramakrishna and his associates are still holed up in the border areas,” said an inspector-general rank officer camping at Visakhapatnam to supervise anti-Naxalite operations.
The police have set up checkposts on forest routes to Chhattisgarh (Narayanapatna-Raigarh-Sambalpur) and Bengal (Srikakulam-Parlakamidi-Behrampore).