Dreaded Maoist leader Vinod Hemla, believed to be the mastermind of at least 16 major Naxal attacks in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region, including the one at Jhiram Ghati in May 2013, has died from COVID-19, police said on Tuesday. According to a senior official, Vinod aka Hunga and Vinodanna (60), who carried a reward of Rs 8 lakh on his head, died on July 11 in a forest spread across Bijapur and Sukma districts and his final rites were performed on Tuesday.

“We had inputs that senior Maoist commander Vinod was in a critical condition after contracting coronavirus last month. Latest inputs suggest that he died at a Maoist hideout on the Bijapur-Sukma border on Sunday and his final rites were held on Tuesday,” Inspector General of Police (Bastar range) Sundarraj P told PTI.

Police have confirmed information about the death of around 20 senior and middle-rung Naxal cadres due to the coronavirus infection in the last couple of months in south Bastar, he said. Vinod was a senior member of Maoists’ Darbha Divisional Committee, which had been instrumental in executing several major attacks on security forces and politicians in south Bastar.

He hailed from Puvarti village in Sukma, also the native place of Hidma, commander of Maoists battalion no. 1, the strongest military formation of the CPI (Maoist) in Dandakaranya, a sprawling area which covers parts of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana, Maharashtra apart from the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. Vinod inducted Hidma into the outlawed outfit, the IG said.

After joining the Naxal movement in 1994, Vinod worked in various formations under Katekalyan, Malangir and Kanger Ghati area committees of Maoists before being elevated to the Darbha divisional committee, Sundarraj said.
“He was the mastermind of over 16 major Maoist strikes in Dantewada, Bastar, Sukma and Bijapur districts and carried a reward of Rs 8 lakh on his head”, the IG said.

“Vinod was one of the main accused in the Jhiram Ghati Naxal attack of May 2013 in the Darbha area of Bastar where top state Congress leaders were killed. He was also involved in the killing of BJP MLA Bhima Mandavi and four security personnel in April 2019,” the IPS officer said. At least 29 people, including the then state Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel, former leader of opposition Mahendra Karma and ex-Union minister Vidyacharan Shukla, were killed in the Jhiram Ghati attack, one of the deadliest in Chhattisgarh’s history of Maoist insurgency.

The Bastar police had last month said Maoists’ Central Committee member Haribhushan, Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC) members Ganga and Sobhroi, were among the senior cadres who have died due to the viral infection.