In a shocking but rare interview given to a private television news channel in Orissa, the Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), Orissa State Committee, Sabyasachi Panda, claimed that it was the CPI (Maoist) who had killed Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four others in Jalespata Ashram in Kandhamal district. In the same interview, the mastermind of many Naxal attacks in Orissa also warned that they would kill around a dozen people who he alleged were responsible for the communal tension in Kandhamal unless they stopped their activities. Sabyasachi Panda deserves to be taken seriously for his close proximity with Ganapati and other top leaders of Central Committee and Central Military Commission of the CPI (Maoists).
The one-time close associate of the maverick Nagbhushan Pattnaik, Sabyasachi Panda, later on developed serious differences with him and in 1996 revolted against the Party to form Kui Labanga Sangha and Chashi Mulia Samiti which later became the frontal organizations of the People's War Group (PWG) in Orissa. Sabyasachi Panda is one of the founder members of the Andhra-Orissa Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) of CPI (Maoist) and was in charge of the dreaded Bansadhara Division for quite a long period. Before assuming the charge of Secretary of Orissa state committee of CPI (Maoist) Sabyasachi Panda formed the Peoples Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) in the state.
Since 23 August, the day when Swami Laxmananda Saraswati was killed, Orissa's Kandhamal district has witnessed an unprecedented and diabolic attack on Christians. With 4,000 houses burned, 300 villages set on fire, 60,000 refugees and over 30 people dead, even today the ground reality in Kandhamal show no signs of normalcy. In this chaotic situation the interview of Sabyasachi was aired on 5 October, seeing which many may ask why has it taken so long for the top leader of CPI (Maoist) in Orissa to speak to the media and take responsibility? Some may also wonder what Naxals would gain from killing an old Hindu priest? Yet others may also suspect his claim on the grounds that Naxals have no history of interfering in religious matters.
Sabyasachi claimed in the interview that "Naxals had left two letters claiming responsibility for the murders, but the state government suppressed both." There seem to be some truth in his claim, because within the half an hour of the gruesome murder of Swami Laxmananda the then DGP of Orissa said to the media that the government suspected Naxal involvement in the incident. A few days after the incident, the SP of Sambalpur, Sanjay Kumar, revealed that Naxals, Prasanna Pal alias Pabitra and Ranjan Rout alias Robin, who were brought on remand from Jagatsinghpur, had confessed to Naxals' plan to eliminate Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati. The job was taken up by Bansadhara division of the banned Left ultra outfit headed by Sabyasachi Panda and the decision taken after the communal flare-up at Brahmanigoan, Kumar added. All these facts substantiate Sabyasachi's claim.
The politics of Naxalism understands neither religion nor does it understand caste; however, growth of Naxalism in Bihar may mainly be attributed to caste factors. For some years now, the issue of conversion and re-conversion has become a driving force in Orissa politics. Naxals may not have interfered in religious issues in the past but that does not prevent them from entering into the arena of communal politics. Naxalites aim at liberating the country by creating an atmosphere of chaos, terror and suspicion. "The tribals are not Hindu. They are nature worshippers. There are now five lakh (half a million) Hindus in Kandhamal and this number has grown because of these forces," Sabyasachi alleged. This statement gives a clear indication of Naxal involvement in Swami Laxmananda's murder. The Naxal movement in Orissa claims to be strong in tribal pockets, however over the past few years Swami Laxmananda had become an icon among Hindu tribals in and around Kandhamal. There was obvious pressure on the Naxal leadership to expand its support base in non-traditional Naxal areas and it is for this that the Naxals could have killed Swami Laxamananda to spread their message. There are also reports that a few top ranking leaders of CPI (Maoist) from neighboring states of Andhra Pradesh and Chhatishgarh recently complained that Sabyaschi was going soft in Orissa and had confined himself to only the Gajapati and Rayagada jungles. Sabyasachi might well have attacked the symbol of VHP in Orissa, to prove his detractors wrong.
The Naxal brand of politics has changed course many times in the past; today, there does not seem to be any ideology left in their modus operandi. The killing of Swami Laxamanda may be an incident in isolation or it may also be the signal of new formations within Naxal politics. It is for the investigating agencies to find out the truth. At the moment, however, there are reasons to believe that there is no spokesperson of CPI (Maoist) in Orissa who is more authentic than Sabyasachi Panda.