Panda's sacking widens naxal divide

Panda's sacking widens naxal divide

The recent decision of the CPI (Maoists)’s all powerful central committee to sack senior Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda from the party on charges of anti-organisational activities has once again brought to the fore the widening fissures in the naxal outfit.

Panda, who was functioning as the secretary of the CPI (Maoists)’s Odisha state committee has already floated his own outfit and observers, therefore, believe that the infighting among the left wing ultras would increase in the coming days, particularly in a highly naxal infested state like Odisha.

After the central committee made the news of Panda’s expulsion public on August 10, the Odisha-based top Maoist claimed in an audio statement that differences between him and the central leadership of his party had started in 2003 as he had strongly opposed the anti-people policies of the senior leaders within the organisation. “I had quit the party long ago. So the central committee’s claim that I have been sacked is quite ridiculous”, he said.

It is true that Panda had launched the Odisha Maoists’ Party (OMP) long before the CPI (Maoists) sacked him from the organisation. Nearly a month ago, he had issued a press statement to the media on a local issue where he had put his signature as secretary, OMP and not as secretary of CPI (Maoists)’s Odisha state committee.

Real fight

Panda’s differences with his senior leaders might have begun in 2003 but according to observers, his real fight with them sparked off during the kidnapping of two Italian tourists in Kandhamal district in March this year. Panda and his group had reportedly abducted the two foreigners without the permission of the CPI (Maoists)’s central committee.

In fact, in an interview to a local TV channel from deep within Kandhamal forests, when the kidnapping drama was at its peak, Panda had publicly confirmed his differences with other party leaders. “Differences have definitely cropped up in the CPI(Maoists) organisation. There is no point hiding it. I had appealed my colleagues not to indulge in violence when we are negotiating with the state government on the release of the two Italian hostages. But my request was not heeded to,”, he had said referring to the kidnapping of ruling BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka by another Maoists’ faction operating in Odisha just days after the abduction of the two foreigners by the Panda group.

The last straw on the camel’s back was when Panda wrote a highly critical letter to the central leadership of the CPI(Maoists) in the second week of July making serious charges against senior leaders including sexual exploitation of tribal girls from Odisha. He had also charged them of killing innocent tribals accusing them of being police informers. “It seems to have become a habit of the CPI(Maoists) leaders to order killing of innocent tribals”, the letter had reportedly stated.

What angered the organisation’s central leaders most was Panda and his associates’ decision to  clandestinely release the copy of the controversial letter to the media.

Analysts believe, after the senior naxal leader’s hard hitting letter, the CPI(Maoists)’s central committee had no other option but to sack him from the party organisation. Its reply to Panda’s allegations was equally hard-hitting and critical. Describing Panda as a ‘coward’ and a ‘traitor,’ the central naxal leaders charged him of developing a desire to lead “a good and luxurious life” forgetting the basic principles of Maoism. Panda’s removal has once again triggered intense speculations in the media and other circles about his possible surrender before the Odisha police. His wife, Subhashree alias Mili Panda has also given hints in this direction when she said in a recent statement that the state government should withdraw the police cases pending against her husband which may pave the way for his return to the mainstream.

A section within the state administration as well as observers also feel that the government should take advantage of the current infighting among the Maoists and encourage Panda to give up arms which will result in many junior naxal cadres in different tribal districts to follow him and surrender. This will ultimately help the state in controlling the Maoists’ menace. However, withdrawal of cases may not be easy as the charges contained in many of them are extremely serious in nature.

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