Other States

From revolution’s poster boy to ‘old dog’

Berhampur : Most wanted Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda after he was arrested by Odisha police at Berhampur on Friday. PTI Photo (PTI7_18_2014_000176B)

Berhampur : Most wanted Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda after he was arrested by Odisha police at Berhampur on Friday. PTI Photo (PTI7_18_2014_000176B)   | Photo Credit: PTI

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Sabyasachi Panda was once most sought after by political parties

Odisha’s Deputy Leader of the Opposition once called him the “voice of 57 percent in Odisha, who have only Rs. 12 to spend per day.” Before he fell out with the CPI (Maoist), Maoist commander Sabyasachi Panda was so popular that political parties in Odisha offered him ticket to fight elections. But he said he was wedded to “revolution.”

The son of a freedom fighter, Mr. Panda is a mathematics graduate and was with two mainstream left parties before he went underground. In 1998, the Maoist organisation Party Unity merged with the bigger party, CPI (ML)-People’s War to form the People’s War group (PWG).

Mr. Panda, who was close to the former, joined the PWG in the same year. He rose into prominence soon afterwards in 1999 when he attacked a police post in Rayagada district. But his high point would come almost a decade later in February, 2008 when, under his command, a group of 160 Maoist rebels attacked a police armoury in Nayagarh district. The attack lasted for several hours, and the Maoists were able to loot a cache of arms and ammunition so huge that they had to leave behind some of the less sophisticated ones.

Six months later, Maoists struck in Kandhamal when they killed the popular Hindu leader Swami Laxmananand Saraswati. According to the police, Mr. Panda was the mastermind of the killing that triggered off anti-Christian riots. Investigations revealed that Mr. Panda and the Maoist leadership hoped that the ensuing violence against Christians would result in many riot-affected persons joining their ranks. In fact, as police investigation would later reveal, many had signed up to join the CPI (Maoist). But due to a timely intervention by the then Collector Krishan Kumar (who announced training and jobs for those the Maoists had approached), most of them ditched Mr. Panda.

The Maoist leadership was not happy with the outcome and the relationship with Mr. Panda soured. Somehow he survived in the party till the senior Maoist leader Kishenji, who had taken a liking to him, was alive. In November 2011, after Kishenji was killed in an encounter, Mr. Panda was left to fend for himself. A month later, he severed communication with the leadership.

In March 2012, Mr. Panda took two Italian tourists hostage. Then he declared a ceasefire with the Odisha government. To embarrass him, the CPI (Maoist) abducted a local politician.

In August 2012, finally, Mr. Panda wrote a 16-page letter to the Maoist supreme commander Mupalla Laxman Rao alias Ganapathi, accusing him and other Telugu cadre of “superiority complex.” He also came down heavily on the practice of “unnecessary class annihilations.”

“In doubt and due to lack of proper class education, our forces killed as many as 14 common policemen [in Nayagarh]; those who were not retaliating and mostly had sympathies for our movement,” he wrote. He said that in spite of having worked with tribals for 30 years, the Maoists had failed to develop a concrete model for development of tribal zones.

The party retaliated by expelling him. From there, Mr. Panda floated his own party. He feared that the Maoist leadership had intentions of eliminating him. “Kill the old dog after it becomes old — that is the CPI (Maoist)’s ideology,” he said.

Since February, the police was closing in on him. Five months later, the “old dog,” tired and injured, fell into their trap.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 8:52:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/from-revolutions-poster-boy-to-old-dog/article6226693.ece

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