Sabyasachi Panda, Orissa’s most-wanted Maoist leader and main accused in the murder case of VHP leader Laxmanananda Saraswati, was arrested on Thursday night by police in Berhampur town after a series of slip-ups by cops over last few years.
Panda, who in August 2012 was expelled from CPI (Maoist) for openly criticising its general secretary Mupala Laxmana Rao alias Ganapathy as “autocratic” and “dictotarial” and later floated his own outfit, was arrested from a person’s house in busy Badabazar area of Berhampur, said Orissa DGP Sanjeev Marik. “It was an intelligence-based operation,” the DGP told The Indian Express without revealing much about the operation, adding that Panda was being interrogated.
Panda had a reward of Rs 20 lakh on his head, and in the last few years, several of his associates were either killed, arrested or deserted after his expulsion from CPI(Maoist). The police too brought down the reward money.
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Panda, who reportedly was hurt in an encounter with Ganjam police in February this year, had formed a new Maoist front named Orissa Maovadi Party aftr his expulsion from CPI(Maoist). Last month, he changed his party’s name to CPI (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist). According to police records, over 100 cases, including half a dozen high profile attacks, were registered against him since 1999, when he first came on police radar after attacking a temporary police outpost in Rayagada district. He had looted all material kept in the camp including VHF sets.
He earned more notoriety in March 24, 2006, when over 80 armed rebels attacked a sub-jail and a police station in R Udayagiri town of Gajapati district and freed its prisoners while killing two policemen. The rebels also took hostage officer-in-charge of the local police station and jailor before releasing them a few days later. The attack was scripted by Panda.
The second high point in his rebel career came in February 2008 when he planned and reportedly executed the attack on police armoury in Nayagarh district which claimed 18 lives. The Nayagarh attack gave the rebels truckloads of modern weapons such as AK-47, SLRs, INSAS rifles and hand grenades.
In August 2008, he masterminded the killing of VHP leader Laxmanananda Saraswati and five of his accomplices which led to a Hindu-Christian riot in Kandhamal district. More than 40 persons were killed in the riot. In March 2012, he abducted two Italian tourists from the jungles of Ganjam-Kandhamal districts and kept them hostage for 29 days. The hostage drama ended with the release of his wife Mili Panda, who was arrested for acting as Maoist courier.
Panda, who was secretary of Orissa State Organising Committee of Maoists till the riots, was demoted in the party hierarchy as the riots led to widespread condemnation of the Naxals. Before he was expelled in August 2012 by the Maoists from the party for “betraying the party and the revolution”, the Panda in two explosive letters vented his heart out to the top leadership about mindless killings by cadres, religious bigotry, sexual permissiveness and exploitation, general disenchantment, regional chauvinism and harassment from senior leaders among others.
In the two letters (reported by The Indian Express) written in June 2012 to CPI(Maoist) general secretary Muppala Laxaman Rao alias Ganapathy, politburo members Prashant Bose alias Sumit and Narayan Sanyal alias Vijay as well Maoist cadres inside jails and out, Panda revealed the murky goings-on in the party.
“Leaders are thinking them as masters and cadres have no courage to oppose the leader’s mistakes. In the name of democratic centralism inside the party, one type of bureaucratic functioning has been developed in the party. The policy in practice of the present party is to suppress or eliminate the opposite voice by force, either inside party or outside in society. Instead of electing cadres to committees in conferences and plenums, nomination and promotion of cadres are usual process, only yes men and good boys/girls of leaders are promoted. In the name of promotion, one type of feudal democracy, similar to that of fascist RSS, prevailed in this party,” he wrote in his letter while decrying killing by the Maoists.
A mathematics graduate from a college in Puri, Panda was born to Ramesh Panda, a freedom fighter-turned CPM leader-turned BJD leader from Ranapur area of Nayagarh district. He was deeply inspired by Nagbhushan Patnaik, the CPI(M-L) leader and joined the Naxalite movement in 1991. In 1996 and gave the call for a full-scale armed struggle against the establishment and formed the Kui Lewang Sangha(Kui Youth Association). The Sangha later became a front organisation for the Andhra Pradesh-based People’s War Group (PWG).
In 2001 PWG formed Andhra Orissa Border Special Zone Committee putting Panda as its head for Orissa. Later he was appointed as secretary of Basdhara Division of the Maoists that looked after the northern and central districts of Orissa. Panda was very actrive in Kandhamal, Rayagada, Gajapati and Ganjam districts, one of the most densely-forested areas of Orissa and topographically-challenging oplace for Orissa police.
Former BJD MP Mohan Jena, who in 2004 met him as government interlocutor for peace talks with Naxals came out impressed with his personality. “He is not a person of vote-bank politics. His agitation is solely based on the development of poor sections of the society,” Jena once told this correspondent. He even claimed to have been floored over a poem titled ‘Laxmi’, written by Panda.