Sabyasachi Panda is an ordinary man with a curious claim to fame. A mathematics graduate from a
middling college in rural India, Panda, with his custom short haircut (combed to the side), generic
reading glasses, and stock-standard moustache (almost universal amongst Indian men), speaks softly
and almost entirely in well-worn clichés. Unimposing (both in personality and physicality), neither
impressive nor unimpressive, intellectually unremarkable and entirely non-descript in appearance,
by all logic, Panda really ought to have lived out his days quietly and unnoticed in the shadows –
just another face in India.
The fact that he has not stands as an affront to any ideal of a merit based society. Panda‟s
prominence, it seems, is an accident of history; something that should ordinarily provoke protests –
he just does not seem like someone who deserves media attention. Yet it is safe to say that no one in
India today envies Panda as he sits in solitary confinement facing an almost certain life sentence. His
mug-shot remains the last and only indication that there might be something more to his character:
the man now considered a martyr for his cause – „India‟s Che Guevara‟ (Pandita 2012) – is spitefully
pouting as he stares down the camera in a final act of defiance.
Badabazaar does not appear on most maps. Tucked into the coastline of southern Odisha,
surrounded by thick jungle, it is a sleepy Indian village without any significant industry. So in July
2014, as news channels began to tentatively report on the capture of Sabyasachi Panda in
Badabazaar, there was an intolerable absence of information. Journalists simply could not locate the
town, let alone find their way there for first-hand interviews.
They need not have worried; there was not much to miss. Panda‟s end was nothing like his life.
Abandoned, sick and exhausted, the poster-child for the revolution was captured by the Indian
security forces whilst trying to shelter from the seasonal monsoon. The arrest was fairly inevitable.
Panda‟s support base had been melting-away for years – he was especially isolated after the police
killed his deputy, Govinda Majhi, during a shoot-out in March 2013 (The Times of India 2014) –
and he was being gradually suffocated as police methodically combed their way through the Ganjam
and Kandhamal forests.
The arresting officers were quick to acknowledge: “this being the monsoon season it is difficult to
hide inside the forests” (The Times of India 2014) and Panda‟s last days of freedom must have
soaked him with a tremendously unpleasant realisation – whether on the run, or in custody, he was
now irrelevant. As police intelligence was becoming impossibly accurate – “we were closely tracking
his movements” (The Times of India 2014) – he would have been aware that his former friends were
actively informing on him. Analysts were quick to point out that Panda had become so isolated that
his arrest would likely have little impact on the movement he once headed. The only surprise it
seemed was that at the time of his arrest he had managed to find someone – anyone – still willing to
call themselves a friend, and importantly, still willing to provide him shelter.
The police force was positively giddy as they informed the media (strangely feeling the need to
convince the public that their captive was unreformed) that among Panda‟s meagre possessions at
the time of his arrest, were „Maoist documents‟.
This was not necessary. Whereas international audiences would likely – upon hearing the statement
„India arrests its most wanted terrorist‟ – turn their minds instinctively to jihadist groups or Pakistani
militants, for Indians, there would be no such confusion. Panda lived the quintessential lifestyle of
any self-respecting outlaw: launching brazen and deliberately public attacks whilst constructing a
cult of personality around his leadership (not an easy thing to do considering how little there was to
As the media began to preface any mention of his title as „Maoist leader‟ with the qualifying phrases
„so-called‟, „self-styled‟ or „self-described‟, Panda must have been aware that he had well and truly
crossed the celebrity threshold. It is only after an individual or movement achieves real power or
notoriety that people begin to parse their language, suddenly tip-toeing over their words as a lastditch
attempt to undermine an already secured status and strength.