Recent developments within the Communist Party of India (Maoist), which led to the expulsion of senior Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda, is being seen as something which could significantly affect the future course of the Maoist movement, not only in Odisha but also in different parts of the country. One needs to locate this incident within the ambit of inter-organisational and intra-organisational conflict which so far has remained an essential characteristic of the Maoist brand of politics in India. Sabyasachi Panda is no ordinary Maoist; over the decades he proved to be the brand ambassador of the Maoist movement in Odisha. If Nagbhushan Pattnaik is credited with sowing the seeds of the Naxal movement in Odisha, it is Sabyasachi Panda who was the symbol of Odia pride in the Maoist organisational structure of the state, which otherwise is Telugu dominated.
From Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] to Odisha Maovadi Party (OMP), it has been an unusual journey for Sabyasachi Panda. Sabyasachi Panda started his revolutionary journey with the CPI(M); later he came in close contact with the legendary Nagbhushan Pattnaik and joined Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) – Liberation [CPI(ML)]. Subsequently, he developed serious differences with Nagbhushan over the issue of revolutionary strategies and in 1996 formed his own Kui Labanga Sangha and the Chasi Mulia Samiti. Finally, he left Liberation and joined CPI (ML) Party Unity in 1998, and later, due to the merger of parties, he continued to work in the erstwhile CPI(ML)(People’s War) [CPI(ML)(PW)] and later in CPI (Maoists). He was the lone Odia member in the Andhra Odisha Boarder Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZ) between 2003 and 2005. As the Divisional Committee Secretary of the Basddhara Division of the erstwhile CPI(ML)(PW), Panda played a significant role in making Malkangiri, Koraput, Raygada, Gajapati and Nabarangpur a PW stronghold. He was instrumental in the formation of the CPI (Maoist) Odisha State Organising Committee in 2005 and was functioning as its secretary since 2006.
Though evasive as ever, Sabyasachi Panda in his long career has always occupied a significant space in the media and caught the imagination of the public. Charged in over 30 murder cases, Sabyasachi Panda for the past many years has become the symbol the Maoist movement in Odisha. However two recent incidents engineered by him made him an outcast within the top leadership of the CPI (Maoist). The first incident that went against Panda was the assassination of Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati in August 2008. The assassination of the Hindu seer and the subsequent communal violence that followed cornered Panda in the CPI (Maoist) organisational structure. Since then, for all practical purposes, he and his group have been reduced into a small outfit on the Kandhamal-Ganjam-Gajapati-Rayagada borders. Panda in an attempt to regain his lost status engineered the kidnapping of the Italian duo, Paolo Bosuscoand Claudio Colangelo in 2012. This incident, although made Sabyasachi an international headline, further ruined his relationship with the Maoist top brass.
On 1 June 2012, Sabyasachi Panda wrote two letters to CPI (Maoist) General Secretary Muppala Laxaman Rao alias Ganapathy, politburo members Prashant Bose alias Sumit, Narayan Sanyal alias Vijay, and other Maoist leaders. In the two letters, which ran into 39 pages, he levelled serious allegations of mindless violence, dictatorship, financial irregularity, tribal exploitation, sexual harassment, big brother attitude of the AOBZC, discrimination against minorities and Christians and so on against the Party leadership. Further in an audio tape released to the media recently, Panda declared to have severed all ties with the CPI (Maoist) and announced the formation of his OMP. Responding to the allegations through a press release, the CPI (Maoist) Central Committee announced expulsion of Panda from the party.
The expulsion of Sabyasachi Panda and the formation of a new Maoist outfit in Odisha signal that the Maoist movement in the state is entering yet another phase. The issues raised by Panda against the CPI (Maoist) central leadership are bound to have its impact on its support base. On the one hand, there are reasons to believe that the CPI (Maoist) would definitely want to annihilate Panda. The security forces, on the other hand, perceive this as an opportunity to nail down Panda. There are also some political forces who are trying to have some kind of political space for Sabyasachi Panda in the politics of the state. Amidst all these uncertainties, much will depend on the decisions taken by Panda himself. However, one thing is certain that the state is heading towards a stiff turf war the rival Maoist forces. On the eve of Independence Day by putting pamphlets in the Andhra-Odisha border areas to boycott Independence Day and join the new OMP, Sabyasachi, perhaps, has made his point clear and loud.